Hello, and welcome to a new feature in which, with much authority, I go in search of pop singles that shoulda been, but, unfortunately, weren’t. Today, I invite you to look back at the Lady Gaga smash hits that, for one reason or another, never happened.
While I don’t profess to be an industry expert, I am a fan with working ears and at least an average understanding of what resonates with pop music fans and why. Given these credentials, it seemed fitting that I would look back on Gaga’s seven-year career and assess where some oversights occurred when it comes to single selection.
(If you want to see your favorite artist’s deep cuts highlighted in a future edition of this feature, leave a comment below and tell me whose discography you want me to mine.)
Let’s start at the beginning…
Shoulda-Been Singles From The Fame (2008)
“Starstruck” (Feat. Flo Rida)
Is “Starstruck,” which features, of all people, Flo Rida, an objectively great song? Um… But it would have been a smash. Gaga was reportedly toying with the idea of releasing “Boys, Boys, Boys” as the followup to “Paparazzi,” and, sure, that might have done alright. But “Starstruck” would have killed. How well would this song have fit in on radio — alongside inferior urban dance from The Black Eyed Peas — during the summer of 2009? This is a lost No. 1.
“I Like It Rough”
First, “I Like It Rough” should not have been relegated to “bonus track.” Second, it should have been a single. It has the same mid-tempo wistfulness that helped propel “Paparazzi” to success without treading the same ground. It is every bit as catchy as any of the other singles taken from The Fame. I often forget about “I Like It Rough,” but when it comes up on shuffle, I lose my mind and press “repeat.” It’s that good.
Shoulda-Been Singles From The Fame Monster (2009)
When Gaga released The Fame Monster in 2009, she was like Taylor Swift in 2015; she could have released anything and it would have performed well. Every single one of her previous singles made it into the Top 10, and any song taken from The Fame Monster would have done the same. (And all three singles from the album, in fact, did.) “Monster” is the most obvious single choice on the album (aside from “Telephone,” which features Beyoncé). Yes, it shares that st-st-stuttering sonic space with “Poker Face,” which is perhaps why she chose not to release it. But that’s too bad, ‘cuz a crazy, monster movie-inspired video would have slayed (literally).
“Dance in the Dark”
Ah, “Dance in the Dark.” This might still be, to this very day, the Gold Standard for Gaga songs, especially if we’re talking deep cuts. As a potential single, it is not as obvious a choice as “Monster,” but that might have made it even more successful. With her 2009/2010 cachet, Gaga could have turned this into one of the most memorable hits of her career. I love “Alejandro,” but I will forever mourn Gaga’s decision not to release “Dance in the Dark” as a proper single. (That she opened The Monster Ball with this song just goes to show she knew it had a special extra something.)
Shoulda-Been Singles From Born This Way (2011)
“Heavy Metal Lover”
I will go to the mat for Born This Way, which, despite selling well, is criminally unappreciated by critics and pop music fans (Little Monsters excepted). However, I will say that I understand why a 17-track album full of chaotic sledgehammer beats and typically (charmingly!) bizarre self-empowerment messages proved to be “too much” for some. As an album, it’s heavy, both in sound and content. One exception, funnily enough, is “Heavy Metal Lover,” a filthy-fun, low key (in context) breeze of a song with a sing-along chorus and forward-looking soundscape. “I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south,” the opening lines of the song, would have become iconic in popular culture had it been officially released as a single. Many fans, myself among them, would have loved Gaga to explore this sound more thoroughly in her followup. That didn’t happen, but we’ll always have our dirty pony, “Heavy Metal Lover”…
It is slightly hard to imagine a song which prominently features German-sounding gibberish making much of a splash at radio. Then again, “Bad Romance” had the “Ra ra ah ah ah” bits, and, hey, nearly every Ariana Grandesong is completely unintelligible. The fact of the matter is that the soaring chorus of “Sheiße” is the best on the album, and the song’s empowering feminist message (released years before Beyoncé made feminism “fashionable” in her music and performances) would have had considerable impact. More impact, anyway, than “Yoü and I,” which Gaga did release as a single. #JusticeForSheiße
Shoulda-Been Singles From ARTPOP (2013)
Oh, the best laid plans… “Venus” was, in fact, intended to be the second single taken from ARTPOP, but after “Do What U Want” was released as a promotional single and gained traction, Gaga (and/or her team) scrapped “Venus” and instead pushed the oozing, R.Kelly-featuring number. “Do What U Want” is a perfectly fine song, but Kelly’s controversial presence on the track (and existence in general) and, more importantly, a doomed-and-never-even-released video shot by professional creep Terry Richardson really stunted the song’s potential. Not even a re-recorded version of the song featuring Christina Aguilera, released more than two months after ARTPOP came out, could save it. So back to “Venus”: it should have been the second single. It should have been the first single! This is a Lady Gaga song, through and through: hooks for days, campy sexuality, odd metaphors, and just the right amount of gay-baiting. (“Now serve, Pluto!”) Its chorus, God(ga) bless it, rivals that of “Bad Romance.” And it’s fun! It’s a fun song which, had it been released, may have quieted Gaga’s critics who claimed (and still do) that she takes herself and her art(pop) too seriously. Of all the singles that got away, this one might hurt the most.
Admittedly, “Gypsy” is just “The Edge of Glory: The Sequel,” but there are worse things for a song to be. Gaga needed a bonafide hit from ARTPOP, and “Gypsy” was her best shot. This relatively straightforward love song/road trip jam is the one track on an album that name-drops Jeff Koons and uses “retweet” as a metaphor for 69ing that had the potential to resonate with a larger audience. Months after ARTPOP‘s release, it became clear that backstage drama and management issues torpedoed the album campaign, and it’s unfortunate no one was able to get “Gypsy” through as much-needed damage control. Still, at least we got the (underrated) “G.U.Y.” video…
What other Gaga songs do you think would have made great singles? Tell us! And while you’re at it, let us know which artist you’d like to see featured in next week’s Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda Been a Single.