Lefsetz: Lady Gaga Lays an Egg

lady_gaga___joanne_folder_icon_by_nickohetenbern-dahufotIt’s a stiff…

Ignore the sales chart. That’s where hard core fans and kooky-loos go to participate, the store. The action is now in streaming, where we can see right away if anybody is listening.


It’s staggering, but not one track off of Lady Gaga‘s new collection “Joanne” is in the Spotify United States Top 50. It’d be like putting out a new “Star Wars” movie and finding no one in the theater, ending up with a gross of les than seven figures for the weekend.

How did she go so wrong?

Well, her last album, “Artpop,” was a flop, too.

Then she detoured into a collaboration with Tony Bennett.

And now she’s put out an album without a hit – and she lived and died on the hit.

But the same thing happened to Katy Perry. That Olympics song? Straight to the dumper.

So what is happening?

The rules are changing. The audience is changing. And if you’re looking for the mainstream media to jump in and set you straight, or the major labels, you’re going to continue to be blind.

We live in an on demand culture.

Data rules and we can tell if something is successful instantly. And it’s hard to resuscitate a project, especially when it’s got the stink upon it.

Five of “Joanne”‘s 14 tracks don’t even have a million streams.

Six break a million but don’t reach two.

Perfect Illusion,” the advance track, is at 38 million and change. But #50 on the Spotify US Top 50, Lil Yachty‘s “One Night,” has 38 million streams. And #1, “Starboy,” the Weeknd’s collaboration with Daft Punk, has a cume of 144 million plus, and it’s racking them up at the rate of 1,285,283 a day.

Now Gaga used collaborators too, but that’s become the story, whereas it’s only the end product that make a difference. And “Joanne”…is a curious collection of songs that lean more towards rock than EDM – and the electronic sound dominates today.

imageIsn’t it funny how the cognoscenti pooh-poohed EDM but despite the Sillerman shenanigans and the bad press, i.e. O.D.’s, the truth is EDM has never been more dominant in America. All those deejays became producers and the sound has triumphed.

It’d be one thing if Gaga didn’t depend upon hits, if she made it on critical acclaim alone. Adele rode that paradigm with “25,” banking on oldsters to buy CDs  – “Adele’s Most Fervent Fans? Soccer Moms“-  but CDs are a de minims part of the picture now, and at least she led “25” with “Hello,” a much bigger hit than “Perfect Illusion.”

You see, while the oldsters and marginal players were bitching about streaming payments and the death of albums, a younger generation stole their lunch.

They moved into the vacuum and triumphed.

Just ask a manager; the only radio format that means anything is Top 40. Go to No. 1 on Active Rock and…you might be able to sell out large clubs. Have a bunch of hits on Active Rock and you still can’t fill arenas.

This is the new truth.

Now it’s about pop music released on a constant basis – you don’t want to lose your stranglehold on the public. Justin Bieber put out an album not quite a year ago that contained huge hits and he’s already got new product in the marketplace – his collaborations with DJ Snake and Major Lazer are BOTH in the Spotify Top 10 (with cumes exceeding 334 million and 435 million respectively).

If Katy Perry were smart, she’d call up Dr. Luke right now and put out a track before Christmas to shore up her base.

Instead, she’s staying at home creating a long player – bad strategy.

If long players counted… The opening cut on “Joanne” would have huge numbers. But the truth is it’s not quite at one and a half million. People are cherry-picking what they want to hear. And the cuts at the end of the LP… Are the weakest in streaming numbers.

Albums were a good strategy when it was about ownership, not listenership, when you got paid on every track, no matter how bad it was.

Now you sink or swim on the quality of the music. A lame track on an album isn’t worth the time you put into making it.

The data doesn’t lie. Labels can influence radio, spread false stories to a somnambulant press, but now that we know what people are listening to or not…

It’s a whole new ball game.

P.S. “Joanne” is not bad, just not good enough. You listen and hear quality, but it’s not great, and today you’ve got to fire at 10 to succeed.

P.P.S. Everybody can hear your music these days. The barrier to entry is low. I never would have bought “Joanne,” but I did check it out on Spotify. That’s a good thing, that I’m interested. The bad thing is it didn’t make me want to hear it again.

P.P.P.S. My favorite cut on the album is “Sinner’s Prayer,” track 8, which barely breaks a million in cume. It’s buried in the tsunami of hype. Better to space out your releases, if this was a surprise track it would have gotten more traction.

P.P.P.P.S. Even Bruno Mars is struggling. His “24K Magic” is #14 and on the way down and it’s got a cume of 40 million. It’s a rough game these days, you can’t buy a hit, you’ve got to deliver.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Can Gagga sell a ticket? Streams can be marginal yet you can still garner enough fans to fill buildings. This is the game for the oldsters and wannabes, because they can never rack up enough streams to make big money on Spotify.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. I doubt there will be instant sellouts, but GaGa could do good business, or fail completely. It’s a question of how many hard core fans want to pay big bucks to see her and how many looky-loos get caught up in the excitement, which is waning as the album sinks in the marketplace.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. The Super Bowl! Bad timing. The album and the on-sale should have been the same day. You want to strike when the iron is hot. Then again, she might kill it on Super Sunday and create demand. We do live in a live experience culture. But the truth is Gaga doesn’t have that many hits.

She’s become a creature of media.

How many hard core Gaga fans are out there? Many fewer than you think.

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7 Responses to Lefsetz: Lady Gaga Lays an Egg

  1. miket... says:

    never really know how to take some of these posts from lefsetz… do i just give up because i’m terminally un-hip? forever banished to the past because I don’t stream? (i do, kinda sorta.)

    who’s his audience for this one? budding musicians who better listen and learn the harsh lessons of pop stars who’ve made millions but are tumbling quickly into the abyss of obscurity and irrelevance? well, were they ever REALLY relevant anyway? hm…. i guess enough so that they made millions!! (see what i did there?)

    but really, who needs the anxiety?

    not me… think i’m gonna emulate k-rac: pour a nice bourbon, light the pipe and drop the needle on some high-fidelity vinyl from 1970.

  2. Jim a.k.a. BWH says:

    Here’s all I know: I listen to all of the musical artists/groups from the 70’s & 80’s. This is easily done on a number of local radio stations that focus on music from 30 and 40 years ago.

    Will there be anybody, and I literally mean ANYBODY, that will be listening to Lady Gaga or any of the other “artists” named in Letsetz’s article in the year 2056?

    • miket... says:

      maybe adele… the rest? pffffft…

    • Guy Who Says What Others Think says:

      As a father/stepfather of 4 girls who range in age from 18 to 12, I often wonder the same damn thing when I hear some of the soulless garbage they listen to. I mean, where will these schmucks be in 30 years? I seriously doubt they’ll still be touring and selling out arenas/stadiums like Roger Waters. Oh and Roger is in his 70’s now.

  3. I’d be a much harder core Gaga fan if she’d appear in a porn film. American Horror Story just ain’t cuttin’ it for me.

  4. JPL says:

    Lady Gaga. Beyonce. Katy Perry. And a thousand more acts just like them – it’s all babysitter music. It isn’t necessarily terrible music, but it’s utterly forgettable, simple, dumb and banal. It’s not of much value to any of us that aren’t 11-17 year old girls. But babysitter music, hip hop and EDM are all that you’ll find on the charts. None of that stuff will have a shelf life, but this is the world we live in, musically, post-internet.

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