Drowning, Not Waving: The Slow and Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career
With a waning popularity and a career in tailspin, the once provocative pop star is not grasping at straws.
Remember when Lady Gaga was virtually infallible? When critics and fans bowed at her altar, and even detractors couldn’t begrudge her the stranglehold of influence (and if not necessarily influence, definitely uncontested saturation) on pop culture? I ask if you remember because it seems that for Gaga, that’s all we have left: the memories.
No one gives a fuck about Lady Gaga anymore. Last week, she released her 11-minute, 46-second epic “Artpop Film” for the track “G.U.Y,” and almost no one gave a shit. The video has just over 23 million views at the time of writing—a number that’s likely to grow, but based on the performance of her last video epic, “Marry The Night,” it won’t likely be by much—but also one that’s disappointing for Gaga in the wake of contemporaries like Katy Perry and Beyoncé, whose videos have amassed 165 million (“Dark Horse”) and 129 million (“Drunk In Love”) views respectively. Even Jennifer Lopez’s recently released video “I Luh Ya Papi” has pulled in 17 million views, and J.Lo doesn’t even have a fun nickname for her fans. Considering none of these other videos are a performance epic to rival Gaga’s, which was filmed at Hearst Castle, that’s got to be pretty frustrating for the Gaga-sphere. I mean, all Bey did was dance on a beach.
Comparisons aside, did you even know Lady Gaga released “G.U.Y.” last week? The video fell almost completely under the radar as sites that would usually dedicate full posts to The Life and Times of Mother Monster relegated the “G.U.Y.” video to “New This Week”style list posts, or didn’t even bother to mention it at all. It seems as though Lady Gaga, one of the most widely watched and critiqued pop icons of this generation, has been deemed unworthy of the news cycle, at least as far as her “art” is concerned.
Lady Gaga is flailing. She’s drowning, not waving. Which really sucks for her, because she’s an amazingly talented artist. If you don’t believe me just watch this video of her singing “Hair” on Howard Stern, which I’ve just re-watched and teared up over. At the most base level, without any of the accoutrements, Lady Gaga is an accomplished, capable, and passionate performer. Somehow however, that very rare fact has been lost, and possibly suffocated, beneath a menagerie of wigs and the oiled, fetishized bodies of her many dancers.
My personal obsession with Gaga began when I saw her in concert nearly four years ago, and I was struck by the dearth of her skills on stage. She was completely mesmerizing, her songs were infectious, and I danced and screamed along like I’d been born that way. Lady Gaga is fascinating in a way most other pop stars aren’t—save for maybe someone like Ke$ha—because she’s the dark horse. She’s the girl in high school who smoked cigarettes behind the bike shed, and who walked the halls under the protective hurricane of rumors and speculation about her life, her family, her backstory, constantly swirling around her.
But now, Lady Gaga just seems... boring. The arbiters of think-piece material don’t seem to care about her anymore, and even more worryingly, nor do the social pages and gossip blogs. She’s fading into a “meh”-ness that goes against her whole body of work. Here are a few reasons why:
THE “G.U.Y.” VIDEO IS OBJECTIVELY BORING
Gaga’s “G.U.Y.” video is a loose metaphor on womanhood, misogyny, capitalism, her Jesus complex, etc. It’s full of predictable Gaga motifs and overused allegory. It begins with her as a sexy harpy thing, being shot down by some greedy men in suits who seem to be stealing her money (don’t ask me where bird Lady Gaga carried all the money, she doesn’t even seem to have a bag). Anyway, this montage carries on for almost three full minutes, as wounded bird-Gaga crawls back to her big gay palace to be resurrected, like Christ, because why not, and rejoin the big gay party happening in every room of her mansion.
There’s a terrible skit in the middle where Gaga references the Greek Gods and says some less than profound stuff about sexuality, which is further proof that skits should be left to the professionals—90s R&B artists. The video devolves into some yawn-inducing choreography, which we’ve seen a thousand times from Gaga and again, acts as a compelling argument that choreographed dancing should be left to the professionals—Beyoncé and Ciara, exclusively.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills appear for a bit as a cutesy folk band, singing “G.U.Y.” in lieu of Gaga, which is totally besides the point because who the fuck even knows who these women are? The only reason I know is because I Googled it for this article. While trying to be ironically twee, Gaga slips easily into irrelevance. She also pulls out some visuals we’ve seen done recently—and better—by her contemporaries. Dancing around in a weird teddy bear cut out, she’s a poor-man’s Miley, and in her Egyptian-themed mansion, she recalls Katy’s “Dark Horse.”
