Did the Lilith Fair Fail Because of Lady Gaga?!

Sarah McLachlan and Lady Gaga \


Jon Caramanica opens his recent New York Times piece on the changing landscape of "girl pop" with something Lady Gaga yelled during her recent run at Madison Square Garden:

"I hate the truth!"

What a poetic opening to such a oddly-framed article. Caramanica muses on the rise of Lady Gaga and the waning influence of Lilith Fair-style music, noting that the theatrics and "Halloween-costume empowerment" of Gaga and her followers is obviously a direct influence on the poor ticket sales of the Lilith Fair, back this summer for the first time since 1999.

Riding on the first wave of 1990's nostalgia, the Lilith Fair came back in a year where the polar opposite of the folk rock of Sarah McLachlan and company tops the chart. That doesn't show the whole picture, though; this year, while certainly the quiet folk music reigns the festival, performers like Loretta Lynn, Ke$ha, Heart, and Selena Gomez pepper the bill in selected cities.

The lineup, in theory, is supposed to be uniform only insofar as the performers are women. The lineup for many of the dates, though, as WNYC's Maura Johnson said in Sara Stewart's New York Post article on the Lilith Fair, was far from diverse. Much of this has to do with the fact that many of the tour's bigger names, like Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson, Carly Simon, and the Go-Go's dropped out due to the poor ticket sales, canceled dates, downsized venues, and a broken foot. The Lilith Fair just isn't working this summer.

Does this have to do with the nature of the festival—artists linked together because of their common gender? Certainly, though, concert ticket sales have been soft this summer due to the recession and the outrageously expensive ticket prices—at the Lilith Fair VIP tickets fetch up to $750. Even without the gendered connotation of the event, the festival would have likely suffered. But, in the scores of news articles about the failure of the Lilith Fair, its failure is framed directly around the "gender issue." The Lilith Fair failed because Lady Gaga and her disciples took their place as the hottest women in the landscape of popular music. Caramanica muses about what the Lady Gaga aesthetic represents:

"New feminism is more about the opportunity to make choices than about any specific choice itself. And it's freeing, this expansion of musical liberation into spaces visual as well as sonic, instinctual as well as intellectual, performed as well as lived."

In contrast, Caramanica continues, the Lilith Fair aesthetic "trafficked in a very specific brand of feminism: organic, direct, unadorned, intimate."

The point that Caramanica and the New York Post's Sara Stewart seem to be getting at, though, is that the Lilith Fair cannot be popular because Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift are popular. Popular culture isn't interested in granola feminism, but in post-postmodern feminism. Stewart, for instance, writes that,

"But crunchy, sincere folk rock isn't really the thing these days, and the mission of the original tour feels slightly stale. With artists like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift more than holding their own in ticket and record sales, the motivation for an all-woman tour has changed. "Maybe with Lilith, there's not so much of a need [now]. It's more of a want," McLachlan admitted to the LA Times."

In a way, the argument that folk rock isn't all that cool right now seems fair: What's popular in, well, popular music changes drastically in a relatively short window of time. It's not so much of a stretch to say that the "crunchy, sincere folk rock" doesn't translate as well or draw big crowds more than a decade after the height of its popularity.

But why is it that they're only pitting female artists against female artists? Why is it that because Lady Gaga is popular, Sarah McLachlan can't be? Certainly, a slew of more recent female artists have garnered legions of fans in the decade since the first run of Lilith Fair, but what about singers like Brandy, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Lauryn Hill, who were arguably more popular than Lilith Fair artists in the late 1990s? If anything, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift have these artists to thank for their current success.

If commercial pop stars can sell out arenas today, it's not at the expense of the Lilith Fair. Ultimately, the Lilith Fair failed because of the economy and poor planning, not because Lady Gaga's brand of feminism conquered it.

In the meantime, I'll be waiting for the piece about how Limp Bizkit's canceled concerts have to do with the surmounting success of Ringo Starr's summer tour.

by Katie Waldeck
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12 Comments Have Been Posted

The connection to me is

The connection to me is slightly spurious - plenty of relevant artists were playing Lillith Fair. I bought tickets to both LF and Gaga and I was particularly looking forward to hip Janelle Monae and my boyfriend couldn't wait for Kelly Clarkson. But LF was canceled.

