A couple of weeks ago I read an article that claimed there was nothing Lady Gaga could do in this ‘post-Miley Cyrus at the VMAs’ world that would shock us anymore. It also claimed that if Artpop was not an instant classic, then Gaga’s speedily obtained pop icon status would begin to wane. I for one refuse to accept that Gaga will be anything less than iconic, no matter how you feel about her and her music; all the Monsters in the world, and all of the haters in the world will be enough to keep her going for many years to come. So today marks the release of Artpop, Lady Gaga’s third studio album, with the promise of reinvention, honesty, music, art and love. Upon reflection, I am struggling to find the ‘art’ in all the pop, and I am a little confused as to what exactly I have just listened to.
A combination of bizarre wild-west style banjo, sporadic electronic chaos and accentuated warbling open Artpop in the form of Aura. “Do you want to see the girl behind the aura?” asks Gaga, in what I imagine is an attempt to explain course the rest of the record will lead us on, the Gaga behind the Gaga, the Art that meets the Pop! I think this message would have carry more weight if track two wasn’t Venus, which sounds like an eccentric (but also sort of awesome) celestial glitter pop disco raging up in the realms of the Roman Gods. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s just camp enough to make me enjoy it.
We are then asked to “lay back and feast as this audio guides you through new and exciting positions,” so guided by Gaga we enter into the snappy, straight up electropop extravaganza of G.U.Y, which is one of the highlights of the record, followed by Sexxx Dreams; a breathy, flirtatious homage to the well, the sex dream. Its provocative premise is reminiscent of The Fame Monster‘s So Happy I Could Die, and I can’t help but feel Gaga is recycling some of her old ideas for this one, it’s nothing revolutionary, but it does have a catchy, tongue-in-cheek chorus. It’s no secret Gaga has a penchant for sex and fashion in her music, so of course it would be silly of me to think you would not encounter these topics on a Lady Gaga record. However, after a while MANiCURE, Fashion! and Donatella just feel soulless and blasé, they’re relatively decent pop songs, but they all seem rather hedonistic, even if they are trying to be nothing more than entertaining. By this point I am still wondering what has happened to the revolutionary, Venus rising, art-scapes we were promised through the months of relentless Artpop advertising.
R Kelly has been dragged out of 2002 for the second single Do What U Want, a somewhat indignant two fingers up at media scrutiny, disguised as another contentious and provocative song about female consent. It’s (finally) a clever pop song, one which probes at some of the music industry media storms which have been raging since the summer; “you can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind but do what you want with my body” chants Gaga, caught between the pressure to be maintain an image and keep her sanity. Finally some depth to Artpop! Sadly, it doesn’t last too long. The title track for Artpop is monotonous and sounds like a Selena Gomez single, it’s a disappointing song to what should have been a pinnacle centrepiece, the crescendo of the record. Following that, have your speakers turned up too loud and you’d blow your head off with the heavily artificial electronic bursts of Swine, a track that harbours a lot of rage which can be felt in both the music and the lyrics – possibly an experimental, synthy equivalent of heavy metal?
The final three songs are the most telling, most open, and well, artistic songs of the whole record, and it’s frustrating that it’s taken the majority of the album to arrive at this place. Mary Jane Holland is allegedly about Gaga’s marijuana loving alter-ego, with hints of 70s synthpop, concluding with the sound of a match being lit; they’re probably right, it’s probably about marijuana, but at least it keeps to guessing, which is more than can be said for most of Artpop. When Gaga debuted her gut wrenchingly heartfelt rendition of Dope at the YouTube Music Awards it was exactly the thing I think we were all hoping for from the record; stripped down honest music which undeniably confirms Lady Gaga’s talent and ability to create moving pieces of art. Everyone loves (or despises) Gaga for her overt behaviour, ridiculous outfits and lavish musical landscapes but sometimes it’s best to just be a musician with a piano. Gypsy is equally brilliant, like Edge of Glory, it builds into a climactic finale of drums, guitar and synth that pays homage to the traveller lifestyle. It’s bigger than the rest of the record, highlighting Gaga’s stunning vocal range and is guaranteed to get the entire stadium jumping when she tours with the album next year.
Interestingly enough, Applause is the final track off the record, a simple massaging of the ego. It is a great pop song, but many argued it wasn’t as strong as pop rival Katy Perry who released Roar in the same week. I disagree seeing as I had Applause in my head for a good few days, it’s a horrendously catchy reminder of the kind of infectious songwriting Gaga has become known and adored for. Having said this it’s no Bad Romance, no Just Dance, but is is fabulous and I hard press anyone not to hit the floor when the DJ whips it out on a Friday night.
I loved Born This Way as a concept and an album. Many people didn’t think it was as much of a hit machine as The Fame, but I don’t think that was the intention of that particular record. From Marry The Night through to the climactic finale of the Edge of Glory, the whole record was full of fierce, fabulous and feel good tunes. Judus pushed the boundaries of religious rhetoric and Highway Unicorn was about a goddamn unicorn but it was all pop gold. Artpop, on the other hand, is unstable, scatty, with moments of greatness but sadly, they are over shadowed by tedious rehash’s of old demos, and soulless, empty songwriting. I am still reluctant to call it a terrible album, however. The problem here is that her previous records have been so incredibly great, so inspiring, so much fun, and Artpop just doesn’t hold up. I would like to see Gaga take some time out, seeing as she has been relentlessly touring and recording since 2010. I would like to see her go away for a while, escape the limelight, like, completely, go live in a shack in the woods like Bon Iver did and come back with something truly special and unique.
Artpop is out today.