Lady Gaga – ARTPOP

Lady Gaga - Artpop

Lady Gaga’s new album with cover art by Jeff Koons.

Entertainment media has taken a page from Lady Gaga, known for her over-the-top image, by responding critically to her every move in an over-the-top fashion.

Being as in-tuned to pop culture as she is, it’s something she has anticipated and has incorporated into her album ARTPOP where she sings “I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong/to crash the critic saying ‘is it right or is it wrong'” on Applause, the album’s first single.

One of the admirable things about Gaga is her persistence and dedication to her craft. She doesn’t care about the ongoing criticism and its misplaced focus, where she sings in Do What U Want, “you can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind/but do what you want to my body.”

With bases covered, Lady Gaga gives herself the opportunity to make the album she wants. On the title track, she sings “my artpop could mean anything,” giving her open reign to make this album as she chooses.

And in true Gaga fashion, she succeeds.

She has a knack for recording songs that, on first listen, make you wonder what you just listened to. Yet, after several plays, they sink into normalcy. Born This Way was like that. Applause was like that. Even the bizarre promo-single Venus no longer sounds strange after half-a-dozen listens.

It’s not just the songs themselves. The idea of a Lady Gaga/R. Kelly collaboration on paper is so odd, even though it is the album’s most radio-friendly track and current hit.

Many criticize Gaga for giving herself too much credit, yet her method of applying nontraditional ideas to a traditional format is what keeps her ahead of the game. She redefines what conventional pop music is. She may not be as inventive as some would believe but she’s creative in how her work is presented.

That’s partly why ARTPOP arrives as a bit of a shock because of how tame and restrained it sometimes feels.

In between the hooks and one-liners lies a lot of filler; songs that are indeed catchy but lack the meat to really make them stick. Where Born This Way covered a lot of ground, ARTPOP is centred on sex, fashion and fame, making it seem more like a fallback rather than progression. She’s less naive and more experienced, but it still feels like we’ve been there before.

Even the more adventurous Gaga-esque songs are toned down. The vocals of Aura are slightly different from the demo that leaked over the summer and the finished version of Swine, one of the album’s best tracks, is missing some of the elements that both made it the highlight of her performance at the iTunes Festival in September and potentially one of her career bests. It’s got a fierce beat but isn’t as epic as when she debuted it live.

And thus the unpredictability of Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga - Dope

Single cover for the fourth iTunes countdown single Dope

Dope is a raw piano ballad that centres on the jarring line “I need you more than dope.” Its heart is rivalled only by the beautiful mid-tempo track Gypsy and as the album’s only ballad, it is a stark contrast to the rest of the beat-heavy album. Co-produced with Rick Rubin, Dope highlights Gaga’s vocals more than anything else on ARTPOP.

And ARTPOP is more about Gaga’s vocals than her previous albums. The level of vocal treatment throughout is extremely minimal compared to everything she’s done before. It feels stark over to the layered music and production, where vocal effects would seem more appropriate, but serves as a great response to critics who say she isn’t a great singer.

Radio-friendly pop is something we’ve learned to not expect from Lady Gaga, though she does successfully deliver when she wants to. (Gypsy is a hit waiting to happen).

Yet, despite awareness of her many critics, there seems to be a hint that she’s trying to appease to all parties on ARTPOP, which is unfortunate as she is much more interesting when she isn’t toning down her image. Though, since a lot of what she does involves having an audience, therein lies the truth that she lives, not necessarily just for the applause, but for the general response – so she can plot her next move.
Three stars

Tracklisting
1. Aura
2. Venus
3. G.U.Y.
4. Sexxx Dreams
5. Jewels N’ Drugs [featuring T.I., Too $hort & Twista]
6. MANiCURE
7. Do What U Want [featuring R. Kelly]
8. ARTPOP
9. Swine
10. Donatella
11. Fashion!
12. Mary Jane Holland
13. Dope
14. Gypsy
15. Applause

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