Lady Gaga released her new video for G.U.Y. as part of an ‘epic’ 7 minute ARTPOP film on Saturday evening to a startlingly cotidian reception. For the most part no one is critically discussing the work itself, and instead a google search turns up aggregated news sources that simply state it was released, and gush over the predicted indulgence and “strangeness” of her newest visual production. It’s difficult to say if the work is a success. Is this lack of journalistic engagement the nail on the coffin of one of Pop’s most transfixing creations? Gaga’s career has been somewhat of an anomaly of late, and with a strange divide between her true experiences and the facade that we’ve all grown to understand, it’s an interesting direction for the ARTPOP conundrum.
G.U.Y. is Gaga’s first video release since August 19th’s rushed unveiling of the aptly prepared Applause, and the beginning of marketing and promotion for ARTPOP. Applause was an honest and revealing mantra from an artist whose career was built on the enigma of fame. It was also a phenomenal pop track, with incredible production and a stunning music video. There was a moment of excitement; a second of promise. But Applause was mostly unsuccessful, in comparison to Gaga’s previous sales records and contemporaries, and the single brought to light some disconcerting happenings in her career and within Haus of Gaga. Rumours circled about shady maneuvers to boost sales (especially in light of competing with Katy Perry’s unbelievably drab Roar).
Following Applause, Gaga began teasing tracks from ARTPOP. Among them the widely popular Do What U Want was teased on a Beats Headphones ad. It was brilliant product placement, for Beats and ARTPOP, and the ad itself made the song seem epic, intriguing, and poised for a commercial take over. But the release of Do What U Want was riddled with missteps. The song featured a controversial and tired artist (R.Kelly- whose latest record Black Panties exposed how entirely irrelevant he is), the video was never created, and the replacement of R.Kelly with Christina Aguilera read as desperate.
However, throughout this whole process, it’s important to remember that this is STILL Gaga. There are still amazing live performances, there are still gorgeous outfits, there are still fantastic pop songs. There was only one acoustic performance of Applause, and only one of Do What U Want, and both were absolutely mesmerizing and artful, a true iteration of the potential of ARTPOP.
But the question remains, what went wrong with the release? Soon after the disastrous roll-out to Do What U Want, Gaga split from Troy Carter, who had been managing her since 2006, through the very birth of her career (note- he was facing eviction before finding Gaga, so needless to say she saved his career just as much as he may have helped with hers). Beyond the public split, Gaga came out in January stating several times that her team was responsible for the untimely releases of the album,”Those who have betrayed me gravely mismanaged my time and health and left me on my own to damage control any problems that ensued as a result. Millions of dollars are not enough for some people. They want billions. Then they need trillions. I was not enough for some people. They wanted more”.
This brings us to Saturday night’s release. Gaga claims to have revitalized her staff, and states that “the next few months of ‘ARTPOP’ will truly be its beginning”, beginning with her ARTPOP mini film.
The film, clocking in at 11:46 with credits, opens with the intro to the track ARTPOP, one of the strongest on the album and a mantra of the artist’s new creative phase, as Gaga lies in a field, shot from the sky by money hungry executives who scour the earth around her for dollar bills. Pop’s ethereal siren rises from the dirt, crying as she removes the arrow of betrayal, deception, and manipulation that the music industry executives so guiltlessly pierced her with as she soared above them. It’s an interesting introduction, and something that fits within Gaga’s zeitgeist.
The video follows Gaga as she drags herself to Hearst Castle and segues into the track Venus, which was the intended follow up single to Applause but was replaced by Do What U Want after it’s critical reception (another move very unlike Gaga). The entire rebirth Venus segment of the video may be integral to the story line, but the transitions seem unnecessary and rushed, as though Gaga is playing catchup for the past three months by squishing three tracks into one video. What’s most unfortunate is these are three of the best tracks on the album, all of which would have stood alone as video releases. During the Venus interlude the audience meets The Real Housewives cast, all wearing pink and faux playing instruments. It’s not far from appalling. An unnecessary and tasteless commercial ploy, only matched by Andy Cohen’s floating head.
Remove those two factors, and the second song in the film, and G.U.Y. is mostly successful. The set, Hearst Castle, is opulent and fantastic, alluring and indulgent. It’s the most direct middle finger to the industry, like she’s saying “You shot me down? Watch me dance all over more riches than you could ever dream of taking from me”.
As the video unfurls, so does the plotline. Resecutated Gaga rises to power as a modern day futuristic cleopatra (a much more nuanced and interesting interpretation of the feminine power mystique than Katy Perry’s Dark Horse), but like all rising queens she has an achilles heel. In the video, her drive to exact her revenge on the moguls of the industry drives her, and she sits on the perch of immortality, like the Kings and Queens of yesteryear, seemingly in control and in power, living in opulence and garnering reverence, but perpetually on the edge of being overthrown, misled, and quickly toppled, in death or in battle. A rather appropriate metaphor for her current situation, if what we are seeing and hearing is actually the truth, and not just the complaints of a blameless wash up.
In more technical aspects of the video, there are some great moments. The choreography is on a huge scale, something that hasn’t been done in some time (I’m thinking since Thriller?), and as is Gaga’s tradition, it’s fantastic. There is also some beautiful fashion, thoughtful cinematography, and obviously the setting is otherworldly in it’s beauty. Also, these shots of her in front of the wall of flowers are stunning.
But, in conclusion, the state of Gaga’s career worries me. It should have been her who surprised the world with an amazing and paradigm shifting visual album. It should have been her who reinvented once more how an audience interacts with music videos. She should have been in control of her project. Is she losing her chutzpah? Is she performing too much, writing too much? Is she crumbling under the pressure of being a career pop star? I fell in love with her because I thought she had the whole industry wrapped tightly around her manicured finger. But all things change, and it’s possible she will never reach the point of relevance she once reinvented every time she stepped outside.