Lady Gaga performs at artRave on Nov. 10 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Photo: Bryan Bedder, Getty Images for Benjamin0 Rollin Caldwell)
In an increasingly competitive music industry where naked pop stars ride wrecking balls to the top of the charts, many artists are testing the limits of just how far - or big - they're willing to go to sell records.
Katy Perry commissioned a gold-plated 18-wheeler to drive around the USA this summer touting herPrism album. Jay Z struck a multimillion-dollar deal with Samsung, giving away 1 million copies ofMagna Carta Holy Grail via an app. And Miley Cyrus... well, do we really need to go over that again?
All pale in comparison to Lady Gaga, who has fast become the reigning queen of extravagant promotion with her flying dress, giant nude statue and "golden tickets" in select copies of Artpop that promise VIP admission to her Jingle Bell Ball concert in London next month. Yet with Gaga's new album selling just a quarter of what Born This Way did in 2011 (258,000 copies in its first week, compared with Born's 1.1 million),does all the pageantry really pay off?
MORE: Big-time album promotions: By the numbers
"Sometimes a record is so strong - like Adele's 21 (more than 10 million copies sold)- it just speaks for itself, and you don't really need to do a whole lot to roll it out," says Ian Drew, entertainment director at Us Weekly. "If it's not so strong, then you do need the bells and whistles."
Promotional stunts to drive sales are nothing new. Madonna released her controversial coffee-table book Sex alongside her 1992 album Erotica, and Sony Music spent millions on Michael Jackson statues placed throughout Europe in 1995, as part of a promotional campaign for the late icon's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 album.
What has changed, though, is a shift in focus that strips away the mystery and "cool factor" of many artists, says R.J. Garis, director at Garis PR & Media Group, which specializes in innovative publicity.
"It used to be 90% about the music and 10% about the spectacle. Now it is the total reverse," Garis says. "When fans used to talk about artists it was, 'Did you hear their latest song?' Now, it has become, 'Did you see what they did?' "
When Gaga promoted her last album, Born This Way, "she was pretty restrained, and this time she's trying everything," Drew says, noting that her biggest stunt for that release was a two-day Amazon push, which priced the album at 99 cents. "Could she have sold a million copies without that (promotion)? Who knows, but probably not."
Proving that he didn't need outrageous stunts, veteran rapper Eminem sold a whopping 792,000 copies of his Marshall Mathers LP 2 last week, giving it the second-biggest sales week of the year behind Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience.
"The reason Eminem and certain other music stars pull top sales on a new release is because they are taken far more seriously as artists," Garis says. "The focus is on their talent. Gaga is really the one who started this 'I have to do weird stuff to get attention' trend."
Whether an artist chooses to keep it simple or pull out all the stops, an album's success ultimately comes down to timing and sizing up the competition, says Drew, who believes that fall's crowded release slate forced big names to make an even greater effort to get noticed.
"I always tell artists to come out in January or February, because then you'll have an easy No. 1," Drew says. "Remember, music is a business. Maybe that's why Gaga needed to work extra hard this time: She had to compete with Miley and Britney and Katy."