Lady Gaga didn’t just resurrect her career after hitting the skids in 2013. She crafted a blueprint for other shock artists to emulate.
And, amazingly enough, the Queen of Twerk appears to be taking notes.
Several years ago, Miley Cyrus began shedding her squeaky-clean Disney image, a process that reached warp speed with her Twerk heard ‘round the world in 2013. The former Hannah Montana star gyrated her now-adult rump for all to see, and she couldn’t be giddier about it.
And this was just a warm-up. She kept shedding clothes, promoting drug use and grinding everything she could find on stage. She squeezed all of Madonna’s tawdry tactics into an alarmingly short amount of time. And, not surprisingly, her record sales soared.
Meanwhile, Lady Gaga was going in the other direction.
The trouble began with Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP release in 2013. Her third full-length album should have been yet another commercial triumph. Instead, the disappointing sales marked an unwelcome obstacle to her career ascent.
The disc sold 258,000 in its first week. That’s impressive on the surface, but nothing like the 1.1 million copies of “Born This Way” she had sold just two years earlier. As well, Gaga was having trouble drawing crowds for her concerts, even when she teamed up with the Muppets for a 2013 Christmas special.
Few doubted that Lady Gaga had talent, but what was happening to her popularity? Could it be that her shtick started to overshadow her chops? That meat dress. The outrageous live act. Her aggressive activism. Consumers might have grown bored with her calculated reinventions.
Then, Lady Gaga did something truly radical. She dropped the shtick and sang. She performed a tribute to Julie Andrews during the 2015 Academy Awards telecast. Wearing an elegant dress, Lady Gaga wowed the audience, plain and simple.
She was on her way back.
More recently, she performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. Rather than turn the moment into a divisive political performance (ahem, Beyoncé), she simply offered a great show. Guess what happened next? Her record sales soared. Lady Gaga finally learned an important lesson about contemporary pop culture: Shock has an expiration date, especially in the digital age.
This wasn’t always the case.
Years ago, Madonna could startle us anew every few months, and we happily fell for it every time. Today, the Material Girl’s live performances may be ageless, but her shock tactics look oh so 2001. Blame a more cynical age, or how social media magnifies every last act.
Which bring us back to Miley Cyrus. Her recent comments are genuinely shocking, but for all the right reasons. The singer revealed that she has given up pot and alcohol in the run-up to her new album’s release later this year. “I’m not doing drugs, I’m not drinking, I’m completely clean right now. That was just something that I wanted to do,” she told Billboard magazine.
Why? She can’t fully grow as an artist otherwise.
“I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open. And I was noticing it’s not the people that are stoned. I want to be super clear and sharp, because I know exactly where I want to be,” she said.
Yes, that was really Miley Cyrus talking. It’s hard to imagine that the young singer who never met a sin she didn’t exploit is now clean, sober and decrying her old life. Is it just a market-tested persona she’s trying on? Might she fall back on her old ways, hoping the press squeezes all the publicity it can out of her “relapse?”
But let’s hope not. Cyrus is smart enough to have curbed her excesses before she became a Hollywood cautionary tale. If she keeps this up she might even become a role model again.