I think that the main problems was Sarah McLachlen as the headliner on every stop - only my mom was excited to see her specifically, and that's because she literally had not heard of McLachlen until 2009 (at Christmas this year, a direct quote from my mama: "Rachel, have you heard of this song "Angel"? It's by this new artist Sarah McLachlen!"). And as you said, poor planning (we could NOT find a detailed lineup) and financial mismanagement.

In the meantime, I'll be

<em>In the meantime, I'll be waiting for the piece about how Limp Bizkit's canceled concerts have to do with the surmounting success of Ringo Starr's summer tour.</em>

Having seen Ringo Starr and his All Star Band (populated by male artists at a Max Weinberg level of fame) the last line of your exceptional post made me howl! So true. I mean 90s crunchy folk music isn't my particular brand of vodka, but I am grateful to artists like Sarah MacLachlin, Joan Osbourne and Linda Perry and for Lilith Fair too! The first Lilith Fair (back in the day) - contrary to what these articles might suggest - was OFF THE CHAIN!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Agreed. Ticket sales are not

Agreed. Ticket sales are not a zero-sum game. People tend to buy tickets to several different shows over the course of the summer. It's not like Lady Gaga was playing on the same dates and places as every single Lillith Fair stop, thus giving the concertgoers some kind of <i>absolute choice</i> to make between the two genres. I think the writer of this article forgets that music tastes are a both/and/or, rather than just either/or. It's not like women are this homogeneous group of people who either like Lillith Fair or Gaga/Beyoncé/Swift. It just doesn't work that way.

i Love Them All Too

i Love Lady Gaga but i love so many of the <a href="http://www.lilithfair.com/artists" rel="nofollow">Lilith Fair artists</a> as well. There were artists from the previous Lilith Fair tour that i miss but there are so many wonderful talented women who are appearing like <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/thebandheart" rel="nofollow">Heart</a> (the Wilson sisters still amaze), Tegan and Sara, Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks, Pretenders, and the list goes on. i do like listening to <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/sarahmclachlanVEVO" rel="nofollow">Sarah Mclachlan</a> and i loved her song <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QUq72fla3o" rel="nofollow">Building A Mystery</a>. Making choices would be hard. If i had to choose on any one day depending on who was playing what - oh heck. i really, really really wouldn't want to have to choose. Suzanne Vega is playing on July 31st at the Holmdel, NJ show. i don't know why, but i just love the sound of <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCXnJIAQd1o" rel="nofollow">Suzanne Vega's song Luka</a>. Now why haven't i gotten up off my big lazy butt and gotten to a Gaga or Lilith concert? It must be my fault if Lilith Fair is failing. Maybe we can save it in a sense by buying their albums? i hope they do the tour again next year and i hope i get off my butt to see it.

I agree that the NYP thing

I agree that the NYP thing is a bit dubious. there were obviously all kinds of pop/dance artists who were equally/more successful than LF. It may however be fair to suggest that Lady Gaga is the paradigmatic figure of feminism in our current cultural moment, the way LF was in the 90s. After all, I cant remember too many people championing Mariah Carey or Brandy as apotheoses of feminism. LF was surely what the wider culture looked to for "feminism" in music. And maybe Lady Gaga is fulfilling that role right now. If so, that probably tells us something (though what Caramanica draws out of it seems pretty superficial).

I dont have any problem with the festival, but I'm interested to know if Lilith Fair is even necessary anymore. "all female" things strike me as a fairly old fashioned notion of feminism. Is the festival still playing any relevant role in contemporary feminism?

and while i dont know enough about the music industry to say if there is widespread discrimination, there doesn't seem to be any shortage of female musicians. Indeed, the most famous artist in the world right now (yes, Lady Gaga) is female.

lady gaga and feminism

I wonder about the effectiveness of Lady Gaga's "brand of feminism" when she herself views feminism as synonymous with man-hating rather than an opportunity for critical thinking, conversation and action regarding restricting and oppressive gender and sex norms. I'm thinking specifically of this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=habpdmFSTOo. Her words are indeed feminist, and you must admire her for pointing out gendered double standards, specifically in the music industry, but why is she so insistent on putting distance between herself and "feminism" ?

