Was Lady Gaga right to apologize to her fans? Yes, but maybe she didn’t apologize for the right thing. I’ve been thinking about that since I posted yesterday about the missive Momma Monster wrote to her fans on LittleMonster.com.
You can read the message in its entirety here, but she started by blaming others for the delay in her “Do What U Want” video with R. Kelly and then spreads to broader blame for “Artpop’s” disappointing performance so far. She ended by apologizing for how “Artpop” has rolled out and asked for a second chance from her fans as she plans a relaunch.
Lady Gaga is an artist I like and that I admire. The fact that she took this extraordinary measure on her fan site isn’t that surprising. Lady Gaga and her most ardent fans have a very close, co-dependent relationship. She seems almost to not exist outside of their sight; she is a reflection of their adoration for her. Part of that is because she is an artist who has come to prominence in the age of social media and can communicate directly with her fans, but it is also due to canny promotion on her part to make her fans feel like they are family members.
Here’s are a few things that struck me as off base about the apology:
*How did she not realize the train had derailed until now? The first half of the message she is passing the buck to those she feel betrayed her. This is an artist who from her first burst of fame has made it clear that she is a proud control freak; she oversees everything and nothing happens without her approval. There are plenty of artists who were swindled by their team, but they didn't keep their eye on the ball like Lady Gaga claims she does. Artists like Lady Gaga and Garth Brooks have teams around them that help facilitate the artist's vision and enhance it because these artists know 100% what they want and they have their fingerprints on every decision made about their career. Yes, she says she, understandably, focused on recovering from her hip surgery last February, but when interviewed previously about her recovery, she talked about what a creative time it was for her, not the “hands-off the wheel” she describes in the apology. “I had six months to beef up my brain and my body. I got to put a giant white or black sheet of paint over my whole canvas and I got to review ‘Artpop’ again,” she told USA Today last August after the November release of “Artpop” was announced.” “I was given the time to really be creative because it's a gazing process, it really is. I have to gaze into the work for long periods of time for it to be good.”
*How was her label, as she claims, unaware of the issues with the “Do What U Want” video and other problems? Unless she’s working under something far different from the normal arrangement, Interscope is bankrolling such things as radio promotion, marketing, and music videos (in the traditional structure, the label fronts the money and then recoups a percentage from album sales). Even if she is now simply licensing her music and videos to the label and paying for everything upfront herself, the label is still a resource for her and her decision to exclude them was a mistake.
*Finally, here’s what’s really bothering me. Maybe the problem with “Artpop” isn’t everything that came after its release or the fault of her now ex-team. Maybe it’s something that Lady Gaga doesn’t dare mention in her apology: Maybe it’s the music and the fact that the album just isn’t good enough. That seems to be something she can't conceive of as an issue as spreads the blame around to others and then promises to right her ship.
The album received mixed reviews and nothing that Lady Gaga has done to promote it, including a network special on Thanksgiving night with the Muppets, has done much to move the needle (when the Muppets can't help you, then you really are in trouble). “Applause” did well, but “Do What U Want” has stalled at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Maybe flashing her backside on the cover art wasn’t the best message.
The album, to many reviewers, including me, felt too insular and delivered from the rarified air of fame, and, therefore, much less relatable that her previous efforts. Only so many of us can imagine—or care— what hanging with Donatella Versace is like. There are some strong songs on the album, especially “Dope” and “Gypsy,” that could lift the album back up, so, hopefully, they can provide a strong second half.
It’s nice that Lady Gaga apologized and I don’t doubt her sincerity and the depth of her anguish over what has happened to her latest labor of love, but maybe when she’s looking at who to blame, she needs to look in the mirror.