Has Lady Gaga Jumped the Shark, or Is This One Strange Comeback?
Maybe other than rap and rock, pop music is the land of hypothetical questions, a big fun bag of "what if" moments and Monday-morning quarterbacking.
We'll forever wonder about that Britney Spears period where she went gonzo, why Christina thought her "Dirrty" days circa Stripped made for a good career move before "Fighter" and "Beautiful" steered her right. Even in her own right, Madonna -- Lord and savior to plenty of these pop hens -- has her own strikes against her, that faux British accent being the main one.
But with Lady Gaga, who returns to our consciousness in full this Sunday at MTV's Video Music Awards, her crime has yet to be fully determined. It's not engaging in weird beefs with gossip king turned future New York tenant Perez Hilton, or her string of weird costumes and outfits that made Nicki Minaj's people bite for a solid year until somebody reminded her she's goddamn Nicki Minaj.
No, the earliest strike against Gaga, madam of the Little Monsters, is simply that extended hiatus she took following the avalanche that was Born This Way's million-plus sales in 2011. That allowed a full realization that she wasn't a shock-pop artist but a fleshed-out touch of the imagination of underdogs everywhere, wherever they fell on the sexual curve, to set in.
Is it a crime to go on a break? In current pop times, it seems that way.
The only feasible solution for leaving while on top seems to be childbirth, and Adele, who with 21 pretty much owned everything walking for a two-year stretch, has been coasting off just that idea. Otherwise she's anticipating the moment the current bloke she's dating breaks her heart, trumping Taylor Swift's revolving door of beaus to once more create the awesome breakup soundtrack to complement Robin Thicke's parade of bodega hymnals and party favors.
Even Katy Perry's slight sabbatical doesn't seem like it will last forever, as her newest single "Roar" will no doubt try to consume everything in sight. (Already is, according to some early reports.)
The absence of Gaga, despite her latest single "Applause" possibly being the most naked version of herself ever presented (at 17 million YouTube plays and counting), leads to one of those hypothetical moments. Lady Gaga isn't over, because her fans won't let her be, but us in the general prospectus might deem her to be done.
Maybe we're in a new age where almost nothing can shock us and numb us, and we have Gaga to thank for that. Five years ago, when "Poker Face" became an anthem and using gay guys as props in music videos really (and I mean really) became a thing, there was no real boundary to how far she'd go.
I'm not going so far to suggest that her third album ArtPop is a comeback album, far from it. Rather, it might just show the easiest description of Gaga yet -- a performance artist.
When we currently dance around in a world where Kanye West (of all people) gets dubbed the most dangerous musician alive by Trent Reznor, we're left scratching our heads. What on Earth will the queen of that castle will do now that her biggest selling point -- outside of those amazing pipes and connection to an entire demographic of misbegotten, abused outcasts, that is -- has been rendered moot?
Sunday, Gaga will perform at the VMAs. We will question whatever happens, but as a performance artist, Gaga jumped the shark a while ago. Now she's at that Madonna-"Ray of Light" stage of her career, where just being herself sans all the props and controversial undertones may win the day.
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