When you look at Gaga’s four albums (The Fame - ARTPOP) as a collection, it’s a wildly significant commentary on the art of fame, celebrity and pop culture.
The Fame and The Fame Monster both have a specific message about fame, written at key times in Gaga’s career. The Fame, written when she was virtually unknown, and The Fame Monster when she was touring the world as pop music’s next big thing.
To write ARTPOP, the concluding chapter, bringing full circle the themes of celebrity worship, obsession and demise, Gaga needed to step away from “fame”, as a theme, and do something to shift attention somewhere else. She wrote The Fame when not famous, and The Fame Monster when on top of the world, so to correctly write ARTPOP she needed to experience similar scrutiny.
How better to do that than with the experimental sounds, lyrics and messages of Born This Way?
Gaga was truly on top of the world. She was the most financially successful, followed, Googled, and watched celebrity in generations. With all eyes on her, she released Born This Way to wild acclaim, though as the era continued she faced criticism that she strayed from her trademark style, embracing a less-than-polished, all over the place persona.
She could have written Born This Way first. It’s the most genuine of her albums, and most influenced by her upbringing. But as a debut it would not have worked. She needed the world stage, and a couple of hit albums under her belt, to launch it.
But with that good came the bad. Here we are, over a year into Gaga’s media blackout where she’s faced the most criticism of her career.
Just as Born This Way was an experimentation in sound, it was a cultural gamble. Gaga put herself on the line, anticipating the shift in her fan base. She was sort of counting on the criticism to inspire her concluding, fourth album, about fame. And just as much as Born This Way wasn’t about “fame” in a literal sense, it kind of was. She wrote the album to test the boundaries of her own success. How high would she fly? How far would she fall? Her message with the album was re-birthing yourself over and over - as many times and in whatever forms you choose.
Three and a half years ago she died on stage at the VMAs to make a point about the way we like to see our icons fall. Now she’s living it.
ARTPOP will be her reconciliation, her reckoning. At the Born This Way Ball, Gaga proclaims that she will soon return as “our pop superstar” and encourages fans to tell their friends “Gaga is back”.
Soon she will be re-born as the pop mega star we fell in love with. Just that this time, her foundation won’t only be electro-pop dance songs, we’ll have the rich, mature outlook that Born This Way gave her.
Most pop artists release something more personal or experimental once their status is solidified, but Gaga did it to solidify herself. Born This Way was a game changer.
Risky? Yes. Calculated? Totally. But what aspect of her career hasn’t been? She’s banking on the success of ARTPOP to justify her absence. Her “downfall” only makes her return greater. But more importantly it makes it authentic.