The video ends with a weird sexy dance that looks more like a long commercial for jeans, and if you made it to the 7:38 minute mark, you probably won’t even have noticed the song itself, which is also objectively terrible. The final four minutes of the video are the credits—which apparently mention everyone Gaga has ever met—played off to the tune of another of her new insufferable songs, “Manicure.”
In sum, no one cares about the “G.U.Y.” video because it sucks, which is a completely fair reason not to care about something.
SHE’S SORT OF NORMAL NOW
One of the most compelling things about Gaga was the ambiguity of her sex, and the way she sold sexuality on this bizarre spectrum in which as “weird” increased, so too did “nude." On the other end of the graph, “weird” also increased in direct proportion to “clothed." Weird always permeated everything Gaga did, so she was never sexy in the way you’re conditioned by pop to expect a woman to be sexy, and the way many of her contemporaries are. She bridged the gap between Madonna and Miley, championing the un-sexy sex thing in the post 00s flat-abbed super-tan era of sexy sex thing pop stars had been doing once we fell out of touch with Madonna’s original vision for female sexuality.
In “G.U.Y.," and in many of her recent public appearances, however, Gaga does conventional sex. And while she does it well, it’s not why people flock to the Haus of Gaga. No one has ever wanted or even asked Gaga to be properly sexy—we’ve been giving her a standing ovation for challenging those notions with her alternative aesthetics (while still being hot as hell). I don’t think anyone ever wanted to see Gaga in a blonde wig, porcelain-perfect make-up, regular lingerie, and men’s magazine poses. It’s just so uninteresting, and so much less interesting when someone who was previously so interesting engages with it.
SHE’S ADVANCED HERSELF TO POP DEMI-GODDERY WITHOUT A MANDATE TO DO SO
Beyoncé and Madonna are the only active performers that belong in “Pop Goddess” club. Britney, maybe, but only maybe. Gaga, for some reason, felt it necessary to proclaim herself in this category, with all her Jesus motifs and posturing in the “Artpop” world she’s attempted (and failed) to create. Self-anointing herself as an immortal in the pop world wasn’t Gaga’s wisest decision—it’s hard work, the eventual upheaval of some sort of status quo (Madonna revolutionized sex for women in music, Beyoncé revolutionized what it even means to be a woman, and Britney, if you want to include her, weirdly enough, changed the type of music we expect women in pop to perform, taking on a sound that before her was reserved for boy bands), and trial by fire in the court of public opinion, that allow you to ascend to pop Asgard. It’s little surprise that the public has rejected Gaga’s notion that she belongs with the legends, and the saddest part is that had she held her horses, she may have made it there eventually.
HER MUSIC ISN’T EVEN GOOD ANYMORE
Once upon a time, Lady Gaga made amazing pop music. “You & I” (written by Gaga), is one of the best, and most underrated pop songs of the past decade, perhaps ever. It’s an incredible arrangement that pairs her bluesy vocal with unadulterated piano, and just a smattering of synth. The balance is perfect. Likewise, tracks like “Alejandro," “Bad Romance,” and “The Edge of Glory” are perfect, timeless, pop songs with thoughtful composition, subject matter and delivery.
I’ve listened to Artpop through twice and it’s just fucking terrible. The auto-tune on her voice, which is a glorious voice in and of itself, is confounding, and the aggressive disco-cum-house dance tracks aren’t the deep cuts they’re trying to be. They’re headache inducing, and do Gaga no justice as a songwriter or a singer, as the whole thing just seems like a clusterfuck of unintentionally smashed together sounds. Thematically, Gaga flatters on her new album too—it’s a “me, me, me” moment that’s inconsistent with Gaga’s calling card of inclusiveness.
