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Gay rights issue ends Lady Gaga, Target romance

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Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga performs at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles.
AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Representatives for pop musician Lady Gaga say the artist has ended Target's exclusive deal to sell a special edition of her new album due out later this year. 

The bust-up is the latest fallout from a controversial political donation Target made last year.

The business partners have had talks in the past that the pop star called "intense" regarding the extent to which Target is sufficiently gay friendly. 

Last year, the retailer contributed $150,000 to a Minnesota group backing Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes same-sex marriage. Target said the donation was motivated by business interests. 

Lady Gaga, a vocal gay rights supporter, said if the retailer wanted to do business with her, it would have to step up support for gay causes. 

In a statement, Target said the company was surprised and disappointed by the statement's made my Lady Gaga's representatives.

"Target remains committed to the LGBT community as demonstrated by our contributions to various LGBT organizations, our recently established Policy Committee to review our political giving and our respectful, inclusive workplace environment," the statement read.

"From an integrity standpoint, Lady Gaga has scored a win," said Greg Kott, a music critic with the Chicago Tribune and co-host of the public radio program Sound Opinions. He said Gaga definitely gains credibility with gay fans for not backing down on her demands of Target. 

"Target gets a pretty black mark on its record," he said. "I think that she exposed this part of their thinking and the way they disperse their funds is certainly going to make people think twice about Target now."

But overall, Kott does not declare Gaga the clear winner in this dust-up. She will be taking the bigger financial hit from the deal. Even though digital music sales are starting to trump physical CD sales, Kott said certain artists -- mega celebrities like Lady Gaga -- can still generate a lot of cash through CDs.

"[It's a] significant revenue stream. I mean we're talking about millions of records. She's one of the few artists who still sell in those quantities," he said. "And the big-box retailers -- the Targets, the Best Buys of this world -- are still the primary outlet in the United States for physical sales of music product."

On the flip side, though the failed deal with Gaga might hit Target's reputation, it's not likely to silence the company's cash registers, said Matt Arnold, a consumer analyst with the brokerage firm Edward Jones.

"We're talking about one packaged media product that Target is going to get perhaps a little traffic from, but at the end of the day there's no way this is big enough to show up in the broader scheme of a company this size," Arnold said.

Media studies professor Aram Sinnreich at Rutgers University agrees. He said music is a loss-leader for big box retailers -- it just gets people into the store, but it doesn't generate big revenues.

Sinnreich also thinks that what's happening between Lady Gaga and Target captures a new development in the music world. Two decades ago, a pop star would be excoriated by her fan base for aligning herself with a major brand like Target -- and "selling out."

"These days because of the shifting  economy of the music industry, it's become  an absolute necessity for pop stars to look for funding beyond the labels and to affiliate themselves with any brand they can, whether it's a packaged good, or a retailer," Sinnreich said.

But, Sinnreich said, this new arrangement makes it more likely a pop star's political views will lead to a clash.  The music labels didn't care what pop stars said. Big companies do.

Music critic Greg Kott thinks that's going to be a tough spot for Gaga going forward.

"When you're an artist at the level of Lady Gaga, you'll inevitably be making deals with multiple corporations, across multiple platforms, and are you going to as stringent with every one of them as you are with Target?"

Meanwhile, the deal does not appear to be dead on Target's website. This afternoon, the Target only premium version of Lady Gaga's forthcoming album was still available to be pre-ordered.