It is arguably the worst time to be a pop star. While YouTube and SoundCloud offer aspiring artists an unprecedented platform on which to showcase their talents, they are up against a constantly growing sea of content. How do you make audiences sit up and take notice when everyone around you is pushing cultural boundaries?
Three years ago, Lady Gaga captured the attention (and the imagination) of millions with her triple-platinum selling, two part album, The Fame / The Fame Monster. Fame, infamy and celebrity are recurring themes in the majority of Gaga’s material (in between lacklustre attempts to leverage her pop-friendly philosophy into a political statement), and she’s definitely an expert on the subject, having rarely stepped away from the spotlight since her debut single hit the charts back in 2008.
Gaga’s sophomore effort, Born This Way, may have fallen on largely indifferent ears, but where she didn’t disappoint was in the visual spectacle that accompanied each single. Anybody remotely familiar with pop culture will be able to tell you that Lady Gaga is not just about the music. She likes to transform each catchy dance song into a conceptual experience, complete with blasphemous imagery (cf. “Judas”), an array of cultural homages (cf. “Marry The Night”, “Telephone”) and relentless sauciness (cf. every Lady Gaga video ever).
Remember when the Black Jesus in Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” video was genuinely shocking? Now it’s par for the course for mainstream artists like M.I.A. and Lady Gaga (and their low-cal counterparts, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj) to inundate their fans with supposedly controversial imagery and opinions. What’s unclear, though, is whether these messages genuine, and if so, are they striking a chord with audiences, or simply getting lost amid the sound and fury?
We should all know to expect crazy things from Lady Gaga by now. The teacup, the meat dress, the giant egg… She’s an artist known for her many eccentricities, and her fiercely loyal fans love her all the more for them. Her recent collaboration with conceptual artist Marina Abramovic saw her posing nude – so far, so Gaga, you’d be forgiven for thinking. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the curious, attention-seeking venture was rather too well timed; after all, the PR machine for Gaga’s latest album ARTPOP is oiled and ready to go (the lead single for which, “Applause”, made its radio premiere shortly after).
One thing about the pop industry that hasn’t changed through the years is that fans still want authenticity from their artists. By all means, strike a Jesus pose and shout your shocking views from the rooftops – but please, mean it.
Whether genuine artistic expression or cynical rabble-rousing, you can be sure that the “Haus of Gaga” knows exactly what it is doing. Because building a brand on controversy and scandal is not an art, but a science. One that Gaga has mastered.