By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - She once performed in New York's small bars searching for followers, but pop's reigning queen Lady Gaga will likely score a huge audience when her second full-length studio album is officially released next week.
Early reviews for "Born This Way," which has already leaked onto the Internet ahead of the official May 23 release, have been modest. But a publicity blitz and Gaga's social media power should produce strong sales regardless of whether it is any better than her first studio album "The Fame", say music experts.
"The first-week sales figures are going to be pretty massive; after that, it will be up to the people to decide whether it really has legs," Leah Greenblatt, music critic for Entertainment Weekly told Reuters. "But doesn't she win either way? Clearly, we can't stop talking about her, and we won't any time soon."
Ensuring the 25-year-old New York singer's chances, Greenblatt noted that Interscope Records, part of Universal Music Group, was "blanketing the album at every retail outlet short of Baskin Robbins."
Billboard said Gaga would likely oust British singer Adele's "21" -- the biggest selling album of the year with 1.7 million copies and counting -- from her eight week reign at the top of the Hot 200 album charts.
"Born This Way," could be set for first week U.S. sales in the range of 450,000 to 750,000 copies, according to Billboard. One fan website is devoted to getting the album to sell one million copies in its first week.
Country singer Taylor Swift sold 1,047 million first week copies of "Speak Now" in the United States last November, in what was the fastest selling new album in five years.
Although the first four singles from "Born This Way" were already released, all fourteen tracks were streamed in Europe this week.
Early reviews have been positive, if not glowing. Rolling Stone magazine said she still threw in some surprises. The single, "Born This Way," which moved one million iTunes downloads in just five days in February, "sounds different in the context of the album that shares its name: like an experiment in the audacious plus-sizing of Eighties dance-pop," Rolling Stone said.
The Los Angeles Times review was less enthusiastic, noting with every style on the album from flamenco to blues, the "overriding influences are 70s disco and glam-rock".
But although there were interesting moments, the album wasn't groundbreaking. "If Gaga had only spent as much time on pushing musical boundaries as she has social ones, 'Born This Way' would have been a lot more successful."
Such is Gaga's influence that she ousted Oprah Winfrey to claim No. 1 in Forbes' annual "The Celebrity 100" list that measures power by entertainment-related earnings, media visibility and social media popularity.
"To make this record successful, all she needed to do was produce something -- almost anything -- bold enough for people to react to. And 'Born This Way' is, from the cover on in, a fire hose of such things," New York Magazine said
Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, is a master of managing her quirky image with flamboyant fashion choices and uniting a range of fans with messages of self-expression, feminism, sexual freedom and inclusiveness.
Greenblatt said Gaga, who has 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers, had "relentlessly hyped" the album for months.
"She first came at us three years ago in this very sneaky way; her debut album sort of crept in the side-door of pop culture and just built this incredible, organic momentum. So in a lot of ways 'Born This Way' is the opposite of that."
And she hasn't shied away from again encouraging the eccentric image she promotes.
Asked what she does with all her costumes, she told celebrity website Extra: "They go to that planet G.O.A.T. The place I was in the 'Born this Way' video -- the Government Owned Alien Territory in space. I just send it all there. It's in a giant archive just in sort of a centrifugal gravity situation."
Then again, she sometimes sounds more homely.
She has received "a bunch of emails about how much the fans loved," her album, she told Extra. "I was so happy. You know what I did? I went into the kitchen and I made spaghetti with mussels and shrimp and a white wine sauce."
(editing by Jill Serjeant)