Taller than Most
OVER the past few days…
PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation
Lady Gaga has been teasing clips from her forthcoming documentary Gaga: Five Feet Two. The Pop megastar reveals, in clips and in the documentary, is seen as larger-than-life but, in reality, is very human. I wanted to look at why the documentary is so important and how Lady Gaga, in her revelations and bravery, is going to inspire so many other people out there. Before that, thanks to Billboard for summarising; a look at what one can expect:
“Lady Gaga is hitting a screen near you come September with an original Netflix documentary calledGaga: Five Foot Two, the pop star announced in a series of teasers on social media today (Aug. 24).
“I’m known for being larger than life, but really I’m just… #GagaFiveFootTwo,” Gaga tweeted, posting several raw, intimate trailers that offer a rare glimpse into the off-stage life of the "Million Reasons" star.
The first visual features a tearful voiceover of the singer confessing her loneliness: "I'm alone, Brandon, every night. And all these people will leave, right?" Gaga says. "And I go from everyone touching me all day, and talking at me all day, to total silence." Then, in the captivating second video, we watch the singer ascend on stage wires for her Super Bowl performance earlier this year”.
There is a lot to suggest things in Lady Gaga’s world might not be all that bad. Billboard have looked at her recent tour – in support of the album, Joanne – and the success it has brought her. The article addresses how lucrative the American singer is right now:
“The first box office counts of Lady Gaga’s Joanne World Tour have been reported to Billboard Boxscore, with $8.7 million earned from the trek’s first five shows. (See Hot Tours ranking, below.)
The Joanne World Tour kicked off on Aug. 1 at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena and is slated to play 59 shows through Dec. 18. (The tour has 53 arena shows and six stadium shows on its schedule.)
With sellout crowds in attendance at the first four venues on the 20-week trek, the tour took in $8.7 million in ticket sales at the box office from 78,530 sold tickets at five performances, based on reports by promoter Live Nation”.
There are two sides to Lady Gaga in a life that is far from binary. Many assume, looking at Pop stars and the success they accrue, are going to be adjusted, satisfied and smiling all the time. One does not realise how draining and demanding a modern music career can be. Gaga has not long let the dust settle from her headline appearance at Wrigley Field and the historic nature of that. She is the first female to do so – her social media feed attested as to how tiring it was – and attacked that responsibility with passion and courage (“Welcome to the mother*cking womb” was her bellicose lay-down to any doubters). There is no denying her status and celebrity has helped her become a pioneering and groundbreaking artist. Joanne is Gaga’s most-recent album (2016) and, by some, seen as a mixed affair. One cannot argue with the figures and performance of the record upon its release:
In the United States, Joanne debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 170,000 copies in its first week, and 201,000 total album-equivalent units according to Nielsen SoundScan. It became Gaga's fourth album to top the chart following Born This Way (2011), Artpop (2013), and Cheek to Cheek (2014). The album also was 2016's second highest debut for a female album in the nation after Beyoncé's Lemonade opened with 485,000 copies. As a result, Gaga became the first woman to have four US number one albums in the 2010s. The album-equivalent units for Joanne consisted of 135,000 song sales and 26 million streams along with the traditional 170,000 album sales. The debut of Joanneprompted Gaga to rise to number 1 on the Billboard Artist 100 chart, which measures artist activity across the publication's most influential charts.
The album sales dropped by 70% to 61,000 units in the second week, consequently it fell to number 5 on the Billboard 200. By April 2017, the album had scanned 515,000 in sales. Following Gaga's Super Bowl LI halftime show performance, Joanne arose 66–2 on the Billboard 200, selling 48,000 copies and 74,000 total album-equivalent units (up by 818%). Joanne debuted at number 2 on the Canadian Albums Chart with 17,500 album-equivalent units, behind Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker. According to the Canadian SoundScan, the album had the third highest on-demand streams in the country. On November 4, 2016, the album was certified gold by Music Canada for shipments of 40,000 copies in the country. Like the United States, the Super Bowl performance also had an impact in Canada, where Joanne vaulted from 54–2, making a total of 524% gain in album-equivalent units.
