- Lady Gaga has appeared to struggle since the release of her album "Artpop"
- Album sales weren't as high as her earlier ones
- Her appearance at SXSW festival, which included 'vomit art" performance, was criticized
- The singer stands by her decisions, saying they were made for the sake of art
After staging a "vomit as art" performance and facing lackluster sales for her latest album, Lady Gaga is ready to speak her piece.
On the "Today" show Friday, the 27-year-old singer defended her commitment to the weird and spectacular (and sometimes the spectacularly weird), explaining that she'd be doing the same outlandish things whether she'd found "The Fame" or not.
"There's a perception that what I'm doing is all a big show, and I really truly feel that it's really just part of who I am. Every moment of my life is devoted to my music and my fans, and it's really, truly me," she said. "I'd just be doing it on the Lower East Side, it'd be the same show, the same act."
That act has appeared to take a stumble. Her newest album, "Artpop," reached No. 1 with just 258,000 copies sold upon its release in November. Her previous album, "Born This Way," notched the same spot in 2011 with 1.1 million copies snapped up in its first week.
Industry observers are quick to note the caveats here: "Born This Way" did have an Amazon.com special attached to it, where fans could buy "Born" for 99 cents for a limited period of time. And compared with other singers with big releases in the fall of 2013, Gaga is still playing in the same league: Katy Perry's "Prism" pushed 286,000 copies in its first week, according to Billboard, while Miley Cyrus' "Bangerz" hit 270,000.
But album sales have become just a slice of Gaga's dwindling perception among an ambivalent public. Her latest effort is a mash-up of high art and pop music that met with mixed reviews from critics who weren't sure what to make of her more avant-garde direction. ("As pop, the album is a well-executed and entertaining tour of Gaga's tried-and-true tricks," Entertainment Weekly said. "But as art, it falls short when it comes to one basic function: making an impression.")
And somewhere along the way, Gaga's usual outrageous behavior -- think meat dresses, arriving at awards shows encased in egg-like structures -- has soured from entertaining to off-putting.
At the South By Southwest music festival last week, Gaga invited "vomit artist" Millie Brown to join her onstage to do what Brown does best: swill brightly colored goos and then regurgitate them in the name of art. So while Gaga sang the "Artpop" track "Swine," Brown participated in the performance by sticking her fingers down her throat and vomiting green and black paint all over the pop star.
Both Brown and Gaga have been accused of everything from crossing a line of general decency to glamorizing eating disorders, which both artists have said was not their intent.
For her part, Brown explained to Elle magazine that she came up with the idea of "vomit art" because she "wanted to use my body to create a performance that was about the beauty from inside out. I came up with the idea of actually vomiting a rainbow using my body as a tool to create paintings. ... My performance is not a statement about eating disorders in any way. I think the whole bulimia thing -- it's important for people to know that I'm not trying to promote it."
And on "Today" on Friday, Gaga stood behind Brown's view of her work.
"(The artist) Millie Brown and I know that not everyone's going to love that performance, but we both really believe in artistic expression and strong identities and I support her and what she does. 'Artpop' is about bringing music and art together in the spirit of creative rebellion, and for us that performance was art in its purest form," the singer said. "(Controversy) doesn't matter. We don't make things for any intention in particular other than in the spirit of entertaining the crowd and really for the moment. It was meant for a club performance in Austin, and it was a great time."
Gaga appeared undaunted by any criticism, explaining that she's charging ahead and at work writing new music. If her appearance at SXSW is any indication, we can expect the singer to continue pointing her arrow more in the same direction.
"I refuse to compromise and allow my talents to be monetized to the point that I don't want to be here anymore," Gaga said during a keynote address at the Texas festival.
"I will stop. I will quit. I will retire from the commercial market if I have to do something other than be myself because if I can't be myself in this moment (then) everything I have said to my friends since the beginning will be a total lie. ... No, I'll be myself till they f***ing close the coffin."