On Saturday night, Lady Gaga joined the relatively exclusive club of people who have served as both the host and musical guest in a single episode of Saturday Night Live.
Critically, she was a relative success, delivering a steady-if-unremarkable stream of sketch moments and sounding mostly excellent on the oft-tricky SNL music stage. The show was rewarded with its highest ratings of the season, and the estimated audience of between eight and nine million viewers is the highest since Justin Timberlake’s double-down episode back in March.
And yet Gaga’s new album ARTPOP is only third on iTunes’ download chart, trailing both Eminem and One Direction. And the two singles she performed on Saturday’s show are languishing on the singles chart—the R. Kelly-assisted “Do What U Want” sits outside the top 10 at 14, and “Gypsy” is all the way down at 72.
Under normal circumstances, an appearance on SNL tends to provide a healthy boost to an artist, especially one with a brand new album: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis saw their record sales jump up 83% in the week following their SNL performance earlier this year, Of Monsters & Men experienced a 74% increase, and Alabama Shakes rocketed from the 40s into the top 10 on the Billboard 200.
So where’s Gaga’s boost? It’s the latest in a series of negative developments surrounding the sales of ARTPOP.
Industry projections initially had Gaga’s latest moving a little more than 300,000 units in its opening week, though that projection is now down to between 220,000 and 260,000. That would put her well off the pace of her last album Born This Way, which shifted over a million copies in its opening frame in 2011. (Granted, that’s a bit of an inflated number since it included copies of the album sold for 99 cents through an Amazon promotion – a move that forced Billboard to change its rules about what counts as an album sale.)
But even if you take the estimated 350,000 to 400,000 Amazon copies out of the equation, Gaga’s ARTPOP will still be doing, at most, half of Born This Way’s opening. (Gaga may be going for another Amazon-related gambit: ARTPOP is currently the top-selling album in their MP3 store, likely because it’s currently available for $5.99.)
Not only that, but even if she clears 250,000 copies this week, Gaga would still be squarely behind the first-week sales of Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz and Katy Perry’s Prism, the other two pop-diva albums ARTPOP has been battling with over airtime and attention this fall.
So why is the pop market rejecting Gaga? Is it fatigue over her ever-shifting personae and outfits? Or are the songs on ARTPOP simply not up to snuff?