Lady Gaga’s new album, “ARTPOP,” dropped in the U.S. this week. Her LGBT following is substantial enough that any new release from her is noteworthy, but if you’re looking for something fresh and unexpected, look elsewhere.
Taken merely as a series of instant dance hits, “ARTPOP” is perfect. The album sounds like a compilation of songs that almost made it onto her previous albums. Not surprisingly, it explores themes of fame and vanity, as her music has done countless times. Despite the lack of originality, as Gaga says herself in “Mary Jane Holland,” “It’s all right, because I am rich as piss.” Why change a working system?
Many songs from “ARTPOP” can and will be heavily featured on the radio, and there’s no shortage of new material for DJs to play. “MANiCURE” is one of these tracks, and, as the title suggests, it’s about how getting dolled up for a MAN can CURE insecurity. When the song comes on, finish your drink, hit the dance floor and ignore the lyrics. It’s one of several toe-tappers.
Most tracks use synthesizers and auto-tune liberally, making the album sound too robotic and over-produced, notably in the second single “Do What U Want” and in the title cut. “ARTPOP” is one of a few tracks that reference the album title, an effort to take as many opportunities as possible to remind listeners that pop music is art, a narrative Gaga has been pushing for years.
The first track, “Aura,” is a techno song with a flamenco-inspired guitar riff. Lyrically, the song compares Gaga to women who wear burqas, though she claims to wears one as a fashion statement, the first of many references to fashion on the album.
Another example is the track “Fashion!,” the second song in her discography by that name. In defense of “Fashion!,” it’s one of the few songs from “ARTPOP” where Gaga is singing rather than yelling into the microphone, albeit with a healthy amount of auto-tune. “Donatella” is simultaneously a critique of and an ode to the haughty lifestyle of models and Donatella Versace herself.
“Venus,” the first promotional single, is a dance track that alludes to the eponymous Roman goddess of love and sex. The cheeky bridge lists the planets and includes the line “Uranus, don’t you know my ass is famous?” It’s one of the more memorable moments from the album and is sure to incite giggles. For its music and lyrical themes, “G.U.Y.” may as well be called “Venus Part II,” as they’re almost indistinguishable to the casual listener. Together, they carry a Madonna-esque message of sexual empowerment.
Because the previous two tracks about sex were apparently too subtle, “Sexxx Dreams” is sure to be banned from all high school proms and be a club staple for the next year.
“Jewels N’ Drugs” features T.I., Too Short and Twista, and is a surprisingly catchy hip-hop track and a more refreshing part of the album. However, the hook’s lyrics are reminiscent of Ke$ha’s “Your Love Is My Drug,” while Gaga’s verse is yet another chance to emphasize her obsession with fame.
First single “Applause” may be the album’s worst offender. It’s the epitome of Gaga’s aforementioned fame obsession, even more so than “The Fame” from her debut album of the same name. The song actually features sounds of a cheering crowd. The pop-dance track hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, but fails to do anything more than beg her fans to keep loving her.
The album’s concepts may be tired, but it’s not without some great moments. A true gem is “Dope.” It’s very similar to her 2009 song “Speechless,” but for the best reasons. It focuses on Gaga’s vocal performance and piano skills and reminds fans of the talent underneath the spectacle.
If “Dope” is a callback to “Speechless,” “Gypsy” will remind fans of “The Edge of Glory,” as they’re both dance numbers with some of Gaga’s better vocal performances.
“Swine” is a change of pace for Gaga. It’s electronica without being a dance hit, but what’s most stunning is the intimate subject matter about a dark part of Gaga’s past. It’s angry almost to the point of being un-Gaga, but it’s a well-executed standout piece.
Ultimately, this new album fails to introduce fresh sounds the way Gaga’s first two full-length albums (“The Fame” and “Born This Way”) did. Revisiting the fame concept five years later feels tired and the new music does little to distinguish itself from previous efforts.
Does Gaga have enough good ideas to sustain a decades-long career or will she end up a late ‘00s/early ‘10s trivia question in the years to come? The jury’s still out on that, but revisiting concepts and musical styles this early in the game doesn’t bode particularly well.