Last week, her Ariana Grande duet “Rain on Me” debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 — Mother Monster’s fifth overall No. 1, and just her second to debut in the top spot. Then this week, it was parent album Chromatica‘s turn to take a bow, as the set entered the Billboard 200 albums chart at No. 1 — Gaga’s sixth album to do so, and with her best first-week numbers in nine years.
What’s behind the Gaga surge? And what smashes might she have left on Chromatica? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Gaga’s performance of 274,000 first-week units moved for Chromatica is the best for one of her solo albums since 2011’s Born This Way. What do you think is the biggest reason behind its stellar performance?
Rania Aniftos: Chromatica is so quintessentially Gaga. It’s fun, it embraces individuality, and it’s full of club-ready jams made for dancing. While projects like Joanne and Cheek to Cheek solidified Gaga’s versatility as an artist, I think Chromatica is the sparkly, vibrant, super-pop collection that took us back to the 2008 Gaga we all fell in love with.
Gab Ginsberg: I’m a diehard Gaga fan, so I’ve enjoyed every album between Born This Way and Chromatica (yes, even a few cuts from the much-derided Cheek to Cheek, sue me), but damn if this doesn’t feel like the natural presedescor to Born This Way. (Before you cry “Artpop erasure!”, I also love that album, but I see it as more of a synth-pop record than a dance-pop record.) Still, it would be reductive for me to attribute Chromatica’s success my own weird ranking process, so let’s chalk it up to the fact that Gaga not only returned after years of dipping her toe into other ventures (see: winning an Oscar), but did so with an unstoppable collection of dance-pop bangers when we needed them most.
Lyndsey Havens: I mean, look at what she released between those two albums: Artpop, often trolled on Twitter as Artflop; a ballads album with Tony Bennett, Cheek To Cheek; Joanne, her most subdued and stripped-back project to date; and then the soundtrack for A Star Is Born, in which Gaga was arguably just as much Stefani (ok, or Ally) throughout the promo. It’s not at all surprising that by returning to and improving upon her disco-pop roots, Gaga is now enjoying such a stellar opening week. To be clear, that’s not to say she shouldn’t have released any of these prior projects — in fact, I’m a big fan of most — but the brief departure she took clearly fueled this energized return.
Mia Nazareno: She kept us waaaaaaaiting. I think a lot of Gaga fans were waiting for the “old” her to resurface. No shade at her more stripped down Joanne album or the A Star Is Born soundtrack (I enjoy both!), but a lot of us fell in love with the pop star during her 2008-2011 meat dress era. And in 2020, fans were excited for Chromatica because it was promoted as a nod to her earlier upbeat, pop music. I also think that postponing the release of Chromatica (due to coronavirus) also hyped it up even more, and after waiting almost a decade, I think it was worth it.
Denise Warner: At the risk of sounding obvious — if you know me — I have to chalk it up to her A Star Is Born success. Her stellar acting aside, she knocked us all out with “Shallow” and “Always Remember Us This Way.” (Not to mention all of the other underrated Gaga gems on the soundtrack — “Heal Me,” “Why Do You Do That?” “Look What I Found” and “I’ll Never Love Again.”) And after her best song Oscar triumph, I bet if there were 100 people in a room, all 100 would have wanted to see what she planned next.
2. Fill in the blank: Chromatica is my favorite Gaga album since _______.
Rania Aniftos: I’m wavering between Born This Way and Artpop, but I’m going to say Born This Way. It’s the album that introduced me to Lady Gaga’s music and every single song is a bop — “Marry The Night,” “You and I” and “The Edge of Glory” just to name a few. Of course, the title track was the inclusive anthem that changed the game, since that type of song wasn’t too common on the radio in 2011.
Gab Ginsberg: Joanne. I saw that album as a really cool experiment for Gaga, and she pulled it off. “But why not A Star Is Born,” you ask? I know I’m going to get some flack from Denise on this one, but the A Star Is Born soundtrack is not an official entry in Gaga’s solo discography and either way it is not a favorite of mine! Sorry!
Lyndsey Havens: I actually think Chromatica is my favorite Gaga album, period. But to play along and follow the rules, it’s my favorite Gaga album since The Fame. That album not only takes me back to 2008 in a disco ball shaped spaceship, but is also one of my all-time favorite debuts. Sure, there are some tracks that I can barely remember, but with a starting lineup of mega-hits like “Just Dance,” “Love Game,” “Paparazzi” and “Poker Face” what more does one really need?
Mia Nazareno: Born This Way! Mostly because I graduated from high school the year it came out. As a second-semester senior when the album dropped, I def felt like I was on the “Edge of Glory.” The album reminds me of prom, sailing through classes, and the last time I had no student debt. Ah, good times! Since Artpop was a bit too experimental for my taste, Born This Way was the last Lady Gaga album that was super danceable, too.
