“Gonna be okay” — Lady Gaga & the Three Year Comeback
Lady Gaga released her first single, “Just Dance” in April of 2008, and what followed was nothing short of remarkable. Each of the four singles released from The Fame peaked within the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. “Just Dance” and its follow up, “Poker Face,” both hit number one on that chart. For the album, Gaga received two Grammys from six nominations. The following EP, The Fame Monster spawned the genre- and era-defining “Bad Romance” and two subsequent singles which, again, peaked within the top ten. At the 2010 Video Music Awards, Gaga broke the record for the most nominations in a single night, including two for Video of the Year, and remains the third-biggest winner in VMA history. She collaborated with Beyoncé. Twice. The Remix, featuring tracks from both The Fame and The Fame Monster, is one of the best-selling remix albums of all time.
Born This Way, her second full-length album, gave Gaga her first number one on the Billboard 200, and sits as one of only 20 albums to ever sell a million copies in its first week. The lead single and title track spent over a month at number one on the Hot 100, and the album spawned three more top tens, including the single “The Edge of Glory,” which peaked at number three, and two top forty tracks. The album was Gaga’s third consecutive nomination for the Grammy for Album of the Year, making Gaga only the second woman — after Barbra Streisand — to achieve that feat. Gaga’s third full-length album, Artpop, also dropped at number one, and lead single “Applause” peaked at number four in the Hot 100, promo single “Dope” at number eight, and second single “Do What U Want” within the top 20. Nearly every single of her career has topped the Billboard Dance Club Chart.
Those are impressive numbers. It’s hard to imagine a single young musician who wouldn’t dream of those numbers; millions of struggling artists would kill for them. And yet, following Artpop, there was an overwhelming feeling among critics and fans that Gaga was “over.” The Born This Way era was mired by the unfortunate — though inadvertent — controversy surrounding a $0.99 promotion on Amazon that many view as having inflated the sales numbers for that album. “Born This Way” and especially “Judas” were viewed as low-rent versions of the singles that preceded them. A hip injury forced Gaga to cancel her Born This Way Ball tour, and she was seriously struggling with drug addiction leading up to that cancellation. Artpop failed to live up to expectations — both critically and financially — and it was mired with its own controversies related to the questionable collaborations with both R. Kelly and Terry Richardson for the song and (the never [officially] released) video for “Do What U Want.” She split with her manager, Troy Carter, as the album was coming out, and (unconfirmed) rumors of abysmal ticket sales haunted the beginnings of her ArtRave tour. By all accounts, this era would be the one that ended Lady Gaga’s career.
But it didn’t. The reviews for the ArtRave were, yes, mixed, but nothing close to the near-universal trashing of the album which preceded it. (Side note: I loved the show, so there.) Near the end of the tour, Gaga released Cheek to Cheek, a collaboration with Tony Bennett. This album debuted at number one — Gaga’s second to do so in less than twelve months, making her and Taylor Swift the only two women to have three number ones in the 2010's— to nearly universal praise. To promote the record, Gaga and Bennett went on a small tour, produced a(n Emmy-nominated) PBS special, and performed together on The Grammys. That night, Gaga was awarded her sixth Grammy, for Best Traditional Pop Vocal album, beating the likes of Streisand and Annie Lennox in the process. Already, following this successful tour and new album, it looked like Lady Gaga was slowly on her way to something of a comeback. And then The Oscars happened. Her medley of songs from the beloved Sound of Music earned her praise nearly across the board, including from the musical’s star, Julie Andrews, and shocked audiences who hadn’t already been shocked by the widely circulated video of her cover of Cher’s “Bang Bang.”
We’re about ten months out from that performance, and she just received an Academy Award nomination for “Til it Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground; the song’s already up for the Grammys’ version of the award. On Sunday, she received a Golden Globe for her turn as The Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel, a project straight out of a Little Monster’s fever dream. She was the face of Tom Ford, complete with the Nile Rogers-produced cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love.” Billboard named her their 2015 Woman of the Year, an accolade that might not make much sense looking at her chart numbers from the past year, but, when you list her accomplishments in 2015, it’s hard to imagine another woman to receive that award (remember, Adele’s 25 had not yet been released in the fall, when it was announced that Gaga would be receiving the honor).
And now begins the teasing and speculation surrounding Gaga’s fourth full-length solo LP. It’s pretty much confirmed that she’ll be working with RedOne (“Poker Face,” “Bad Romance”) again, and she’s also rumored to be working with Mark Ronson (“Uptown Funk”) and Giorgio Morodor ( Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” “Déjà vu” with Sia). So expectations are high for this record. It could very well be the album that punctuates her return (not wholly unlike Madonna’s Rebel Heart). But if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that Lady Gaga is not going to leave pop music — and pop culture — quietly.