The Week In Pop

Has Lady Gaga’s Comeback Album Failed Before It’s Even Out?

The world is ready for Lady Gaga again, but Lady Gaga does not seem ready for the world. A day before Gaga’s ostensible comeback album Joanne is set to drop, it already feels like a failure, though not due to lack of hustle. Gaga and her promo team have slavishly exerted themselves creating and promoting Joanne, and when next week’s sales and streaming data are tabulated it should easily debut at #1 against competition like Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Eat World, and Korn. There’s just one problem: No one besides Gaga’s army of Little Monsters seems to care.

Despite heavy hype and a hip list of collaborators including Mark Ronson, Kevin Parker, BloodPOP, and Josh Homme, lead single “Perfect Illusion” topped out at #15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart — impressive for a rising star but highly disappointing for an artist with 10 multiplatinum top-10 hits to her name. The track’s #22 peak on the Pop Songs chart, which measures pop radio airplay, is even more pathetic and suggests that stations are no longer rolling out the red carpet for their former queen. Nor does it seem to be benefitting from the cool factor that accompanies Beyoncé’s every underground collaboration. As a song designed to re-ingratiate Gaga with audiences after 2013’s Artpop flopped, it has not done its job.

In Gaga’s ideal scenario, “Perfect Illusion” would be riding a multi-week run atop the Hot 100 right now, or at least the song would be an inescapable force like the lead singles from Gaga’s other albums (#1 “Just Dance,” #2 “Bad Romance,” #1 “Born This Way,” and #4 “Applause”). Instead, the only reason most of us are still hearing about the song is because artists like Patrick Carney and current Hot 100 rulers the Chainsmokers keep publicly dissing it and Gaga continues to respond for some reason. Maybe she’s buying into the old truism that negative attention is better than none at all. Maybe, as evidenced by her hyper-defensive response to Jon Caramanica’s negative New York Times review, she has extremely thin skin. Or perhaps she just realizes such clap-backs are good fodder for her fan base.

Unfortunately, that base alone is not enough to put Gaga back on top of the pop game. I’m sure she would hate this analogy, but Gaga finds herself in a similar position to another celebrity who’s spent a lot of time lashing out on Twitter lately: Donald Trump. (Don’t @ me, Gaga.) Like Trump, she’s cultivated a strong enough core audience that she’ll always be able to keep up a career in entertainment. But just as Trump is finding that winning the presidency requires appealing to voters outside your base, you can’t remain among pop royalty on the strength of stans alone. The Little Monsters will lift Joanne to #1 next week without any trouble, but even Gwen Stefani scored a #1 album this year, and what kind of impact did that mediocre collection leave behind? Put simply, what’s a pop star without hits?

Maybe Gaga wants to give up on hit singles and settle in as an albums artist; Joanne’s self-conscious move away from outrageous pop pageantry toward stripped-down rock and country sounds could support such a thesis. That would be a bummer because even though 2013’s Artpop saw the public tiring of Gaga’s over-the-top shtick, she already purged herself of that era’s excesses with her #1-debuting Tony Bennett duets album Cheek To Cheek, her Oscar-nominated anti-rape song “‘Til It Happens To You,” and her Golden Globe-winning role on American Horror Story among other achievements. Almost two years ago, around the time Gaga paid tribute to The Sound Of Music at the 2015 Academy Awards, her stock was clearly on the rise again. It was time to come back and do what she does best.

Instead we’ve gotten a string of lukewarm singles that seize neither the imagination nor the zeitgeist. It’s not just “Perfect Illusion”; every advance track from Joanne has flatlined so far. Straitlaced piano ballad “Million Reasons” is fine, but there’s a reason it’s not setting the charts on fire (it’s #76 on the Hot 100 and not even charting on Streaming Songs, where “Perfect Illusion” topped out at #25). Caramanica was right to compare the honky-tonk pop experiment “A-YO” to a bad Britney Spears song. And though Gaga’s ode to her aunt “Joanne” and the Trayvon Martin tribute “Angel Down” are well-meaning, they lack that lightning-bolt factor that used to accompany each new Gaga track. The NFL will almost certainly demand a career-spanning medley when she headlines the Super Bowl halftime show this February because the billions of viewers are not even going to recognize these Joanne tracks.

