Lady Gaga Tour Cancellation: Legit, or Preemptive Marketing?

It was recently announced that Lady Gaga would be canceling her Born This Way Ball tour. While the reason given was a hip injury to Ms. Gaga that required immediate surgery, rumors and articles began circulating that there may be more to the story than an issue of health.

While the tour has sold thousands of tickets in each city, many of those sales have come by way of discounts or “buy one, get one free” offers. As generous as such offers are, especially for expensive tours, they aren’t typical in high demand tours which will sell out at full price. Do you recall having seen any “BOGO” tickets for The Rolling Stones‘ dates? Absolutely not, because people will gladly pay full price, and well over in some cases, to attend those gigs.

Many would argue that thousands of ticket sales, in any form, is hardly disappointing, but what needs to be considered is how much money a production as elaborate as the Born This Way Ball takes to put on. Costs for crew, equipment, transportation, lighting, effects, and wardrobe. It all takes a lot of money. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to call the whole thing off, refund the money, and save the millions per day the show would have cost.

While I’m not saying definitively that this is what happened, there are a couple of articles in particular that state it is, in fact, the case. Spin Magazine recently published an article stating that the severity of Gaga’s injury was overstated and promoter/music-industry-kingpin Live Nation ultimately called for the cancellation of the tour due to lackluster interest.

A piece by The Examiner makes similar claims and states that the only reason many of the shows were considered to be “sold out” was due to the promoter having sold their target number of tickets, but that the houses were hardly packed to capacity.

Without sources from Live Nation or Lady Gaga’s management team coming forward and stating for certain that this is the case, it is all merely speculation. This, of course, will also never happen, so it will forever remain an unknown. What is clear, however, is that there has been a definitive shift in the public when Ms. Gaga is concerned. Perhaps it’s over-saturation, maybe it’s a gimmick that’s run its course, or possibly a combination of factors.

While Lady Gaga wouldn’t be considered a failure or washed up by anyone’s standards, there was a dramatic rise and fall with her latest record, Born This Way. Released in 2011, Born This Way sold 1.1 million copies in its first week. By week four, the sales had fallen by more than 66,000. Again, these are sales that most artists would be thrilled with, but given the near constant marketing and promotion that “BTW” received, and given the context that its predecessor– 2008’s The Fame– had more than double the amount of sales enjoyed by Born This Way, it isn’t something an artist, label, or manager would be especially pleased with.

So, what changed? The music still has the same dance-pop appeal that catapulted Lady Gaga onto the Billboard Hot 100, but maybe that just isn’t enough, anymore. While I don’t deny that she is a talented artist, I have always believed her to be made more of marketing and shtick, than talent. There is no denying she has the ability to stand on a stage, alone, in jeans and a sweatshirt singing a cappella to the angels; but that isn’t the route she chose. A few short years ago, she did this. Singing in piano bars with the full power of her range, she was simply Stefani Germanotta; a songwriter with a publishing deal that allowed her to write songs for the likes of Britney Spears, Fergie, and The Pussycat Dolls.

While she has stated in the press that she’s “always Lady Gaga,” she wasn’t always. She used to be a believable person. “Lady Gaga” was born out of producer Rob Fusari referencing Queen’s “Radio GaGa“ and a texting error which saw the use of ‘lady’ instead of ‘radio.’ Many artists adopt stage personas; I imagine it’s a nice way to keep the insanity of the profession away from “real life.” That said, Lady Gaga seems to have blurred the two somewhere along the way, and maybe that’s the problem. There is certainly a point at which so-called ‘celebrities’ can’t help how much press they receive, but when you constantly leave the house dressed as a watermelon sitting in a bird nest, you’re sort of seeking out attention.

In recent years, as Adele has become the industry and music-buying public’s darling by being the antithesis of Gaga, maybe the shtick has worn thin. Living a very private life, doing few interviews or live appearances, and going on stage in simple black cocktail dresses in lieu of elaborate costumes, Adele has sold over 10,000,000 copies of her album 21 in the United States alone. She’s done it all on her talent, without a constant marketing machine, and without a gimmick. Perhaps Lady Gaga would be well-suited to attempt simplicity. She has the talent to be a performer sans the shtick, and there’s a chance that it could endear her to a whole new audience.

Of course, Billboard is claiming that the cancellation of the tour is costing millions, which would seem to indicate that Lady Gaga is as beloved as ever. As the adage goes: “there are two sides to ever story, and somewhere in the middle, lies the truth.” It will be interesting to observe what will come of Lady Gaga when her forthcoming album, ARTPOP, is released later this year. At the very least, the tour will be in high demand once again, given how curious people will be to see if she can still perform post-surgery. Calling it a “comeback of sorts,” after a tour cancellation is marketing gold, whatever the reason for the cancellation.

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