Denise Warner: I clearly didn’t have to wait too long. ASIB, to me, showed the singer-songwriter side she hoped to achieve with Joanne, but still had a hint of the old Lady Gaga-flavor. On Chromatica, she’s back in full on “Mother Monster” mode and I am also here for it.
3. Now that Gaga’s gone full electro-pop / disco for a whole album, would you like to see her “Rain on Me” partner Ariana Grande do the same?
Rania Aniftos: Yes! I’m living for the modern disco theme we’re seeing in pop music lately, and I’d love to see how Ari puts her own spin on it. “Rain on Me” sounded like such a natural fit for her, and some electro-pop mixed with her characteristically bosswoman energy would be an unmatched combination.
Gab Ginsberg: Well, Ari’s doing just fine in her own pop/R&B/trap lane, but if she wants to try out more disco, I’ll welcome it. I don’t think she needs a full electro-pop/disco album to level up, but it sure would be fun.
Lyndsey Havens: Look, Ariana Grande can and should do whatever she wants in terms of new music and I will be there supporting and singing along. That being said, this electro-pop/disco route is much more naturally tailor-made for Gaga, largely because over a decade ago she helped usher it back into the mainstream. But Ari’s presence on “Rain on Me” is quite seamless (she has explored electro-pop before on My Everything tracks “One Last Time” and the Zedd collab “Break Free”) and she was even having so much fun with it this time that she let her hair down (!!!) — so if that’s a glimpse of what an Ariana disco-pop inspired album might bring, then I’m all for it.
Mia Nazareno: Nah, I think Ari should stay in her current solo lane.
Denise Warner: Wherever Ariana Grande wants to lead, I will follow. (So, yes.)
4. Chromatica lead singles “Rain on Me” and “Stupid Love” have given Gaga back-to-back top 5 hits on the Hot 100. What other song off the album do you think would give her her best shot at going three in a row if it were released as an official single?
Rania Aniftos: I know “Sour Candy” with Blackpink was released hours before Chromatica, but if it got proper treatment as a single, it would definitely give Gaga three in a row. Everything Blackpink touches turns to gold, and it’s just so catchy.
Gab Ginsberg: I’ll go with “Alice,” which is a personal standout of mine, and which was the only non-advance track from Chromatica to debut on the Hot 100 this week. Only Gaga could make Alice in Wonderland even weirder than it already is, so I’d love to see a video inspired by that.
Lyndsey Havens: We all know that Lil Nas X would pick “Alice,” after he tweeted “Alice slappin” the day the album arrived — and it’s a great choice for Gaga’s next single, but I don’t necessarily see it having the power to debut or climb to No. 1. As much as I love “Fun Tonight” and “911,” I don’t think either of them can do it, either. All that being said, “Sour Candy” seems to be the obvious choice. I know most of us cannot wait to see this music video, and also with the added boost from BLACKPINK, the track should enjoy a swift and celebratory rise to the top.
Mia Nazareno: Even though it’s about a bad-for-you relationship, “Fun Tonight” is still, well, fun! Despite the lyrics alluding to breaking up, the song is the kind that you catch yourself bopping your head to. Admittedly, I love when artists put out songs about their exes, and I think other fans secretly do, too.
Denise Warner: I’m going with “Replay” although I can’t dismiss “Sour Candy.” To me, “Replay” exhibits the same bold confidence of “Bad Romance,” and could echo its success.
5. With the world (maybe, slowly) starting to reopen again, it’s possible that we’ll soon be able to enjoy Chromatica in some other context other than sequestered in our homes. Where/in what context are you most looking forward to being able to hear/experience it once that happens?
Rania Aniftos: Maybe the concert buff in me is really missing live shows, but I’m excited for the insane arena tour that I know Gaga is plotting (if possible). I want to be literally transported into the world of Chromatica with dancers, colors, lights, alien-themed stage design and jaw-dropping costumes. For “Rain on Me” in particular, I loved the gloomy, otherworldly setting of the music video, so keeping it as simple as having Ariana on stage with Gaga busting out the video’s choreography while rain falls would be enough to give me goosebumps.
Gab Ginsberg: The Chromatica Ball! The Chromatica Ball!
Lyndsey Havens: Ah yes, I have thought about this a lot. For me, it’s obvious… I think 99% of the shows I have seen at Wrigley Field included some sort of thunderstorm and I’m pretty sure if I were given the opportunity to scream “Rain on Me” in my hometown with my head thrown back as it literally did rain on me that I would just start to weep. Just thinking about it now even makes me tear up a little.
Mia Nazareno: When this is all over, I’m gonna squeeze myself into a sparkly bodycon dress, put glitters on my face, dust off my strappy heels, and send a group text to my girls asking if we can go to that one club (without boyfriends, of course). All of this sountracked to “Free Woman” on loop. Sigh, a girl can dream.
Denise Warner: The grocery store. Honestly. Or a bar. Maybe a bar in a grocery store?