When news dropped Tuesday morning that Lady Gaga had split with her longtime manager, Troy Carter, just one week before the release of her new album ARTPOP on Nov. 11, a collective gasp could be heard throughout the music industry.
According to Showbiz 411, which first reported the news based on a short item on the music industry website HitsDailyDouble.com, the two parted over "creative differences." This reason, of course, is industry talk for "there was major drama behind-the-scenes, and we're not going to talk about it." Yahoo has reached out to Gaga's personal rep, her label reps, and Carter's office at Atom Factory (previously the Coalition Media Group), the management company where he also guides the careers of John Legend and Mindless Behavior (among others), and no one would issue comment, on the record or off. As of Tuesday morning, Gaga was still listed as a client on Atom Factory's website.
Carter is a business and tech visionary, who back in 2011 during the lead-up to Gaga's Born This Way release was heralded as the messiah who had led Gaga out of the wilderness. He was widely credited with taking Gaga's considerable talent and packaging it with her social message of self-acceptance — and then mass-marketing it digitally to the Little Monsters who would come to make up the majority of her underdog fanbase. He is credited with having lifted her from being just another struggling artist at the bottom of Interscope's farm roster, and elevating her to label superstar.
To understand more about Gaga's relationship with Carter, it's important to look back to 2007, when their relationship began. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Carter said of his first meeting with Gaga back then: "She was very specific about her vision, all of the music was there, and all she needed was someone to help her translate it to the rest of the world, which is where I came in." The trade magazine writes that Carter described their relationship as: "She makes 95 percent of the creative calls, while he handles five percent; he makes 95 percent of the business decisions, and she five."
The focus on their relationship reached a crescendo in 2011 when their plans for a pop-culture digital takeover of massive proportions was highlighted by the New York Times. The Times described Carter as being "more comfortable out of the limelight, quietly brokering deals for his larger-than-life clients." The article traced his history of having worked previously "for Sean 'Diddy' Combs, the late Notorious B.I.G., and Will Smith, whom he met in his hometown, West Philadelphia, in the late 1980s." They explained how he got his start "lugg[ing] crates of records for D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Mr. Smith, then known as the Fresh Prince."
Back then, Gaga and Carter were working together on an ambitious new project called the Backplane, which was set to be "a platform for entertainers that could help them manage their fanbase across all major social networks." Backplane's first project was none other than Gaga's own website, LittleMonsters.com, a confusing Pinterest-like community site mostly consisting of posts by fans in homage to their Mother Monster. The company's founders claim the site has more than 1 million registered users — strong numbers, but hardly staggering. TechCrunch reported in February that the site was averaging around 2.3 million unique users a month.
A search of Backplane's website shows that the Silicon Valley-based company doesn't seem to have too many other public projects going on beyond Gaga's site. The company is backed by some of the most prestigious venture capital firms in the industry, however, including Google Ventures, Sequoia, Menlo, and Greylock Partners, and it has reportedly raised $5.8 million in funds thus far. A feature on the company by Forbes this summer explained that they are focusing on corporate brands, with Nike being the first to have signed on with them. They've also launched the site ParadiseCity.com for Guns N' Roses, and FingerprintsCN.com for magazine publisher Conde Nast.
At this point, it's unclear what Carter's ongoing relationship or involvement is with Backplane. The Times referred to him in 2011 as the site's founder (along with current co-founder and CEO Matt Michelson), but there's no mention at all currently of Carter on Backplane's site. A request to the company for more information has thus far gone unreturned.
Another digital collaboration between Carter and Gaga, bre.ad, seems to also have met with lukewarm results. The enterprise was launched as a digital URL-shortener that displayed a five-second billboard ad between a user's click and a destination. In a message posted to bre.ad's homepage in mid-October, company CEO Alan Chan announced that none other than Yahoo acquired the remnants of the company and that they would be shutting down access to their core products until Nov. 11, when they would officially fold.
So, what happened? It's hard to say, exactly, because as previously mentioned, no one from Gaga's camp would go on the record with Yahoo Music.
However, one account from Tuesday is that she's taking everything into her own hands now. "She doesn’t take direction anymore," a source told Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman.
But could Gaga's digital shortcomings leading up to ARTPOP's release have something to do with the split from Carter? That certainly seems plausible. As far back as September 2012, Gaga herself wrote on LittleMonsters.com that ARTPOP would be "a multimedia experience that comes in different forms," and that "the most major way to fully immerse yourself in ARTPOP is through the APP. ARTPOP will be released as an IPAD, iPhone, mobile and computer compatible application (WORLD) that is completely interactive with chats, films for every song, extra music, content, gaga inspired games, fashion updates, magazines, and more still in the works!"
Thus far, however, this interactive component of ARTPOP remains an enigma. With the album's release around the corner, the media and the public are still unclear on how this interactive component will work, although Yahoo Music has asked her label rep at Interscope for more information about it (we'll update you if we learn more). A press release did go out on Tuesday announcing the "ARTPOP POP UP: A LADY GAGA GALLERY" to take place in NYC and L.A. next week on Nov. 11 - 13. The event is being described as an event to "Come celebrate and experience the release of ARTPOP" with "Music, Interactive Experiences, Actual Gaga Props and Outfits, and Much More!"
So is the album in trouble? Lead single "Applause" peaked at number four on the Billboard singles charts, and thus far, buzz has been weak. On Sunday, Gaga turned in a bizarre maudlin performance at the first annual YouTube Music Awards of her new ballad, "Dope," which left many scratching their heads. A leak of the album hit the Internet over the weekend (leading to the album being rushed to stream in full on iTunes Radio on Monday night), and at least two prominent critics have already written their mediocre reviews.
Of course, you can never count Gaga out. She has huge promotional appearances planned this month, including her first time as both host and musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" on Nov. 16 (her third time on the show, and she's acted in skits before when she's been on as a musical guest), and she'll perform on the American Music Awards on Nov. 24. She also has a holiday special in the works with the Muppets.
With Carter out of the picture, it's unclear what creative direction Gaga is heading in. What is clear — in separating from Carter, she's intent on making a fresh start. Two years ago, Gaga departed with her longtime creative director Laurieann Gibson, and she weathered that storm relatively unscathed. Whether or not that will be the case this time around remains to be seen, as the onslaught of ARTPOP's true publicity push awaits us all imminently.
And it's a safe bet that we haven't heard the last of Carter, either.