Tweets. Leaks. Titillation. Sacrilege.
Is this any way to roll out an album?
No, Lady Gaga is not taking the usual route as she prepares to release her "Born This Way" album on May 23. But the route she is taking is quintessential Gaga: messy, loud and attention-getting, as befits an artist who calls herself "the jester to the kingdom."
Her latest act of provocation, or piece of strategy, is the single "Judas," which leaked onto the Internet last week — just in time to cause a fuss, prompt charges that she is anti-religion, and get enough attention that when it was officially released on iTunes, it immediately became the service's top seller.
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Like one of her clear role models, Madonna, Gaga is no stranger to a little commercially potent blasphemy: The video for her song "Alejandro" was attacked by the Catholic League last year.
But "Judas," with its release originally scheduled for the Tuesday of Easter week until the leak accelerated its release by four days, is provocation on a different level.
A love song of sorts to the man who Christians believe betrayed Jesus … sitting at number one on the charts this week… and accompanied by a video in which Lady Gaga plays Mary Magdalene … Well, it's all but designed to draw the kind of attention it got from Catholic League president Bill Donohoe, who said (before he'd heard the song or seen the video), "She is trying to rip off Christian idolatry to shore up her talentless, mundane and boring performances."
Some music critics weren't much kinder — Caryn Ganz calls it "a noisy, directionless collage of half-finished ideas" — but Lady Gaga's not selling to the Catholic League, or to music critics.
She's selling to her 10 million Facebook friends (she was the first living person to hit that milestone), her 9,458,015 Twitter followers, and the YouTube fans who made her the first artist with one billion views.
And for those fans (monsters, she calls them), a little controversy only serves to stir up attention and rally the faithful.
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"Gaga is a digital baby," her manager, Troy Carter, said at a tech conference in 2010. "That's how they communicate."
So her m.o. of attention-getting leaks, constant teases and bits of info on Twitter, and videos designed not for MTV but for YouTube, has made the artist formerly known as Stefania Germanotta the poster child for the new way to roll out new music — communicate with fans and cause a fuss.
Still, she has a major label (the Universal Music Group's Interscope), where she signed the kind of "360 deal" that gives the company a cut not just of her music sales, but her concert, merchandising and sponsorship revenue as well. The deal, said Carter, is designed to give Interscope the impetus to put additional promotional muscle behind her career.
Much of the time, though, Gaga uses social media to promote herself without any help from her label.
She's been stirring up attention for her upcoming "Born This Way" album, for instance, since New Year's Eve, when she announced the release date for the album and its first single via her Twitter account at the stroke of midnight.
She also added a photo of herself wearing a leather jacket that sported the album's title.
True to form, she was not wearing pants in the photo, which was taken from the back.
She tweeted the lyrics to the title song (and first single) on Jan. 27, performed the song on the Grammys on Feb. 12 (where she famously came down the red carpet inside a giant egg), and released the song to iTunes the same day.
Not only did the song become a hot property in the digital world, but its similarity to Madonna's "Express Yourself" also made that 22-year-old song title a trending topic on Twitter.
But then, instead of moving on to the next song, she worked and reworked the first one.
On March 15, a month after the single was originally released, she put out three remixes of it, followed by six more remixes on March 29 and a "Country Road Version" of the song on April 5.
On April 16, she unveiled the album cover, which lots of people thought looked like the cover to a bad '80s metal album. The people who hated it used social media sites to say that they hated it; the ones who loved it did the same. Once again, Lady Gaga was trending.
And then came "Judas," which has followed "Born This Way" into the No. 1 spot on the charts on the heels of a controversy that seems entirely predictable.
After all, the song may contain lines like "Jesus is my virtue/And Judas is the demon I cling to," but what listeners are far more likely to take away from the pounding dance track is the line repeated more than a dozen times: "I'm in love with Judas."
Maybe it's sacrilege. Maybe it's a subtle expression of conflicts caused by the artist's Catholic upbringing. Or maybe it's just a good strategy.
And maybe it's foolish to try to sum up a savvy provocateur who has figured out how to use both the old ways and the new methods in marketing oneself.
"'Born This Way' is who I am," she summarized in a recent tweet. "An artist in a constant stage of half-fantasy/half-reality at all times."