Sometimes, being Lady Gaga must be a bummer.
Take the Tuesday premiere of her much-anticipated "Alejandro" video: Though it features more odes to Brecht than a sixpenny opera and singlehandedly broke Twitter when it debuted, it's being called a Madonna knockoff by some (check the comments on this Entertainment Weekly story), "pretentious" by others (see the comments on this CNN.com piece) and even a "disappointment" by some fans.
While I don't think those reactions are particularly warranted (or particularly fair), they prove what Gaga is up against these days. After a meteoric, improbable rise to the top of the pop universe, she may have finally reached the point in her career where not even she can top herself. It happens to all the greats — it's just never happened this quickly.
Case in point, people's biggest qualm with "Alejandro" seems to be that it's not "Telephone." They complain that it's long, redundant and self-indulgent — and all these things are funny to me, because they're the same problems people had with "Telephone" when it was first released. Only now (in the span of just three short months), it's viewed as her classic, the one against which all other Gaga clips shall be judged. Shoot, "Alejandro" doesn't even have the product placement "Telephone" did (remember how much people raged about that?), and yet folks are already rushing to bury it.
Of course, the "Telephone" comparisons aren't fair. After all, the videos have nothing in common aside from the fact that they were released consecutively. But they do carry some weight, because it's entirely possible that that video represented Gaga at the absolute peak of her powers and abilities. After months of hype, it premiered live on E!. It stretched past the nine-minute mark. It was violent. Gratuitous. Insane. Not to mention awesome. Certainly the most memorable video in recent memory. People talked about it for weeks. Analyzed every frame. Debated its content. It was sensational. And a sensation. "Alejandro," although a fine, arty and expensive-looking thing, drew the unenviable task of having to follow all that.
Which is not to say that it's not a great video, because it certainly is. And to that end, if any other artist released it, they would have been lauded as brilliant for breathing life back into music videos. But since it's Gaga's name at the top, "Alejandro" was greeted with muted applause, perhaps even a stifled yawn or two. This is what happens when you're (arguably) the biggest pop star on the planet, and you've made a career out of titillating, tweaking and breaking boundaries. People are always going to be wondering what's next. And eventually, well, you reach a point where nothing you do can top your last stunt.
And, yes, I realize that the majority of Gaga's "little monsters" positively loved "Alejandro." But then again, they love everything she does. They don't really count in the grand scheme of things. Take a look at the bigger picture. It really seems that, for the first time I can certainly remember, a fair amount of critics and fans — be they casual or die-hard — are willing to step forward and say that they were less-than-impressed. This is a key moment in Lady Gaga's career. Short of setting herself on fire in her next video — probably something she's considered — I don't know what she can do for an encore. And even then, people will probably say she's just doing the same thing she did in the "Bad Romance" video.
It's not really fair, nor is it justified, but one day after its premiere, for all its gloss and glamour, "Alejandro" is already looking like it could be Lady Gaga's first shark-jumping, fridge-nuking moment. Perhaps even her first misfire. This is the downside to continually churning out jaw-dropping work. Eventually, the jaws just don't drop as far as they used to. Gaga has spent the past two years becoming an international icon, the first truly massive star of the 21st century. Now, she might have to deal with the reality that she just can't impress forever.
Then again, let's just wait three months for the premiere of her next music video — I can't wait to hear what people will be saying about "Alejandro" then. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Or steampunk-inspired harness. Whatever.
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.