Like the rest of the world, I too have an opinion on Lady Gaga and her latest album/app/manifesto – ARTPOP. And the fact that everyone has their two cents at the ready to greet Gaga’s latest release is, of course, a testament to the Lady’s uncanny ability to generate intrigue and irritability in equal measure.
ARTPOP is the album that could have never been. Had a hip injury, subsequent surgery and a rest period of six months not derailed her Born This Way Ball world tour, Lady Gaga would have only wrapped up the globe-spanning jaunt in March 2013 – with precious little time to produce the 15-track, Jeff Koons sculpture-fronted ARTPOP.
Born This Way was a mess, something that was seemingly confirmed by the album’s utterly unappealing motorbike metamorphosis artwork. It was the kind of mess that isn’t made up purely of garbage, but more like the type of heap one accumulates when desperately trying to have a spring clean: should I keep this? Should I not? Oh, I may need that at some point for some reason in the future. A mish-mash of essentials and disposables. There was good amongst the bad, and treasure amongst the trash (the Clarence Clemons-featuring ‘The Edge Of Glory’ and roaring ‘Marry The Night’ were both distinct highlights).
The chief downfall of Gaga’s Born This Way was the multifarious vision behind it. In her self-appointed role as liberator of the underdog, Lady Gaga took it upon herself to write anthems for the freaks, the geeks, the gays and Mexican immigrants (see ‘Americano’) in the hope of liberating pretty much everyone everywhere who has ever experienced oppression in any form. It was a noble quest but too far-reaching and a little hard to swallow from a woman who had previously admitted to wanting nothing more than to be famous, and so accordingly named her previous releases The Fame and The Fame Monster.
With ARTPOP, Gaga has responded wisely by producing a rave-pop record that acknowledges that she is indeed a massive pop star, first and foremost. Unlike Born This Way there is barely any genre experimentation and her penchant for Euro dance ruthlessly dominates which, in turn, makes one half of ARTPOP an entirely worthwhile unified vision of glossy brilliance and the other a rather monotonous affair.
So, the bad news first… Lady Gaga, we get it; you like fashion, sex and weed, but unless you are going to do something new with such boring topics, please don’t bother at all. Having recently stated that outlandish attire allows her to deal with her “insanity”, one would hope for anything more illuminating on the subject of the sartorial sphere than what Gaga gives us here in the form of ‘Donatella’ and ‘Fashion!’ (the latter not to be confused with the similarly vacuous ‘Fashion’ of 2007). Equally yawnsome is ‘Sexxx Dreams’ which, not-so-scandalously, touches upon the subject of sex! And – cover your ears, Ethel – female masturbation! ‘G.U.Y.’ (an acronym for “Girl Under You”) has some beginner’s attempts at gender politics but the beats outshine the lyrics with ease. And no matter how tearfully Gaga sings “I need you more than dope” (on ‘Dope’), it’s still the lowest compliment I can imagine anyone dishing out or receiving.
And onto the good news… The same enticingly bonkers sensibility that produced ‘Paparazzi’ and ‘Bad Romance’ is still alive and well in the form of the self-produced galactic throb of ‘Venus’ and wandering EDM of ‘Aura’ – although step lightly when it comes to the misplaced musings on burqas in the latter. However where Gaga does successfully serve up a well-meaning message is ‘Do What U Want’: “You can’t have my heart and / You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”. If only someone had communicated the actual, liberating moral of the song to Gaga’s collaborator, R.Kelly; whose body, his body is telling him "yes", and remains fixated on the corporeal with a phoned-in-from-the private-jet couple of verses. It’s a shame too that Gaga chose to illustrate this metallic R&B jam with cover art that depicts a barely dressed, airbrushed arse-only shot (the deformed gruesome guise she tries on for ‘Dope’’s promotional picture is far actually intriguing and challenging).
“Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?” Gaga asks on ARTPOP’s opening number. Honestly, no. The idea and artifice of Lady Gaga is wildly more captivating than the Stefani Germanotta that lies behind and, thankfully, Gaga knows this too. On ARTPOP Gaga graciously accepts her pop queen crown and puts down her homemade freedom-fighter megaphone. Gaga plays the fame game well and to stay ahead of Miley, Rihanna, Katy et al – all of which blindly followed her, sometimes literally, naked ambition – she must continue to distort and disfigure pop music and it’s accepted conventions, as she does just intermittently on ARTPOP.
Written for Rock's Backpages