Even without Gaga’s meat-dress antics, explosively melodic tracks like “Poker Face” and “The Edge Of Glory” were too fabulous to ignore. Whether you liked her or not, she was a fully conceived force of nature back then. Self-reinvention is a necessary function of modern pop stardom, so it’s hard to fault Gaga for trying out a radically different aesthetic this time around. And a Lady Gaga album “without makeup,” as she described Joanne to Zane Lowe this afternoon, is genuinely intriguing in theory. But it’s disappointing to peel back all that costuming only to find the dazzling songs have been stripped away along with it, leaving something less than a world-conquering pop star behind.

CREDIT: Frank Maddocks

CHART WATCH

Let’s start at the top of the singles chart this week. The Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” leads the Hot 100 for a whopping ninth straight week, which is inching it toward record-breaking territory. Billboard notes that “Closer” is now tied with Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” for the second-longest #1 reign by a duo (side note: “Hey Ya!” is only technically by a duo if we’re being honest), though it will take five more weeks to match Los Del Rio’s 14-week run at #1 with “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” a song that really makes me appreciate the Chainsmokers and Halsey.

The Weeknd’s “Starboy” and Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” hold at #2 and #3, while DJ Snake and Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You” bumps back up to #4. Next up is Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” making a strong debut at #5 to become his 13th top-10 hit. And by climbing to #10, “Side To Side” becomes the eighth top-10 hit for Ariana Grande and the 13th for Nicki Minaj.

Over on the albums chart, Green Day nab their third #1 album with 95,000 equivalent units and 90,000 in sales for Revolution Radio. The others were 2004’s American Idiot and 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown; surprisingly, Billboard points out that 1994’s breakout Dookie only made it up to #2.

Next up is Norah Jones at #2 with 47,000 units/44,000 sales for Day Breaks, matching the chart position of 2012’s Little Broken Hearts but tallying less than half of its first-week sales. OneRepublic’s Oh My My enters at #3 with 46,000 units/35,000 sales, their best chart position ever. Rockers Alter Bridge debut at #8 with The Last Hero (28,000 units/27,000 sales), and Phantogram’s Three starts at #9 (25,000 units/23,000 sales).

POP FIVE

Bruno Mars – “Chunky”
Bruno Mars is all aboard the Soul Train, and I am all aboard the Bruno Mars train.

Garth Brooks – “Baby Let’s Lay Down And Dance”
All I can say for this is it’s a lot more palatable than “People Loving People.”

Tove Lo – “True Disaster”
I’ve been #TeamTove from the jump, but to be honest, I am not feeling these icy, understated Lady Wood singles so far. I miss the colorful splatter of Queen Of The Clouds.

Machine Gun Kelly – “Bad Things” (Feat. Camila Cabelo)
Never thought I’d hear a Machine Gun Kelly song that interpolates Fastball’s “Out Of My Head” and features a member of Fifth Harmony — both of which contribute to a hell of a chorus here — but I also never thought I’d see MGK starring in a corny Cameron Crowe dramedy, so.

Andy Grammer – “Fresh Eyes”
You: Wanna hear the new Andy Grammer single? Me: Honey, I’m good.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • A recording schedule for new Kesha music on Kemosabe is reportedly in the works, despite her ongoing ugly legal battle with label head Dr. Luke. [NYT]
  • Drake’s “One Dance” beat Major Lazer’s “Lean On” as the most streamed song in Spotify history with over 880 million streams. [Spotify]
  • Gwen Stefani will be back as a coach in the next season of The Voice, replacing Miley Cyrus (who will return for season 13). [Deadline]
  • Stefani also performed at the Obamas’ final State Dinner at the White House on Tuesday. [People]
  • Will.i.am, Apl.de.ap, and Liane V recorded an anti-Trump song/music video “GRAB’m By The PUSSY.” [Funny Or Die]
  • GRL seemed to agree with fans who claimed Little Mix’s “Shout Out To My Ex” rips off their 2013 song “Ugly Heart.” [Daily Mail]
  • Martin Garrix’s new album + x is apparently out tomorrow. [Twitter]
  • Jennifer Lopez is producing a futuristic procedural drama for NBC about “DNA hacking.” It’s called C.R.I.S.P.R., as in “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” [THR]
  • Nicki Minaj introduced a new fragrance, Trini Girl. [Twitter]
  • Demi Lovato sang her song “Kingdom Come” in concert for the first time in Guadalajara. [YouTube]
  • Jay Z, Madonna, George Michael, Babyface, and Max Martin are among the 2017 Songwriters Hall Of Fame nominees. [WaPo]
  • At the TIDAL X 1015 concert, Beyoncé ripped her earring out and later noticed that her ear was bleeding. [Twitter]

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