PHOTO CREDIT: Beats 1 Radio
In the United Kingdom, Joanne debuted at number 3 on the UK Albums Chart, with first week sales of 26,694 copies, behind Elvis Presley's posthumous release, The Wonder of You, and Michael Bublé's Nobody but Me. On the UK Album Downloads Chart, Joanne entered the chart at number 1. It also reached number 2 on the Official Albums Streaming Chart, and number 5 on the Official Physical Albums Chart. The following week, it exited the top-ten, dropping to number 14, with sales of 9,602 units. As of February 2017, the album has sold 90,624 copies in the nation, and has been certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipping 100,000 units. Following the Super Bowl performance the record moved from 88–11 on the chart with sales increasing to 5,289 copies. Joanne debuted at number 3 on the Irish Albums Chart. The album had a less than expected debut in France, where it entered the album chart at number 9, with sales of just over 8,000 copies. Pure Charts website theorized that the moderate performance of the lead single, "Perfect Illusion", and the absence of Gaga in the media during album release week, contributed to the low debut. By the year end, they deemed Joanne as one of the commercially disappointing albums in France, achieving total sales of 12,000 copies.
Critics noted how strong Gaga’s voice is throughout the album and the genre-fluid nature of the material. It remains a strong album and one with plenty of highlights. Gaga co-produced the album with Mark Ronson and BloodPop and, between them, managed to make songs like Perfect Illusion, Million Reasons and John Wayne as strong as any material in her back-catalogue. Some felt the songs and themes addressed were too calculated and meticulous – perhaps, not as much freedom and independence as her earlier records. I am not a huge fan of Lady Gaga’s music but appreciate the effect she has on her fans and how different she is when compared with the Pop mainstream. Joanne is a more stripped-down affair than Artpop (her previous record) and veers between Dance-Pop and Country songs. There is more sophistication and vulnerability on the record. The bangers and dancefloor classics have not been abandoned: they have been mixed inside more adult and personal tracks. There is only three years between the albums but a lot happened in the period between the records – more on that later. Joanne, maybe, signals a new direction for Gaga: from the eye-catching Dance-Pop leader to someone taking the lights down – and the volume – and less constricted. Joanne allows energetic expression but it has time for softness and tenderness. It is less concerned with fitting into moulds and repeating what has come before.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ruth Hogben
It is Lady Gaga’s first two albums – The Fame in 2008 and Born This Way in 2011 – that took her from obscure singer to a global icon. Her debut, with a few co-writers/producers, possessed plenty of hits and distinction. Paparazzi, Poker Face and LoveGame as solid and original and fresh Pop hits that shook up the scene and introduced a rare and colourful plumage – an artist that did things differently and provided a definite degree of interest and fascination. I remember when that album arrived and, not a fan of Pop at the time, was drawn to the talk and attention the album was afforded. Irony-filled, huge and dramatic: no surprise the record topped the charts in multiple countries and sold by the bucket-load. Three years is a long time between releases but, from 2008-2011, Gaga was working on new material and bringing styles like Rock and Electro into the mix – making sure she retained her identity but evolved between albums. Sexuality, freedom and religion are all addressed on the record and, from its alluring and biker-chick cover - is a sexier and more defiant work. The step-up in quality and confidence can be heard on songs such as Born This Way and Judas. There was criticism of the album – its brazen use of religious imagery (mixed with sexuality) offended some corners – was washed away by a sea of positivity.
Even those critics outside of the Pop world – NME and a lot of the broadsheets – poured praise on the record and how passionate Gaga is throughout. Every song gets an epic and personal performance full of excess and strength. Each song is nailed and there is so much life and drama. Judas is one of the best songs from the past ten years – regardless of any genre and artists. From four-on-the-floor House to Disco; Funk and Soul; Pop and Electro – so many sounds and genres seamlessly stirred and poured into an incredible album. Themes look at racial equality and feminism; equality and strength in society – not judging people and challenging those who do wrong and are insincere. Not only are albums like The Fame and Born This Way accessible and popular Pop albums – they are a lot deeper and sophisticated than most of what is out there. It is small wonder critics were impressed by the wisdom, depth and potency of the lyrics. I love the music and the performances but it is what Gaga sings about that endures. She is not someone that wants to leave the serious and hard-hitting at the door. Even from her debut; her music has challenged stigma and broken down barriers. It is important providing music that gets into the heart and head but, one of the big reasons her fanbase included a wide range of ages and sorts, is the fact her lyrics were/are brave and compelling.
