I read a number of message boards devoted to music and I follow the “Billboard” charts pretty closely. I like to think I have my ear to the ground and am pretty good at spotting trends before they bloom. If it’s true, I have a feeling the presently scattershot sniping about Lady Gaga’s recent commercial results might kick into overdrive any moment now. If it happens and the “Decline of Gaga” becomes an internet meme, expect the music blogs and magazines to fall in line, followed dutifully by the mainstream press. Basically, I’m predicting a complete backlash in 5…4…3…2…
The foundation of the growing chatter is the very good, but not great sales figures for Gaga’s latest album, “Born This Way,” and the singles it’s yielded thus far. To be fair, the title track was a smash hit that spent a month and a half at #1. Still, a persuasive argument can be made that as hot as Gaga was coming out of the “Fame Monster” era, the first single from the next album was guaranteed to succeed based on momentum alone, regardless of merit.
In the wake of that initial success, however, both follow-up singles have failed to reach the same heights. “Judas” just scraped the top 10 and was roundly labeled a dissapointment by listeners and critics alike, while “The Edge of Glory” debuted on the singles chart at a fantastic #3, but never bested that placement during its run.
On the other hand, popstar Katy Perry — who has something of a Madonna/Cyndi Lauper thing going with Gaga — is poised to score a fifth #1 single from her album “Teenage Dream.” If she pulls it off, she’ll tie a record set by Michael Jackson in 1988 that seemed unlikely to ever be repeated.
As for the album itself, “Born This Way” enjoyed massive first week sales but could only manage a puny run as the nation’s bestseller. Adele, the artist Gaga knocked out of the top spot, reclaimed the throne just two weeks later. To date, the U.K. songbird’s acclaimed “21” has scored 12 non-consecutive weeks at #1 overall (including the week I’m writing this). Before Adele, the last artist to spend a dozen weeks on top was Carlos Santana with his 1999 comeback juggernaut “Supernatural.”
There’s no question that the stellar success of Perry and Adele is contributing to the Gaga-fell-off tattle because it shines a harsh light on the superstar’s relative performance. And I do mean the superstar. Nobody in current popular music is as hyped, dissected, promoted and studied as Gaga.
To justify all the ink that’s spilled and airtime consumed to examine her music, style and politics, Gaga needs to create work and achieve commercial success on a scale that answers the question “why should we care” before anyone even thinks to ask it. Otherwise, she’s an obvious target for contempt.
Having said all this, far be it from me to tell Gaga what to do. But, if I were in her inner circle I would absolutely recommend that she substantially lower her profile when promotion for “Born This Way” wraps. Cliche or not, familiarity really does breed contempt — something the superstars of the past understood and embraced.
I remember well a time when MJ simply removing his sunglasses to give fans a look at his eyes elicited roars at the Grammys. When TV footage of Prince walking through an airport was greeted like a UFO sighting due to his reclusive nature. On the flip side, a few weeks ago Gaga was a guest judge on reality show “So You Think You Can Dance.” Can you imagine “True Blue”-era Madonna even considering such a thing? Ridiculous!
Clearly Gaga feels close to her fans and wants to maintain a real connection to them. She has more Twitter followers than any other person on earth. I love the idea of that, too, but the bottom line cost of that kind of accessibility is the loss of mystery. Looking at the situation from my living room couch, it seems the best way for Gaga to avoid being unceremoniously ushered out of the spotlight in favor of the next big thing is for her to step away from it on her own terms.
It wouldn’t be long before “Come back, Gaga, we need you!!!” posts were appearing regularly online. : :