Never underestimate Lady Gaga.
The viral effect of digital has made it possible for artists to experience meteoric rises, falls, and rebounds within a matter of a few short years. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Lady Gaga demonstrates this reality. She exploded in popularity in 2009, but by early 2013, the critics were asking, “What Happened to Lady Gaga?” because her album ARTPOP didn’t match her previous efforts in terms of sales and critical reception.
The criticisms continued. For example, in 2014, Kat George wrote of “The Slow and Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career” in Noisey, and in 2015, Lauren Duca of The Huffington Post asked, “Lady Gaga was the biggest pop star in the world. What happened?” as her music seemingly lost its luster for no other reason than the critics said so.
Then, just as suddenly as they were vilifying her, the critics began singing a different tune throughout 2015. After a stunning performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, and after winning a Grammy for Cheek to Cheek, her collaboration with Tony Bennett, the critics spoke of a “Lady Gaga comeback.”
But Lady Gaga never went away. From 2013-15 — supposedly years of living in the wilderness — she was ranked consistently among Forbes‘s highest-earning musicians. For the past three years, she has earned $172 million according to Forbes, with most of her money coming from touring as well as commercial ventures such as her Fame fragrance. That’s what happened to Lady Gaga.
It isn’t just the money that matters.
She continues to set the standard for fan engagement. She is all over social media, celebrating her Little Monsters on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. But, being Lady Gaga, she takes engagement to another level: her LittleMonsters website now boasts 975,000 members worldwide and is the most vibrant of any celebrity-run communities.
And if you have ever been to a Lady Gaga concert, you understand that her shows are not one-way performances. She involves her fans, whether inviting them up onstage, calling them on the phone, or simply celebrating them. Not surprisingly, marketers cite her as an example of building customer loyalty. I think community love is more like it.
She continues to expand her artistic reach. She has always understood the power of theater, as her over-the-top appearances at public awards ceremonies demonstrate. In 2015, she channeled her knack for drama into her appearance as the Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel, for which she won a Golden Globe. Her American Horror Story performance has been lauded as “her greatest invention yet” by Daniel D’Addario of Time. What’s next for Lady Gaga on the drama front?
Image credit: FX
She is culturally relevant like no other artist. She is, of course, noted for being a champion of LBGT rights and youth empowerment in ways that go beyond the scope of my blog post. She is, quite simply, a champion of human rights. She is involved in so many philanthropic efforts that it’s easy to overlook the many times she has risen to the occasion to help people, whether donating concert proceeds to victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake or donating $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. During the height of her fame and the depths of the critical backlash, her commitment to human rights has been unwavering.
Finally, at her core, Lady Gaga reminds us that she has the soul and talent of an artist. For casual fans, Cheek to Cheek, and her performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, was an introduction to her powerful yet tender voice that sometimes gets overlooked amid her theatrics. Oh, and the critics are falling all over themselves to find the right words to describe how awesome her performance was at Super Bowl 50 February 7, when she turned the National Anthem into a soul standard.
And there’s more to come: she will perform a tribute to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards February 15, will perform at the Academy Awards February 28 (which will make her the first artist to perform at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards, and Oscars in one year), and reportedly has a new album on the way.
In fact, Lady Gaga is the first artist to win the Super Bowl, making the actual game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers look small.