To people like me – men who are a bit older – there is a lot to take away. Each of her albums has gained enormous success and, at either end of the creative process, there is a lot to take on and do. The work-rate required to record the songs – from someone who puts her all into the music – is enormous. After that; Gaga would promote and tease songs from the record. Interviewing and promotion right unless release date – it is an exhausting and never-ending circus of sound-bites, articles and repeated answers. Behind all the glamour and excitement of the record, one has to remember she is a huge artist whose time and body are demanded by all. There would not have been a lot of time for her to decompress and detach from music at that time. When the albums were released; there was the promoting, still, and tour dates. It is when the recognition and sales come when the pressure mounts. It is rewarding being an inspiration but there is a downside to the allure and acclaim. Those big world tour – she is on one right now – are necessary to ensure people around the world get to see their favourite star up-close and personal. From the U.S., she travels across the continents and to thousands of people. Ferried between towns and locations for the people: what is the true toll on the person in question?!
PHOTO CREDIT: Greg Noire
I did not want to get too involved in the blow-by-blow of each album for a number of reasons. There are those big videos and songs online – and will include a few at the bottom of this piece – and we all know the chart positions and how the albums were received. If one wants to know the themes, producers and complexities of those albums - they can look on Wikipedia and fill their boots. I wanted to talk about the positivities around the music and how affecting her music is. Lady Gaga is the antithesis and remedy of the shallow and vacuous Pop performer. There are so many who flaunt their bodies and are addicted to Instagram and whoring after fame. This is a cancer that needs to be eradicated because it means artists like Lady Gaga are being lumped in with them. To me, her music is maybe second or third down the list of reasons why she is so essential and influential. The girls and young listeners who take her music to heart are not repeating mantras and choruses aimlessly. They are connected with a very real and human personality who reveals a lot about herself. I mentioned how the tours bring pressure but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Every new album campaign and cycle is exhausting and hugely involving. Artists like Gaga give their everything and are dragged around the world. There is not a lot of time to see family or take time to relax. Scrutiny and pressure is on their shoulder.
If one looks a typical interview - there is that demand to be professional and keep everything on-point and not too offensive. People want to know about the music and what goes into it but not a lot about the artist and what they are like away from music. There are few asking how Lady Gaga handles the endless pressure and what she is like away from the glare and excitement of performances. Away from the multi-million-dollar revenue and success of her tours: there is a vulnerable and real woman that people forget about. A U.S. video questioned whether Lady Gaga should reveal herself so explicitly in the documentary. Those seeing clips are wondering whether that brutal honesty and no-holds-barred aspect to her personality will have a negative effect on her fans.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lady Gaga
I do not feel there is any consideration of her fans: the people who love her will watch it and give their hearts and tears to her. She is not looking to exploit her celebrity and get attention from anyone. I implore people to search YouTube and Google for interviews she has conducted over the years. There is rarely a sense of struggle and someone suffering beneath it. Every time she gives an interview there is something memorable to take away. She is such a fascinating personality but, to many, she is a ‘brand’ – not someone who warrants any safeguarding and human connection. So many want to trip her up and ask asinine questions. The reason Gaga: Five Feet Two is causing ruction is because it is the result of a young woman showing people she is as real and relatable as anyone out there. If an ordinary human made this documentary, there would be few objections.
PHOTO CREDIT: Harper's Bazaar
It is upsetting seeing a famous person reveal themselves with such brutality and lack of filter. I am going to be interested seeing how the Netflix documentary is received and how her established fanbase takes to it. Most will applaud her courage for tackling mental ill health and the downsides of fame. We all know about Lady Gaga’s anxiety and the fact she has wrestled loneliness and demons for many years. This is not a new occurrence but has exacerbated since she came into music. The more successful she gets; the worse her depression and anxiety become. I know many people who feel a personal connection to Gaga because she represents a struggle many of her fans go through. Seeing a star articulate the issues and problems many keep closeted: that provide so much heart and comfort to them. If musicians shut themselves away and maintain a smiley and one-dimensional façade – this is going to give false impressions to the people who love them. Recent suicides – Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington – have shown how musicians, we feel are okay and successful, take their own life. How culpable are we, as fans, for the downfall and emotional torment some of our most beloved musicians face?! One cannot exculpable themselves but, naturally, the problem is more complex than a simple accusation. As a social media obsessed generation; we are becoming less connected with humans and a lot more demanding. Lady Gaga is a champion for mental health and wants betterment and restructure. She knows the profound and prolific problems people like her face and the need for conversation.
