Let’s face it, no matter who you are or where you are, there’s a very high possibility that you’ve heard of Lady GaGa. She’s without a doubt the biggest pop-star on the planet right now. She's selling millions of singles, packing out arenas and receiving countless hits on YouTube. Whilst endlessly drawing comparisons to former Pop Queen Madonna of course. But after a two year hiatus involving a hip injury, (forcing a cancellation of her high grossing ‘Born this Way Ball’), she’s now back with ‘ARTPOP’. An album that even before being released GaGa was calling “the album of the millennium”. With so much hype and anticipation many fans and critics were worried ‘ARTPOP’ would manifest into ‘ART-flop’. So what’s the verdict?
It’s quite frustrating really because I genuinely had high expectations for the album, especially after the iTunes Festival performance and the endless promos. But it seems that somewhere along the way GaGa got lost on the path of trashy euro-pop and unnecessary EDM. The title track ‘ARTPOP’ could mean anything but is that sheer laziness? Or is this someone who, actually, doesn’t even know herself what ‘ARTPOP’ is? The concept, like most of the album’s production, is messy. Anyone who has witnessed the spectacle of GaGa’s live show knows truly, that it's a sight to behold. But when she hangs the wigs up and gets recording in the studio; that’s where the magic disappears. For example, ‘Aura’ live was a bizarre mix of electronic beats and Latino-fused guitar transfused with heavy aggressive vocals. But when it came to the studio version it left me lukewarm. The vocals were dull, lifeless and barely audible, her over reliance in co-producer and known DJ Zedd stuck out like a sore thumb. It was simply too much. This is not to say the song itself isn’t catchy, it’s made to be played in clubs around the world. However when you’re listening to it on your own in a small bedroom in Reading, it’s not quite the same experience.
This is pretty much the flaw of the whole album. It’s an album designed for the nightlife of ravers and fans worldwide. The compromise, unfortunately, is that it heavily reduces the accessibility from any casual listener. Vocals on tracks such as ‘G.U.Y’ or ‘Mary Jane Holland’ are just lost in the production of the songs themselves; style is given priority over substance. From a commercial point of view, it could be seen as a tad worrying if you’re hoping a new GaGa single would hit the radio anytime soon. We’re still presented with catchy hooks and choruses that could make a new single plausible, but don’t expect a dynamic pop song to rock up (e.g Bad Romance/Poker Face). Which is a shame because one can’t help think that the former Stefani Germanotta is struggling to live up to the good days of ‘The Fame Monster’. Essentially the themes are still revolved around the concepts of fame and sex with a few more added into the mix. ‘Sexxx Dreams’ has the naughtiness and pinch ‘Lovegame’ once brought to the table. It also addresses her, now apparent, bisexuality with such racy lyrics as “heard your boyfriend was away this weekend, wanna meet at my place?”. ‘Jewels and Drugs’ is the only track I skip simply because it’s dire. I respect the fact GaGa wanted to experiment with rap music but it’s not her territory at all and just fails on so many levels. The raps are terrible, the production is overwhelming and just the song itself is just terrible. If it ain’t broke, just don’t fix it. ‘Donatella’ may be the most cringe-worthy song of the album. But the strong club-banger production and tongue-in-cheek lyrics create a wonderful satire of the fashion industry and of those who belong in it. Sadly, not one song has the edge that made ‘Bad Romance’ what it was. Even the recognisable 'Applause' only provokes a so-so reaction. The fact it's the last song on the record questions it's strength as an overall single, and why it ever got chosen in the first place, when in comparison to the other tracks, it's relatively weak.
However, things aren’t all bad.There are still moments when we are reminded why GaGa is still one of the biggest stars on the planet. ‘Do What U Want’’s smooth 90’s inspired production hand in hand with R-Kelly’s participation makes for one of the best, and catchy, singles from the record. ‘Swine’, a particular standout track, addresses the topic of domestic violence and patriarchy. The dark theme is disguised with an excellent EDM production and a tense build-up of echoes and reversed soundscapes, before the beat drops into a full on rave. I’m aiming to get it played on my next night out. ‘Dope’ is one of those rare exceptions that strips everything way in terms of production and leaves GaGa to do what she does best; to sit at a piano and write a song. Formally known as ‘I Wanna Be With You’ when it debuted at the iTunes Festival, ‘Dope’ is a mature sounding ballad with the rawest of raw vocals begging forgiveness from a former lover because, frankly, she needs them more than dope. From a woman who was a former drug and alcohol addict, this is pretty serious stuff. But the best part is that it comes across well in the lyrics, the production, and in the vocals. Granted the lyrics are a little eye-rolling but when you look past that and listen to the despair in her voice as she practically sobs “I’m sorry and I love you” you know you’re onto something quite special. Possibly worth a Grammy or two! Stefani means business and the message is made clear; at one point in anybody’s life, they will need someone so badly it goes beyond the point of addiction. This is where ‘ARTPOP’ shines and makes the heads turn, it’s just a shame more songs couldn't have been this more stripped back.
It’s clear that ‘ARTPOP’ was a project GaGa was so passionate about. It was something that she envisioned from start to finish, not caring about chart or commercial success. The problem is we all don’t live in GaGa land, (I do only on a Friday afternoon) and her transitions from mind to matter don’t completely come across well to a listening audience. We, as a society wrapped up in the mechanics of pop culture and art, demand a catchy pop album and a future hit single. So we’re given ‘ARTPOP’. An album made for the clubs and for the fans, but not quite for everyone else. It’s catchy, it’s fun but, sadly, it’s no ‘Fame Monster’.