Poor Lady Gaga. 2011 was really supposed to be her year. As the year started, she was still riding the wave of her EP The Fame Monster, in the midst of the successful Monster Ball Tour and had a highly anticipated album dropping in May which would (in a perfect world) provide a great summer soundtrack. However, by the end of 2011, she may as well have been covered from head to toe in the stage blood that she wore during the final act of Monster Ball. For Gaga, 2011 really was the best of times and the worst of times.
True, “Born This Way” was the 1000th Billboard Hot 100 #1 single, and it stayed there for six weeks. The album came out in a flurry of great anticipation and was sold for 99 cents on Amazon – a price normally reserved for albums in the cut-out bin, not a new release sure to fly off the shelves anyway. The single selection was a bit odd, but for me, “Judas” is still the Most Improved Song Upon Repeat Listening of 2011. The videos were odd but I cut her slack because hey, at least she’s still making videos in this day and age. But Born This Way the album never really gelled for me as an album and despite the aggressive (and controversial) pricing, Adele still managed to outsell her almost 3:1 by doing it the old fashioned way. Gaga seems to be reaching the point of diminishing returns. Every crazy thing she does now seems, by comparison, less shocking than the one before it.
The most irritating trend of 2011 for me was the emergence of humorless Gaga detractors. They populate the blogosphere and seem to be popping up everywhere, each spouting the same criticisms. It spawned the post “The Case Against Reflexive Gaga Hating” which found me arguing that hating Gaga on principle is no different than those who, a generation ago, hated Madonna on principle. Sadly, it is many of those original Madonna fans that are the most vocal. Let me go on the record and say that not all the criticism is without merit and certainly not all who criticize Gaga fall into the ‘humorless Gaga detractor’ category. What I take issue with are the people that dismiss her on sight and, when presented with a counterargument, do the equivalent of putting their hands over their ears and singing so that they don’t hear it.
That said, running a close second in the most irritating trend of 2011 category is the emergence of humorless Gaga fans. I’ve witnessed quite a few of these, especially on Twitter. Like the detractors, they refuse to listen to arguments that Mother Monster might just not be all that. There are legitimate criticisms, both of her music and the way she is going about her career. Part of the reason that Born This Way has resulted in so much backlash falls squarely on Gaga’s shoulders. The album is simply not the greatest. Much like Madonna’s Hard Candy, it is somehow less than the sum of its parts. There are some truly great songs on the album – primarily that last half of the album starting with “Bad Kids.” But I haven’t listened to “Born This Way” all that much and I haven’t even been bothered to watch the “Marry The Night’ video. The overexposure and constant inundation of all things Gaga has definitely caused some Gaga fatigue, even with someone like me that is pretty open to her charms.
I have this to say to both camps – this is pop music. It doesn’t cure cancer. It won’t result in world peace. It also is supposed to be fun. It can be lighthearted and serious. As Crater Face says in Grease, “the rules are: there ain’t no rules.” People on both sides of the argument need to back down a little bit. Similarly, Gaga herself needs to realize this is just pop music. I applaud her actions in standing up for the disenfranchised, especially since she is willing to put her money where her mouth is. She is definitely “walking the walk.” But her music is not particularly innovative. She needs to work with different people if she ever hopes to level up again like she did with The Fame Monster. And for the love of all that is holy, she needs to GO AWAY for awhile. It may be cliched, but absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
However, instead of taking a well deserved break to recharge her creative juices, she’s hitting the road with Born This Way and maybe (or maybe not) planning a new album for 2012 – rumor has it with the same producers of Born This Way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for me personally, Lady Gaga really is one of only a few artists out there creating pop music in its purest form in the way that most appeals to me. Because of that, I’ll continue to follow her career and buy her music. I’d probably even shell out money to see her on a Born This Way tour, if and when it happens. I enjoyed the heck out of the Monster Ball Tour when I saw her live last March in Omaha, NE. I saw a lot of potential in her stage show and think the new songs will be great live, even though “You & I” brought Monster Ball to a screeching halt and caused it to lose all its forward momentum. Perhaps the new tour will use the Shania Twainified remix? As another diva once said, we should be so lucky.
I suspect that the battle between Gaga detractors and Gaga fans will continue unabated into the new year and beyond. Lord knows it has with Madonna over the course of nearly 30 years. My hope for 2012 is that both sides take themselves a little less seriously and remember that pop music is supposed to be fun and should not result in high blood pressure or gray hair. There’s room for all the divas – life would be so boring without them, no?