To anybody who’s followed Lady Gaga’s career and personal path all the way through from at least 2013 to this day, it’s safe to say that the name ARTPOP brings back a lot of memories — and some war flashbacks. Most recently, every corner of social media that unites pop music fans has initiated lengthy discussions about the singer’s third studio album and the context that surrounded it, which arguably changed the course of her career forever. The story of ARTPOP is both a unique tale and one that many female pop stars can likely see themselves reflected in as well — and that’s exactly why it deserves to be told.
Lady Gaga’s insanely fast rise to stardom did not follow your typical pop star journey. By the time 2011 ended she had only two studio albums to her name, and was already one of the most powerful and famous people in the world — whether it be due to her edgy outfits, her unmistakable ambition or her revolutionary take on pop music, you could not possibly find anyone who didn’t have a formed opinion on her persona or her artistry. At that point, she had successfully combined pop music with the worlds of fashion and politics; sometimes, even simultaneously. In her desire to once again reinvent herself, she came up with yet another concept: a “reverse Warholian expedition,” an integration of everything that made pop music and art transgressive and groundbreaking.
By the time ARTPOP was finally introduced to the world as a full-length project, many were expectant for its failure. When the highly-expected lead single ‘Applause’ was dropped, it competed in the charts with Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ after a leak forced her team to pull off an earlier-than-expected release. It’s safe to say that in the year 2013, both Lady Gaga and Katy Perry were the most successful and flashy faces of pop music — they had known each other since the very beginning of their careers, but both the media and the fans saw an opportunity to pit them against each other, as it’s usually done with women in the entertainment industry. ‘Applause’ wasn’t, by any means, a flop: it peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it hit the Top 10 in several countries — but its performance wasn’t as strong as ‘Roar’s, and that was enough for many to declare Lady Gaga’s reign as finished, almost as if they had been eagerly waiting for it to happen.
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) October 20, 2013
Only a week prior to the ARTPOP release, the music industry was shocked by the announcement that Lady Gaga and her long-time manager Troy Carter had parted ways. Both the pop star and the businessman had helped build each other’s careers from the ground up, and “creative differences” were cited as the reason for their breakup. There were conflicting reports on both parts on what had occurred, with Carter affirming he had been fired and Gaga publicly talking about how she was abandoned — while later being open about how certain former longtime team-mates started leaving her side when they couldn’t profit off of her success as much as they used to. All in all, this separation was accompanied by a continuation of unfinished plans: a futuristic, interactive app with exclusive content, several music videos, and a sequel album were all promises that were never pulled off due to the issues that were happening behind curtains.
This frustration was shared by Lady Gaga, who expressed her feelings through an open letter to fans on her website: “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.”
Musically speaking, ARTPOP was not far off of what you could expect from an artist like Lady Gaga, and still it managed to be more extravagant than anything she had ever created. The album touched on themes ranging from sex, empowerment, drug addiction and mental health issues through sounds that went along the EDM trends of that period of music while still being innovative thanks to its rebellious, carefree and raw nature. Lady Gaga’s vision for this project and its era were more ambitious than ever, constantly referencing works of art in her every move, using intricate terms to describe the sonic experience she had developed, and looking for visual impact at all times. Nevertheless, the public simply didn’t seem to be completely on board with it — and the mismanagement had a tangible impact on this disconnection.
ARTPOP eventually ended its course prematurely — but Gaga took her passion to the very end, releasing one last 12-minute music video that was completely funded by her, and embarking on a world tour that paid homage to the album’s explosive personality. As if the intention had been to provide a perfect example of the over-the-top, merciless critiques that the artist had to endure during this time, VICE covered this release in an article titled ‘Drowning, Not Waving: The Slow and Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career,‘ in which the writer calls her and her work “boring,” “irrelevant,” and flat-out “desperate.”
What followed this period of her career may have just been the most surprising epilogue anyone could have thought of: a Jazz album with the legendary Tony Bennett, whom she described as the person who “saved her life” on multiple occasions. When it felt like the world was ready to completely write off Lady Gaga and her status as a pop culture icon, she delved into another project that came directly from her heart — and it paid off, big time. With this single piece she opened herself up to new audiences and started a new artistic journey that continues to this day: one with brand new perspectives, more vulnerability, an unbreakable desire to make the world a better place, and the same revolutionary passion that led her to touch an insurmountable amount of lives.
ARTPOP was never quite erased from public consciente, though, as its echoes resurfaced every now and then. On 2019, Lady Gaga took social media to announce she would remove ‘Do What U Want,’ her collaboration with R. Kelly and the second most-successful song on the album, from all streaming services due to the sexual abuse stories that had been shared by survivors: “As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life.” With this action, she closed the one chapter from that period that was worth burying. One year later, she mysteriously tweeted “i don’t remember ARTPOP,” which led to fan speculation on whether she was referring to the amount of drugs she consumed during its development, if she was officially disowning the album from her catalogue, or if she was simply trolling.
i don’t remember ARTPOP
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) November 11, 2019
The biggest and most unexpected resurgence for ARTPOP came in 2021, with fans gathering up to ask for “justice” for the album. In the matter of a few days, they took the album to the #1 spot on iTunes in over 40 countries, made it a constant trending topic on Twitter, and in perhaps their biggest achievement touched Lady Gaga’s heart, who mentioned on social media how thankful she was for “celebrating something that once felt like destruction.”
The petition to #buyARTPOPoniTunes for a volume II has inspired such a tremendous warmth in my heart. Making this album was like heart surgery, I was desperate, in pain, and poured my heart into electronic music that slammed harder than any drug I could find.
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) April 13, 2021
Twitter user @triconoutsold, a longtime fan of Lady Gaga, is credited for the creating the petition asking for a sequel to the album which later kicked off the rebirth of ARTPOP. “A few of us teamed up and now it’s a fandom-wide movement,” he said exclusively to Affinity. “The most important thing to me is that we made Gaga happy and reassured her about what she once said about ARTPOP, that it was ahead of its time.” As of April 19, 2021, the petition is nearing 50,000 signatures — and it shows no signs of slowing down.
The movement to celebrate this project, at its core, it’s about more than the music or the chart placements — it’s about highlighting a work of art that was misunderstood and mistreated, and it’s about raising awareness on the merciless harassment that Lady Gaga suffered during this time for not being able to meet the unrealistic and unreachable expectations that the world had on her, whether it be on her weight, on her commercial and critical performance, or on her personal strength. ARTPOP may not have been flawless, but it thoroughly showcased something precious: the passion of an artist who has devoted her entire life to breaking boundaries and defying limitations — and that, on its own, is enough to justify a celebration. mU
You can continue to listen to ARTPOP on all streaming platforms.
Featured Image Credit: Lady Gaga/Interscope Records/Jeff Koons