Art is subjective. We all know this, and then we proceed to try and stick art into black and white, good and bad distinctions because art also makes us all irrational. This is especially true on the Internet, where middle ground seems to be nonexistent and if you happen to disagree with someone, not only are you wrong, but you're a troll.
It's hard to understand what makes people so irrational about Lady Gaga.
Consider the following: ARTPOP, her third album, has sold 2.5 million copies worldwide.
One side will look at that number and say, "See, she has tons of loyal fans who wants to buy her records!" The other side will say, "See, she's not as popular as she used to be and her career will soon die a fiery death!" The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Now, imagine how that irrationality might affect an artist. On one side you have everyone telling you everything you do is perfect, and the other is telling you everything you do is crap. The reality might actually be somewhere in the middle, but would you really be interested in the middle when you can have the irrational positivity?
Rumors of Lady Gaga's imminent career death are greatly exaggerated, but someone needs to move her closer to the middle.
Lady Gaga has yet to make a classic album, and that is not a troll.
The Fame is an okay album that it's easy to believe is great because it has four songs of varying levels of perfection; "Just Dance" and "LoveGame" are both basically perfect with small setbacks, "Poker Face" is perfect and "Paparazzi" zooms past perfection to some level we don't quite have words for. Things do get a lot better when you bolt The Fame Monster onto it, because "Telephone" and "Bad Romance" are also both perfect songs (and "Monster" is pretty nifty, too).
Born This Way is a very fun record that flirts with being a classic, but that weird stretch of not-so-great songs ("Judas"/"Americano"/"Hair") kills the momentum of the beginning, and a lot of the songs on the second half are plain good but not necessarily great.
Artpop, now that the initial wave of intense debate on whether or not it's going to ruin her career has passed, can finally start to be evaluated for what it actually is: an okay record. The bad ("Jewels 'n Drugs"/"Fashion") is still pretty bad, the good ("G.U.Y."/"Gypsy") is still pretty great and the baffling ("Do What U Want") was only made more confusing by those video clips that leaked out recently.
Here's the important part: Lady Gaga is absolutely capable of making a classic album. It takes almost superhuman-level talent to put together the body of singles that she has in the span of her career. So that begs the question: why hasn't she?
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Well, that's where we get back in to the world of subjectivity, but the simplest answer may be this: she needs a strong producer to help direct her wilder impulses.
All artists should be true to themselves, of course, but all artists need to be willing to kill their babies when they're not working too. Artpop is proof that Gaga is perhaps a little too in love with her work. You cut out some of the fat from the record and we're not even having this conversation because deep inside Artpop is a good record being hidden by a lot of bloat.
A leaner, meaner ARTPOP still probably doesn't have the sales success of The Fame or Born This Way, because no amount of trimming is going to magically make good singles appear (although perhaps if she spent more time working on what was good and less time on what wasn't a song like "Manicure" gets that extra bit of polish that makes it something special), but at least the critics wouldn't have been able to turn the narrative from "Lady Gaga releases another popular album" to "the Lady Gaga Experiment is over!"
That wouldn't stop the haters from finding reasons to hate her and it might make her fans a little more insufferable, but it would be better for an often-boring mainstream-pop landscape that needs Lady Gaga around to keep things interesting. If not for her, all we're left with the emotional vacuum that is Katy Perry, a bunch of other singers who sing whatever their producers tell them to and Taylor Swift, the John Cena of pop music who would become infinitely more interesting if she would just turn heel.
So yes, if Lady Gaga could just find a musical partner to help her turn her wilder impulses into something a bit more fun to listen to, we'd all be better off. Still irrational, of course, but certainly in a better place.
(Writer's Note: Yeah, I know, it is I who need the editor. Good job, trolls.)
Lady Gaga performs Wednesday night at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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