So happy you pointed this out& what about econ?

I am in the minority and cannot stand this woman (Gaga). Recycling the things that Bowie, Queen, and Madonna have done before you (I know- I know- she's new, she's different, I've heard it) to me is not art, nor is fainting on an airplane due to constrciting wardrobe choices,or failling in your 10 inch heels on a regualar basis- performance- sure- feminism- where? She doesn't want to be a feminist. She belives the term mean man hater. I don't understand, but today's popular music has always confused me...

Lillith Fair was poorly planned and poorly marketed. I caouldn't pin down the acts that were to pin in my home town, but I couldn't turn on my tv or log into my email without alerts as to what pop group was playing soon locally (Jonas Bros, Gaga, and miley! Whooooo!- and I've never so much as downloaded a song by any of them- that is excellent marketing). Also, demographic is a big deal- summer, the younger crowd is out of school, on college break- people who remmeber and are nostalgic for Lillith Fair are hurting economically- they pull 40 + hours a week and know how much money they'd be dropping on this event. The younger generation (it wasn't all that long ago I thought nothing of whipping out that credit card for Coachella- I'll pay later right?) is willing to pay because there is no mortgage, no kids, no large bills hanging over their heads. Pop appeals to the young. My mother listens to Mclaughlin. My little cousins (high school) love gaga. Who is more likly to go to a concert?

Lady Gaga's distance from feminism

I think Lady Gaga, like a lot of the most popular women in music today, refuses to label herself a feminist because in the eyes of your average top 40 pop fan, that means she equates herself with Ani DiFranco and other "scary", "leftist", "liberal", "lesbian" musicians. God forbid the average American start thinking that Lady Gaga will never again shave her armpits or sprout some dreads.

Confusing Argument

I find the NYT article's argument to just be really obtuse and confusing. As for concert ticket sales, my understanding is that they're down across the board this summer, not just with LF. No doubt there are many reasons for this, but personally I don't think Lady Gaga is to blame. 0_o

I read the Times article

I read the Times article this morning and found the connection dubious. For one, there were many artists on the Lilith bill that weren't "crunchy granola", and there are certainly plenty of people out there who are fans of many artists across the spectrum, including both Sarah McLachlan and Lady Gaga. The climate wasn't good, and had there been better organization (knowing the lineup in advance, less cancellations, and greater consistency within lineups) more people would have purchased tickets. I was seriously considering it but due to a number of factors did not end up buying a ticket--I definitely would have if more performers I liked were on the bill.


I think we need shows like the Lilith Fair more than ever. The pop scene is a wasteland. I can rarely turn on the radio and find something worth listening to these days. Music has gotten lyrically vapid and musically repetitive and dull. I wish that LF would bring in some young up-and-coming folkies like Anais Mitchell ( on Righteous Babe Records), bring back some awesome women like Joan Osborne, and invite Ani DiFranco, and Mary J. Blige to sing. Let us not forget that we don't have to keep dumping water into the ship because it is sinking. We can call for help! Folk music is more relevant than ever in this economic/political/ecological climate.

I could go on and on. I won't, for the sake of the readers. All I'm sayin', is that the consumers make the trends, and we can change the trends.

For me, personally, there is

For me, personally, there is no connection between the two. I love Lilith Fair (I went multiple times in the 90's) and I love Lady Gaga, but I'm not going to either concert this year - I'm not going to any concerts this summer or anytime soon, because ticket prices and "convenience fees" are out of control. I'm not going to pay almost $60 for a (lousy) lawn ticket, and then $10-20 in "convenience" fees and another $20 for parking, and then take a day off work so that I can go to a concert populated by artists I'm not really interested in seeing (most of the people I wanted to see dropped out).

In the 90's, during the original tour I was in college and could easily take the time off from a summer job, lawn tickets used to be affordable and "convenience" fees were only a buck or two, and the Lilith Fair lineup was filled with artists I loved, from the big names to the up-and-comers.

I can afford the jacked up prices now that I'm a grown-up - for an artist that I really like, I might even pay for the severely jacked VIP package. But not for a random group of artists that have been selected based solely on their gender.

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