Artpop is a trip around Lady Gaga’s mind better left unquestioned
Lady Gaga cannot be explained. Ever since the New York-bred artiste stepped on the scene with The Fame in 2008, things in the music biz got inexplicably weird. Between raw meat dresses, mobile amniotic sacs, hovercraft frocks, bleeding ensembles, and a blatant disregard for clothing altogether, Stefani Germanotta has given the world truly Gaga moments to keep the masses gawking, guessing, (and sometimes gagging) yet still peeking back for more.
Gaga eliciting whys with her creative expression has become expected, but when it comes to her art, it’s better to refrain from askin’ all them questions and just go along with it. “Each song on ARTPOP was inspired by different types of adrenalin, so it’s an expression of the various rushes,” she tweeted to her 40 million-plus followers a month before the big release. “I want you to feel them.”
Yes, art can inspire analysis. But it’s made to be experienced rather than defined, felt rather than figured out. It’s just better that way. For ArtPop, her third studio album, all the same rules apply. For 15 tracks, Lady Gaga peels back the curtains on the potpourri of thoughts swirling behind her poker face for art’s sake, regardless of whether or not her train of thought makes any sense to the listener.
Gaga explains everything we need to understand about her latest offering in her opening number “Aura.” “Dance, sex, art… pop,” she chants robotically on the Cirque du Soleil-esque cut, an early indicator of the album’s lack of depth. The music is fun, sure, but unlike Born This Way (2011), she doesn’t dabble too far into the deep end of the subject matter pool. She sticks to straight-forward statements and shallow metaphors paired with trance club production to discuss intimacy, art and pop culture over and over again.
Lady Gaga toys with traditional relationship roles in her almost-clever “G.U.Y. (Girl Under You),” the follow-up to the Goddess of Love-praising “Venus.” “You’ll be my G.I.R.L/Guy, I’m romance and love’s to hold you/Know, you wear my make-up well,” she sings about her guy. She celebrates carnal desires in “Swine” and “Sexxx Dreams,” then her escapist tendencies in “Mary Jane Holland” and “Gypsy,” the latter of which has the obnoxious singalong potential of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone” and Rihanna’s “We Found Love” during the least sober moment of a party.
Gaga dedicates two tracklist slots in a row to high fashion, which was the biggest platform for Gaga’s slowly waning “out there” image until a new wave of aesthetically adventurous pop princesses came along to match her antics tit for tat. The outcome of her efforts is a forced, over calculated and potentially skippable duo typecast for the gay, voguing Monsters. Gaga admits the thrill she gets from dressing up in “Fashion!” (“Looking good and feeling fine/Slay, Slay, Slay, Slay”) and honors Versace—the same fashion house that Kanye West recently denounced—with a snarky, sarcastic ode to “Donatella.”
Aside from her surface level topical explorations, the disc has a few sonic morsels peppered in to break up the monotony of droning, pulsing club-pop tracks with a little too much Dance Dance Revolution appeal. Gaga’s “Jewels ‘N Drugs” manages to tap into the hip-hop vein without messy, Miley Cyrus-esque misappropriation. She enlists the trifecta of T.I., Too $hort and Twista to help her create a trap-pop concoction similar to Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” with Juicy J. You can even twerk to it if the spirit so moves you.
ArtPop’s second and final feature spot proved to be as infectious as its first. Gaga pairs up with a smooth-voiced R. Kelly for the album’s second single, “Do What U Want,” an upbeat rebuttal of sorts to negative comments aimed her way. “Write what you want/Say what you want about me/If you’re wondering/Know that I’m not sorry,” she sings rebelliously.
Gaga enters rare form and severs all ties to dance music for “Dope,” a heavy-handed piano ballad dripping with drunkenness and regret. For nearly four minutes, her sound is stripped as naked as she was during her 2013 MTV Video Music Awards performance. “I promise this drink is my last one/I know I fucked up again/’Cause I lost my only friend,” she croons woefully before asking God to forgive her sins. It’s a breath of fresh air from unnecessarily super-pop tracks like the whiney “MANiCURE” and disappointingly bland title track “Artpop.”
For her final act, Gaga takes a moment to toot her own horn and take in the ArtPop phenomenon she created. Did her art and pop culture fusion album live up to all the hype that its haughty name implied? Is it worth all the “Applause” and praise she demands by the aptly-titled kicker? Maybe not, but all she really wanted was the attention. She said it herself; it’s what she lives for. No questions asked. —Stacy-Ann Ellis (@stassi_x)