THERE’S NOTHING NEW OR CONFRONTING ABOUT HER VIDEOS
For someone who built a career on being new and confronting, this is a serious problem. From “Judas” (which OK, had Norman Reedus in it, so it wasn’t that bad), it’s been a painful descent for Gaga. “Marry The Night” was ridiculous, and “Applause” made no sense whatsoever, and not in the signature Gaga way of there being sense in the nonsense. There was a time when the spectacle Gaga presented in her videos was stimulating and enticing--even in “Telephone” with Beyonce, she managed to fit subversion in (the scene where she’s wrapped in police tape, semi-naked posing in her cell is particularly confronting), along with some genius pop culture references (the Grindhouse theme of the video, for instance). I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve “seen it all” from Gaga or if she’s literally confused even herself with her increasingly wacky videos that she’s just chasing her tail in a circle, but her visual output is failing in challenging, or even awe-ing, its audience.
SHE TRADED IN NICK KNIGHT FOR TERRY RICHARDSON
Further to the argument about her videos increasing in banality, there’s a lot to be said for her past collaborator Nick Knight having seemingly been ditched for creep du jour Terry Richardson. It’s just not befitting for an “artist” like Lady Gaga to downgrade from a visionary like Knight to a pervert like Uncle Terry. The transition makes no sense, because from an artistic perspective, it’s a trajectory that should have worked the opposite way.
HER PERFORMANCE ART HAS BECOME BANAL SENSATIONALISM
When you’re getting people to spew on you on stage, and all Kim Kardashian needs to do for attention is just, like, breathe, you really need to reevaluate your priorities. Lady Gaga has always done weird shit for attention—like wearing a meat dress or being birthed from a giant egg—but whereas her antics have always read as quirky, they’re starting to read as sensationalism for sensationalism sake, which is dead boring. According to Gaga herself, there was apparently no intellectual reason behind the vomit stunt—it was just “expression” for expression’s sake. Which isn’t Gaga’s M.O. At least it shouldn’t be. Up until now, Lady Gaga’s performance has always been pointed and deliberate, and it seems like she’s just become lazy, doing funky shit for the sake of it.
THE REALLY TERRIBLE R. KELLY DECISION
There is absolutely no reason for a woman to be singing “Do what you want with my body” in a duet with R. Kelly. Gaga tried to backtrack when she performed the song with Xtina (who CRUSHED it), but the damage had already been done. Her partnership with R. Kelly had much the same effect as her friendship with Terry Richardson—it just grossed everyone out, and not in a good, savant-ish way she wanted it to.
HER LITTLE MONSTERS FOUNDATION IS APPARENTLY BULLSHIT
With rumors rampant that Gaga’s Little Monster’s Foundation, which claims to combat bullying, is just pissing money against a wall, Gaga’s commitment to social causes has been questioned. Being that Gaga has built a career on being a social warrior, calling that into question has called her whole persona and indeed how genuine her advocacy might be into question.
THE MYSTERY IS GONE
In Eating The Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman writes, “[Her importance] seems to emerge solely from the fact that normal adults don’t understand what she’s supposedly doing, mostly because she isn’t doing all that much of anything. She’s making records and dressing a little pervy. That’s the formula for her existence. Everything else is what an illusionist refers to as ‘misdirection’—except in this case the misdirection doubles as the pay off.” Unfortunately for Gaga, everyone seems to have figured this out. It might not be her fault entirely—in a post-social media world where everyone is a cynic and a critic, and everyone is clamoring for “realism”, the collective consciousness may have been all too ready to tear the Gaga persona to shreds. It was preconditioned to. And to quote Gob Bluth, “tricks are what a whore does for money,” so maybe it was only a matter of time before we forcefully stripped Gaga of her enigma.
SHE SEEMS DESPERATE
All of the above smooshed together reeks of desperation. Her questionable creative partnerships, her desire to shock simply to be shocking, the objective shittiness of her music—everything comes together to pull back a curtain to a Gaga that’s hanging on by the skin of her teeth, bloody nails digging into whatever surface is soft enough for them to sink into. It’s hard to stay relevant, but it’s harder still to do so with such a bold and conspicuous personality as Gaga’s. And instead of staying calm in the riptide, Gaga’s actions betray the opposite—that she’s thrashing about, taking in lungfulls of water. She’s finally succumbed to the death knell of her career, and in what are perhaps her final moments, like a monkey, she’s flinging shit at a wall, praying in between swings that something will stick.
Kat George listens to "Poker Face" to remember the good times. Follow her on Twitter - @kat_george
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