Lady Gaga's latest gimmick: just being herself.
The metamorphic pop star (born
But by the time she trotted out a flying dress and vomiting painter to promote her 2013 album, Artpop, the public had grown weary of her antics. The critically derided effort sold 1.4 million copies, according to Nielsen Music, making it her worst-selling solo album to date. (By comparison, her next lowest seller, 2011's Born This Way, moved 3.8 million.)
Which may be why with fifth album Joanne (out Friday), Gaga, 30, has scaled back the pageantry and doubled down on authenticity: naming it for her late aunt, donning slightly more modest ensembles (T-shirts, denim shorts and cowgirl hats) and showcasing her newly countrified sound at intimate dive bar shows.
"She's an artist who's in transformation and really looking to explore other things," says David Bakula, Nielsen Entertainment's senior vice president of analytics. "Look at the outfits she wears; look at the different personas that she's had. She's always pushing the edge of creativity."
With Artpop, "she had gotten so drunk off her own
Her reinvention started back in 2014 with Cheek to Cheek, a jazz duets album with
"If she hadn't done Cheek to Cheek (or) American Horror Story, she'd be in a much worse position," Aswad says. "There's a lot riding on (Joanne), and if it's even just good and not great, she can look at it as launching the next phase of her career. How that next phase starts depends on this."
Which is where Gaga could hit a stumbling block. Despite admirable, if not rapturous, reviews from critics, snarling first single Perfect Illusion made its debut at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart last month and has since plummeted to No. 95. Promotional track Million Reasons, released earlier this month, started at No. 76 and has sold a mere 15,000 downloads.
Both songs are a vast departure from the imaginative pop she honed on 2008's The Fame and 2009's The Fame Monster. Illusion is a disco/alt-rock hybrid co-written with
"It's challenging when an artist changes the sound," Bakula says. "You have a longstanding fan base that is going to come and get it very early. But once you get past the first week of album sales, that's when you're really developing the new fans. Is she now speaking to fans she wasn't speaking to before?"
Joanne features other unexpected collaborators such as Beck,
"If this album's good, she's relaunched," Aswad says. Illusion isn't "as strong as some of her other songs, but it points in the right direction. I don't think she's going to alienate any fans with this that she didn't already with Artpop. Even her more casual fans want to welcome her back."