November 14, 2013 3:22pm PT by Andy Gensler, Billboard, Andrew Hampp, Billboard
How Lady Gaga Pulled Off a $3 Million Album Launch Party With No Sponsors
Lady Gaga pulled off the seemingly impossible on Sunday night (Nov. 10) at the Brooklyn Navy Yard: an extravagant spectacle of a record release party for ARTPOP complete with a flying dress, decadent artRave with priceless artwork, free food trucks, open bars, a full-stage show complete with rotating spiral staircase, Artpop app demonstrations and more laid out before an army of wildly-clad Little Monsters and a phalanx of national press -- all without any visible sign of sponsorship.
For media, the eight-hour plus evening began at 6:00 p.m. in a raw industrial space that could have passed for Area 51 -- only the engineers in white jump suits and blinding lights fixated on what was originally billed as a flying dress. That was “Volantis,” a transport vehicle with six large circular fans atop a vertical pillar with a shiny white bodice attached to it dubbed the first technology for a flying dress and which would make a hoop skirt and corset look like ready-to-wear.
Nevermind that “Volantis,” which one attendee disparagingly referred to as a “Zamboni with fans,” had trouble flying straight, could only lift a couple of feet off the ground and travel perhaps 10-20 feet in a single bound. The ambitious message behind the device set the theme for the night: Anything is possible; artists, creativity and collaboration must be nurtured; we must respect each other; and in that way we can improve the human condition.
“Volantis” was created under the auspices of Gaga’s TechHaus, the technology wing of Haus of Gaga which the singer said in the future will act as a tech business incubator. "You can come to us with your ideas," Gaga stated during her post-flight press conference, "and we will finance them." The motorized garment, for example, was made in collaboration with Studio XO's Nancy Tilbury and Benjamin Males, who hatched the idea for the motorized garment in a London pub. Much in the same way Gaga brought out collaborator Max Weisel of Relative Wave who she collaborated on for her new ARTPOP App. Weisel said the idea originated two years ago at dinner in Chicago. (At the subsequent artRave, comely app stewardesses in matching futuresque white uniforms demonstrated to Little Monsters the app's ability to read [goth?] auras, create animated 3D Gifs and remix Gaga's music.)
While there were no sponsors at the presentation, Gaga’s reputation was further burnished among a select group of artists who have firmly thrown their branding lot in with the tech-music innovation space. Here, artists like will.i.am (eckocycle and Coke), Jay Z (Hewlett Packard, Samsung, Duracell), Bjork (Biophilia) and initiatives like the Creators Project with Vice and Intel similarly offer the promise of a fantastical future. It’s not a space Gaga is unfamiliar with, having been named a creative director of Polaroid in 2010 and involved in tech investments like Backplane with now ex-manager Troy Carter. (On the red carpet, her broken relationship with Carter was perhaps the only topic of the night the singer refused to discuss -- that and Miley Cyrus).
Featuring the work of four of contemporary art’s most prominent and successful artists in Jeff Koons, Robert Wilson, Inez & Vindoodh and Marina Abramovic might not have accurately sent the message that “anyone can do anything,” as Lady Gaga propounded, but it was hard not to be moved either positively or negatively by their provocative work. Koons’ gaudy sculptures of couples in flagrante delicto (a la his Ciccolina sculptures from the early-90s) and Abramovic’s video of a completely naked and vulnerable Gaga fumbling through the woods, certainly pushed boundaries and buttons -- and in the process, may have cost Gaga overt sponsorship.
According to three executives who spoke off-the-record, American Express had been slated to sponsor the night’s event and to live-stream the concert for its “Unstaged” series on YouTube, but backed out just days before the event. Much like Gaga’s surprise split from Carter, the deal was believed by sources to have collapsed due to creative differences -- but AmEx, much like Atom Factory, remained a silent partner in the event. Of the event’s estimated $3 million budget, AmEx underwrote the majority of the production, according to sources.
When reached for comment, AmEx confirmed Billboard's report and issued the following statement:
"American Express had been in discussions to potentially live stream Lady Gaga's performance during Sunday's ArtRave event. American Express decided not to proceed with the live stream because of an inability to reach a mutual agreement on the production of the event. However, American Express honored its commitments to Lady Gaga and her team, and the event was able to proceed without an official role for American Express.
Lady Gaga is an incredible artist and we hope to work together in the future."
In sticking true to her artistic vision, leave it to Gaga to fund an event so massive in scale, audacious in its ambition, vibrant in the costumes of its guests and push the boundaries of expression without a visible sponsor. It all kind of felt like New York in the late ‘80s -- a period during which the 27-year-old singer was merely a baby Gaga, mind you. It was hopeful, a bit opulent, exciting and a little messy, and a refreshing alternative to the overly corporate turn many of her peers have taken -- and something perhaps only Gaga could ever get off the ground.
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.