THE BLOG

What Next for Lady Gaga?

19/01/2014 19:34 GMT | Updated 18/03/2014 09:59 GMT

2013 was not kind to Gaga. ARTPOP didn't sell, Beyoncé stole her thunder and her management fell into disarray. Is this a temporary blip or the start of a longer term malaise?

ARTPOP, Gaga's third album (or fourth, depending on whether you split The Fame from Monster) was supposed to be a momentous event. It wasn't. But boy did Gaga and her team try hard to make it one. The PR push was relentless from the international tour to promote the album, the leaked tracks, the hype on the unveiling of the album cover... and it didn't pay off.

Now I love Gaga but there's no escaping the cold hard truth - the songs on ARTPOP were distinctly average. The lead single Applause was catchy enough but the album was not packed with hits - unlike her previous albums.

The exception of course is Do What U Want, arguably a better track than Applause. But there is one massive problem with it - R Kelly. Quite what possessed Gaga to approve that collaboration is beyond me but the social media backlash should have been expected.

And whether it was Gaga's decision or not to pick R Kelly she didn't back down when the controversy hit. As she breathlessly remarked on The X Factor UK after her rather headline-baiting performance, "I love R Kelly." Well you're on your own there.

Maybe her management did get it because suddenly the accompanying video, rumoured to have been shot by Terry Richardson, another sex pest, was delayed. It still hasn't been released. One sex pest is careless, two is appallingly poor judgment, especially from someone who prides herself on her love for others.

Do What U Want is probably the best song on the album but it's unlikely the video will ever be seen. Certainly its arrival now would be too late to save sales. That single has long fallen out of charts. Not even the rushed release of a new version with Christina Aguilera could resuscitate it.

That doesn't leave much on ARTPOP to exploit Sexxx Dreams, MANiCURE and Mary Jane Holland may be interesting but they're not singles with the same catchy, anthemic brilliance of Bad Romance, Poker Face, Telephone, Marry the Night, The Edge of Glory etc. etc, the tracks that dominated Gaga's previous albums.

An attempt was made with Venus but though the chorus is superb, the verses are a bit nuts and again, there was no video ready which left Gaga at the mercy of radio airplay and Venus didn't catch fire.

Worse was to follow for a woman who clearly wants to be the biggest pop star on the planet when Beyoncé caught everyone by surprise with the sudden drop of her eponymous album in December.

With sales of 1.5million in a matter of weeks, Beyoncé smashed all other female artists out of the water in 2013. But also Beyoncé's concept of having a video for every track exploited a massive flaw in ARTPOP. It was a trick missed as surely a visual representation for every song should be more at home with Gaga and an album that claims "Pop culture was in art; now art's in pop culture in me."

I suspect Gaga too realises that now, which may be fermenting her distress. And now that Beyoncé's done it, anyone who does the same will be accused of copying.

It doesn't help Gaga that she is hyper-sensitive to any criticism. Though it's never nice it is a part of the territory. And she doesn't help her case when she blames everyone else.

She fired her whole management team, replacing them with her father who is reputed to be getting a whopping 50% of Gaga's earnings as compensation - an amount so eye-watering it'll have Britney's guardians thinking they're underpaid.

But though Gaga's having a tough time of it - critically and commercially - she really shouldn't beat herself up.

Gaga now goes on tour. May 2014 sees the kick-off of her Artrave: The Artpop Ball tour. Ideally the tour would replenish her coffers - after all touring is now far more profitable than record sales - and her previous tour, Born This Way, was one of the most lucrative tours in history. Live, Gaga is still phenomenal and always show why she remains the most exciting popstar on the planet - all others dull in comparison.

We shouldn't forget that Gaga is still relatively young, even in pop terms. At 27 years old she is still younger than Beyoncé (32), Britney (32) and Katy Perry (29). And though ARTPOP might not have excited, 500,000 copies are the kind of sales figures most other artists can only dream of. Yes, Beyoncé sold this in two days and overall ARTPOP has been outsold by Katy Perry's Prism (1 million copies) and Miley Cyrus Bangerz (800,000 copies) but its sales figures are still good.

The worst thing would be for Gaga to let the relative underperformance of ARTPOP affect her adversely. She has got to focus on the long-game here. All big stars have career highs and lows.

Creatively I love Gaga, she's a risk-taker. But she does need to accept that risk-taking doesn't always equal sales. The two do not go hand in hand. I wish she would let go of chasing sales-based achievements and focus on her creative output, on delivering material that reflects who she is, irrelevant of critical and commercial success.

That of course is how Beyoncé turned herself around - by letting go of her perceived need to generate music for her fans and of the pressure to be No. 1. Simply put, Gaga needs to stop trying so hard. She has enough talent to ensure that the rest will take care of itself.