by Marcus Dowling
While Spike Lee's 1989 cinematic tour de force Do The Right Thing has been purged from Netflix, it's still possible to view one of the worst things that the music industry has ever done, Lady Gaga and The Muppets Holiday Spectacular. Yes, this is a travesty, and yes, if you are in any way interested in truly understanding the music industry's malaise, it's 58 minutes of your life absolutely worth losing forever.
Interscope Records needs to really examine themselves after the cycle for Lady Gaga's ARTPOP is completed.
For an estimated $25 million, they received an album that has sold in excess of 500,000 copies, with a price point that has gradually diminished to basically making the album worth nothing at all. Aside from Gaga frolicking with Muppets (plus Elton John and RuPaul) for 90 minutes on the Holiday Spectacular's November 28th debut on ABC, we've seen the following:
a Haus of Gaga “ArtRave” event in Brooklyn
an elaborate performance of “Applause” to open the MTV Video Music Awards
a globe-trotting series of performances of album singles
the placement of single “Aura” in Robert Rodriguez's film Machete Kills
Gaga being dry humped by R. Kelly during a performance of “Do What U Want” on Saturday Night Live
But, for the plethora of shenanigans (both ridiculous and commonplace) surrounding this imperiled album, it may be the Muppets spectacular that was the worst.
There's something about someone with an album that was conceptualized as "a celebration and a poetic musical journey" with a "lack of maturity and responsibility," that was crafted using a "reverse Warholian formula” being conflated with Kermit, Piggy, the Electric Teeth and Pepe The King Prawn that feels both illogical and, frankly, idiotic. Yes, the Muppets were initially adult puppets that were later attached to a largely children's demographic, Gaga – famed for dresses made of meat, appearing nude in videos, and surviving cocaine addiction – being seen with the still largely childish Muppets so soon after those connotations feels like a fail of her marketing and management team and a surefire sign of a talented artist with an out-of-control brand.
Of course, this would be an apropos time to consider her former manager Troy Carter and Gaga parting ways just prior to the release of the album. Under Carter's guidance, it's arguable that Gaga as a person and artist was able to spiral into cocaine addiction and flights of fancy because her brand-at-large was so well managed. Comparing the last six months to the first six years of her career, Carter's influence is obvious.
For example, Born This Way, released prior to ARTPOP, was similar in its out-of-the-box style in regards to conceptualization and production, while still featuring rock-solid hooks and choruses. Executing the deal with Amazon to drop the price of the album to 99 cents for Born This Way's release clearly showcases the savvy of someone aware of the nature of the market in regards to dealing with Gaga's creative mindset as well as lack of desire to purchase albums at a price too far removed from zero. I can only imagine that when presented with a similar album - but also noting an artist likely further removed from the realities of the music industry than ever before - Carter thought it wiser to leave at his height than suffer an ignominious defeat.
There's nothing worse than watching legendary artists blithely collecting a (presumably) enormous paycheck to engage in insipid behavior. But if you watch the Lady Gaga and The Muppets Holiday Spectacular, there's actress Kristen Bell doing the robot with a bear, Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing his best Fred Astaire-by way of-Justin Timberlake soft-shoe with Mother Monster for a “Baby It's Cold Oustide” duet, RuPaul, and Elton John performing with Gaga after publicly stating that she was in “a dangerous place.” I wouldn't dare want to say that Gaga's fellow artists were motivated by the money, but, yeah, it's entirely possible to presume that such an absurd situation would warrant such an outlandish (and possibly true) claim.
At a certain point in the Lady Gaga and The Muppets Holiday Spectacular, Gaga is addressing the Muppets while Pepe The King Prawn is perched on her knee. The entire time Gaga is addressing her crew of felt-based cronies, Pepe wears a bemused smile while appearing to be lasciviously rubbing the pop superstar's leg. Of course, Gaga herself is paying no attention to this, but as a possibly jaded viewer of this absurd presentation, this tawdry act is pretty much the highlight of the entire scene.
And therein lies the issue.
Lady Gaga is unquestionably talented, but lacking all focus. Without vision and guidance to direct her gifts, she's been allowed to become a prostituted poster child for an industry that has no other solutions left, happy to grow bloated and stupid, leaving great artists to have tremendous passion but lacking awareness of the minimal effect they will see in return.