The do's and don'ts of Lady Gaga's next album
"LG5 time." With that Instagram caption posted on Monday (Aug. 3), Lady Gaga has Little Monsters old and new alike in a tizzy. Following her 2013 opus ARTPOP -- which scored a Top 10 hit with "Applause" but was met with mixed reviews and slightly more tepid sales -- with the Tony Bennett duets album Cheek To Cheek, Gaga regained some of her mojo. However, her fifth studio album (likely due out in 2016) still carries lots of question marks. What will it sound like? How and when will it arrive? Will it restore Gaga to her rightful place in the pop pantheon? These are only questions that Gaga herself can answer... but we are also here to impart some unsolicited advice.
With some smart creative choices and a focused presentation, Gaga can return to the impenetrable turn-of-the-decade reign. Follow these suggestions, Lady Gaga, and just dance back to the top:
DO nod to your Cheek To Cheek success. There's a reason that Cheek To Cheek was a resounding success for Gaga and Tony Bennett: the duets album removed Gaga from the electronic fantasia of ARTPOP and placed the pop singer into a more traditional musical setting, one where she could thrive on her vocal ability and display her natural charisma (Gaga is damn funny when she's not striking her serious artiste pose!). Gaga's next full-length shouldn't be a jazz-standards collection, but she would be wise to include some of the same winks — and a lot of the laid-back, welcoming personality — that made Cheek To Cheek a winner.
DON'T record a new duet with Tony Bennett for your album. Someday a Cheek To Cheek Part II might happen, but Gaga would be wise to compartmentalize her work with the musical legend and her solo oeuvre. Unless Gaga is planning on recording a jazz album on her own — or getting Bennett to guest on a dance single, which would also be a pretty strange task in 2015 — jamming a new collaboration into Gaga's pop comeback would feel forced and awkward.
DO record some sort of triumphant love song. Lest we forget, Lady Gaga got engaged to Taylor Kinney less than six months ago! And we could all use another high-wattage, pseudo-cheesy Gaga power ballad in the vein of "You & I." Lady Gaga has transitioned away from "Bad Romance" and into a beautiful romance in real life, and she deserves to celebrate that personal happiness in her creative endeavors. Imagine if Gaga presented her fans with something akin to Kanye West's "Bound 2" video! We already know Gaga's affinity for motorcycles...
DON'T feel the need to make another 15-song opus.The Fame Monster, arguably Lady Gaga's most critically acclaimed album release, only had eight new songs featured on its track list, as a deluxe reissue of her Fame full-length. Still, Gaga made those eight songs — including "Bad Romance," "Telephone" and "Alejandro" — count, and ended up scoring an album of the year nomination for The Fame Monster. On the other hand, Born This Way and ARTPOP included 14 tracks and 15 tracks, respectively, and in both cases, three or four songs seemed expendable. What Gaga needs for her next album is a cohesive set of 10 or 11 supremely sturdy songs, because sometimes, less is way more.
DO duet with another R&B artist. "Do What U Want," the second single from ARTPOP and a steamy team-up with R. Kelly, failed to reach the Top 10 amid newly circulating reports of Kelly's past child pornography lawsuits and a disastrous, Terry Richardson-directed music video that never saw the light of day. Here's the thing, though: "Do What U Want" remains an all-time great Gaga single, a combustible sex jam that lets her vamp over the slinky production. Why not take another crack at the style with a decisively uncontroversial artist from R&B's new school? Gaga could blow the roof off with Miguel, get introspective with Frank Ocean or convince the Weeknd to love her harder.
DON'T rely on shock value. Speaking of that failed "Do What U Want" music video, the beginning of 2014 found Gaga pushing her art to an ungainly place, with vomiting set pieces at South By Southwest and an Artrave tour that proved less coherent than her previous international runs. The biggest shock of Cheek To Cheek (and, to a lesser extent, her Academy Awards performance earlier this year) was how un-shocking it was; here was Gaga dazzling us without all the bells and whistles, entertaining with nary a gimmick in sight. She needs to carry that straightforward approach over to her next project, and surprise her fans with killer tunes instead of garish Doritos-sponsored showcases.
DO work with new co-writers. "She still insists on writing her own songs, and ARTPOP was a mess," one former Gaga associate told Billboard last March. That's a little harsh, but it's probably true that Gaga's solo material could use an infusion of outside talent, if only to keep her tunes as varied and as fresh as possible. Why not venture to the glittery 80's pop realm with the Haim sisters or Tegan & Sara? Maybe Charli XCX or Jessie Ware will help Gaga find her next brat-pop anthem or torch song. Imagine what someone like Greg Kurstin could whip up with Gaga, or the explosiveness Grimes could concoct in the studio. The possibilities truly are endless.
DON'T follow current pop trends. That being said, Lady Gaga doesn't necessarily need to run to Max Martin or one of his Swedish production elves to scoop up a hit, or (shudder) work around a horn riff of the "Problem"/"Talk Dirty"/"Worth It" ilk. Gaga has never been about abiding by what's in vogue, and even when her ideas have not panned out, she's at the very least tirelessly original. Trusting Gaga to stand and deliver means having faith that she will figure out the next direction of pop music, not regurgitate the paths that have already been explored.
DO record "Telephone Part II." Come on. Gaga and Beyonce, linking back up to continue the ass-kicking partnership set forth five years ago? That's a no-brainer in terms of buzz and quality control. The nine-and-a-half minute "Telephone" video is among Gaga's best and had 234 million views on YouTube — and that was three years before Beyonce's self-titled reinvention helped her reach a new level of stardom. The fans want this, the non-fans will still listen to and watch this, and the artists themselves have always been on the same page professionally. Let's make it happen!
DON'T worry about commercial performance. Remember when ARTPOP debuted at No. 1 in November 2013 with a less-than-expected 258,000 copies sold in its first week, according to Nielsen Music, and Gaga took to Twitter to defend herself against those mocking the still-huge start as a "flop"... and only brought more attention to the situation? Compare that response with the bow of Cheek To Cheek, which hit No. 1 with roughly half of what ARTPOP sold in its first week, but was touted as a triumph by Team Gaga. These things are all about expectation and perception, and if Gaga's next album does not match the start of ARTPOP (or Cheek To Cheek) — a realistic possibility, with falling CD sales and the longer break Gaga will have taken between ARTPOP and her next pop release — she should do little more than shrug off the number and keep moving forward. After all, she's still a touring beast and can likely string together a few hits from the project in order to gradually regain her momentum.
DO showcase your voice. The biggest takeaway from Lady Gaga's show-stopping Oscars performance: she can still really, really sing. ARTPOP obscured Gaga's natural gift underneath melting synthesizers and finicky song arrangements, but fans have known from the moment Gaga belted out the chorus of "Poker Face" that her voice is a tsunami, capable of bowling over casual fans when experienced live and in full effect. Cheek To Cheek may have reawakened the part of Gaga that wants her to sing her lungs out, and she should follow that instinct on her next project.
DON'T overcomplicate your rollout. The release of ARTPOP was accompanied by a Jeff Koons sculpture, an interactive phone app, Abramović-approved performance art and lots of nudity; if you were a kid or parent trying to unlock the mass appeal of Gaga's fun pop tunes, ARTPOP was not the project for you. Lady Gaga should never be advised to dumb down her naturally ostentatious creative showcases, but her next rollout would benefit by being streamlined and inclusive. You know what Little Monsters would enjoy more than an avant-garde rendering of their Mother? A new white-hot dance single. If Gaga keeps it simple and makes some mind-altering pop music in the most accessible way possible, the pop superstar will be back on the right track, baby.
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