Many of us see the glamorous, gorgeous and successful young woman fill stadiums and see her albums go to number-one. The snippets from her 22nd September-due documentary highlight one clear-cut fact: Lady Gaga feels very alone. She has millions of adoring fans but, when she goes home at the end of the day, she feels alone. Maybe love and realistic relationships are impossible given her position and the fact her every move is scrutinised means she cannot really enjoy the benefits of a conventional and substantial relationship. Maybe there is physical gratification but she is not someone going out and spending the night with random men. She wants a long-lasting and true relationship. Not only to make her life feel complete but relinquish a lot of the burden she has on her shoulders.
The endless glare of the paparazzi – the same she was documenting on her debut album – will not let her be and, as we have seen, judge her when she is open to the public. I laid out the sales figures and the commercial success of Joanne because it shows the numerical value of her success – without addressing the personal costs. Those numbers and are black-and-white and seem, in the media’s eyes, to define an artist. Gaga has earned her places as a revered and special human because she offers help and support to so many – supporting the L.G.B.T.Q. community and making anxiety and loneliness more visible. The reason Gaga: Five Feet Two is so important is because it lifts a lid on the realities of modern music and how we treat artists – never considering how they feel and how fame affects them.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga speaking at a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Orlando on the steps of City Hall
Gaga is someone who is like you and me – albeit, blessed with incredible talent and passion for what she does. It doesn’t matter how much money she makes and how her tours do. That is a reaction to her popularity but that, in turn, is the catalyst for a sense of expectation and isolation. If the likes of Chris Cornell had been given the chance to reveal their depression and fears in a documentary – would his life ended as soon and heartbreakingly as it did?! That is for debate but I think it is brave and much-needed having an artist as big and known as Lady Gaga (literally) showing her bruises and scars to the camera. We get so absorbed with social media and how meaningless it can be. Even typing this, I am being grated like cheese - given the fact so many people post so much crap. From endless videos and pointless sharing: there is nothing social and real about it. That makes isolation less visible and meaningful – compared to ridiculous videos and status updates. Lady Gaga’s existence is based on streaming figures, dollars and fans – she is rarely afforded the chance to tell her story and ask for time off. Her documentary is not a cry for help or a cheap publicity stunt. It is an ego-free and uncompressing examination of a complex human who, despite her wealth and tremendous backing, does not feel as supported, loved and enriched as she would hope. In 2017 – when there is still a stigma around anxiety – we need more revealing documentaries to make one aware of the extent and reality of mental illness and the simple devastation of loneliness.
PHOTO CREDIT: Beats 1 Radio
One cannot objectify and question Lady Gaga’s aims or feel it is too revealing. We show films with all manner of sex, violence and profanity but when it comes to real and more common incorporations – menstrual blood, the realities of council estates and struggles in communities – that is overlooked. It is not ‘cool’ or what the media want us to see. Yes, anxiety is not fashionable but, then again, how much irony would there be if a star like Gaga succumbed to her loneliness and that was spread in the media. There would be a combination of gaudy voyeurism and trolling – mixed with genuine heartbreak and questions. People would ask why this happened and whether we could do more. This, as I said, is not her cry for help or giving up: a portrayal and expose of a person who is very different to the brash and confident artists commanding stages around the world. The media is so obsessed crunching numbers and spreading rumours. They are relatively uninterested in personal struggles as that, they see, is not part of their job and appeal – feeling they have fame and success so what do they have to be upset about?! Breaking these arguments down – and opening minds to physiological issues becoming rifer in music – is a big and positive step towards better mediation and awareness. Lady Gaga, in her music and humanity, has given so much to the people. She is, as the documentary states, a mere five-foot-two but, in heart and courage, is a giant of a person. Gaga: Five Feet Two will spark debate so let’s hope it is more positive than negative. Despite her loneliness, pains and struggle: Lady Gaga is certainly a hell of a lot…
TALLER than most.