Is the joke on Lady Gaga? This weekend while hosting and performing on “Saturday Night Live,” she repeatedly poked fun at herself. And guess what? It made her likeable again.
She started the self-deprecation early. In her opening monologue (loved that flapper dress!), she shamelessly baited the audience for “cheap applause,” and then launched into a re-worked version of her hit “Applause” as a Broadway-style number. She went over the top, giving it up for teachers and first responders and even poked fun at her pants-eschewing self. Ending it with “New York, New York” was perfect.
The wink and nods continued throughout the show. As Karen, the nerdy Genius Bar employee and guest on “Waking Up with Kimye” she opined, “people who try too hard with their outfits are hiding something,” and then stared wide-eyed into the camera with the ever-so-slightest hint of a grin on her lips.
In “The Worst Cover Songs of All Time” sketch she performed “Born This Way” as her cover of Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” playfully referencing the similarities between the two songs, and in a slightly cringe-inducing sketch, she played an older version of herself who no one remembered as having been famous.
She also simulated sex with R. Kelly during their duet of “Do What U Want,” but I’m not so sure that was intentionally funny. And her second performance of "Gypsy" was too distracting for the butterfly costume and her obvious backing track, not to mention the dancer in purple tights at the end. He deserves his own show. Instead, it was her humor that was far more memorable than her musical performances.
Lately, as she worked up to Nov. 11’s “Artpop” release, all of Lady Gaga’s eccentricities seemed to be on display. What was missing was her sense of humor. She seems to have lost her way a little bit and whether it's due to her split with longtime manager Troy Carter or other reasons, there's a lack of focus around the project that feels like it it driven hype rather than hits.
“Saturday Night Live” recapper Ryan McGee called Gaga’s “SNL” turn her “humble pie tour.” I’m not so sure I agree. That implies some kind of mea culpa or that she’s done something wrong. To me, it was more that she realized this one component of what makes her so fascinating —the ability to laugh at herself—had been sorely lacking recently.
There’s not a lot about Lady Gaga that most of us can relate to, but from the start, despite all the weirdness, there was a streak in her that we empathized with, whether it was her underdog attitude or her compassion for bullies. That side of her humanity hasn’t been on display much lately as the roll-out for “Artpop” has unfurled and it was great to see her as someone relatable again. We don’t like it when our stars take themselves too seriously and “SNL” was a chance for her to show us that she’s in on the joke.
As we’ve previously written, “Artpop” isn’t shaping up to be a barnburner for Lady Gaga. It was originally projected to sell up to 450,000 in its opening week and now it looks like it will top out around 250,000. To put this into context, none of the other female pop stars this year, such as Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus are surpassing the 300,000 mark. We’ll see how Britney Spears fares with “Britney Jean” shortly. But it feels as if we all expected more from Lady Gaga. She looms larger than life and it feels like her sales numbers should be too.
While some critics has raved about “Artpop,” I wasn’t one of them and it feels to me like it will be an album that her die-hard Little Monsters will clutch, but not the rest of us. It’s a little too early to tell. Maybe it will prove to have legs or it may go down as a misstep in what will, despite the “SNL” sketch to the contrary, be a very long and memorable career.