Half a decade ago, two entire lifetimes in entertainment, Noisey wrote an article entitled “Drowning, Not Waving: The Slow, Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career.” A take hot enough to burn a CD, the article examined Gaga’s latest album cycle, the then-maligned ARTPOP, and its subsequent promo endeavors - a neon vomit situation and collaborations with known predators. The folks at Noisey wrote it, but the public shared their reservations for some time - was Gaga a goner?
Inexplicably for Noisey, Gaga’s career not only survived ARTPOP, it entered a new era of superstardom. Since 2014, she’s starred in hit TV series and films, released another Grammy-nominated album, and is now poised to win at least one Academy Award. A star is born indeed, and she has risen from ashes in a truly Gaga fashion: with a twist. Gaga no longer “fucking hates pants,” sang country music, and gave a rendition of “The Sound of Music” now considered a classic performance in her repertoire. In short, the “death knell” predicted by Noisey never came to pass.
Looking back, “Drowning, Not Waving . . .” got about half of it right. At the time of the article, Gaga lay on a precarious slope. Her tricks felt desperate at best to morally questionable at worst. Any artist forgoing her little monsters in favor of literal monsters deserves some scrutiny. As a purveyor of music news and critiques, Noisey makes such observations, and readers turn to the publication for viewpoints they feel inform and – especially today – validate their own. Since provocateur Gaga dictated popularity for so long, it felt almost gleeful to turn it against her.
Noisey’s article recalled Rolling Stone’s infamous ‘08 cover story about “American tragedy” Britney Spears, another piece that miscalculated a pop star’s resilience. While Noisey’s critique never reaches the invasive level of the Spears feature, it does condemn a pop star to death, albeit a professional one. It derides Gaga for showing off a different type of sexuality and calls her music “fucking terrible,” neither of which are entirely deserved. Women in music already deal with a disproportionate level of sexual scrutiny, and retrospective looks at ARTPOP raise questions about whether the album and Gaga received fair judgment.
On the one hand, the same culture that pushed her towards meat and bubble dresses also turned on her for it. The “pop demi-goddery” she rocked came from the public’s endless rapture for her material while turning a blind eye to her flaws. The public’s desire to be amazed coupled with Gaga’s relentless drive meant burnout would come sooner or later. To blame her for becoming dull places some fault on the consumer culture that strove to categorize her antics.
On the other hand, Gaga worked with known abusers, recorded a song called “Gypsy”, and planned to release another called “Burqa”. Predators and cultural insensitivity aside, Gaga also took shock value too far, something she admitted was a marketing ploy down the line. Simply put, 2013-14 was not Lady Gaga’s best moment, and much of her hardships were her fault. Noisey took a harsh tone with it, but her tasteless decisions warrant a bit of bluntness.
By its end, the article leaves the reader conflicted the same way many artists do. It points toward lowered sales and streams to declare an artist culturally insignificant while using her “conventional sexuality” to label her boring. Artists hit slumps, and plenty also use sex to sell - but neither of these issues deserve a death sentence. It’s a far cry from Pitchfork’s scathing but humorous critiques of Ed Sheeran and Justin Timberlake, which manage to address artistic merit and behavioral flaws through the lens of their works without the cruelty.
Furthermore, takes like Noisey’s and Rolling Stone’s always seem directed at women, the ones who undoubtedly face bigger falls for lesser infractions. A few months prior to the Gaga piece, Noisey debated the legacy of R. Kelly’s work in comparison to his crimes. Despite the fact that Kelly hadn’t had a hit in years and most people knew of his behavior, he warrants a discussion about his legacy while Gaga, who worked with him, gets the axe.
Even so, cultural insensitivity and working with abusers do call for some sort of repercussions, though Gaga rarely saw any. A year after the neon barf incident, she wowed the world at the 87th Academy Awards. A year later after that, Billboard called “Do What U Want” one of Gaga’s best “one-two punches” in an ARTPOP retrospective. Today, that song has enjoyed a rise in both sales and streams. No wonder Gaga stumbles - the public discourse she rides constantly trips over itself.
Now it carries her into awards season, undoubtedly igniting a new and prosperous era for Stefani Germanotta. A Star is Born captivated audiences and Gaga became a red carpet greatest delight in a completely different way than she used to be. An EGOT seems not too far off, at least not for her PR people. Cancellation feels distant and unlikely, but in that case should Noisey and others be more critical seeing as no one’s ever really punished, at least usually not the right people? If the answer is “yes,” then such critiques must be evenhanded towards artists of all genders, and said critiques must not be forgotten the moment an artist’s work eclipses the story.
Truly far from the shallows, Gaga swims in the depths of a discourse way bigger than herself, something worth considering before flippantly sending her career off to die.