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More ‘POP’ than ‘ART’

New Gaga effort catchy but hardly groundbreaking



Artpop, Lady Gaga, gay news, Washington Blade
Artpop, Lady Gaga, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy Interscope)

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.



Trans women banned from track and field, intersex athletes restricted

World Athletics Council policy to go into effect March 31



CeCé Telfer (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

The organization that makes the rules for track and field meets around the world declared Thursday it will bar transgender women who have experienced male puberty from competing, a move that was anticipated following a similar trans ban issued last year by the governing body for world swimming.

As the Associated Press noted, at this moment there are zero trans women competing at the elite level of track and field. But the edict, which the World Athletics Council announced will take effect on the Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, is crushing news for one hopeful. 
In May 2019, CeCé Telfer won the 400m hurdles at the Division II championships and became the first out trans woman to win an NCAA title. She’s been training ever since for her shot at the Olympics, despite being ruled ineligible for Beijing at the trials in 2021. The Jamaican-American had set a goal of qualifying for Paris in 2024. But the World Athletics ban ends that dream.

Telfer tweeted Thursday, “It feels as though the world stopped moving.”

Another ruling by the group will likely mean no shot at the Olympics for another Black woman athlete, two-time gold medalist Caster Semenya. The South African track icon is not trans, but because of her higher than typical testosterone levels, she has been barred from competing in her signature event, the 800m. World Athletics took that from her around the same time Telfer made history, in May 2019. 

The group issued an eligibility ruling that prohibits female athletes like Semenya who have Differences in Sexual Development from competing in women’s events, from the 400m to one mile (1600m), unless they reduce their testosterone levels. So, Semenya chose to run in longer events than she did previously. She finished 13th in her qualifying heat at 5,000 meters at world championships last year as she worked to adapt to longer distances, in preparation for Paris. 

“I’m in the adaptation phase, and my body is starting to fit with it. I’m just enjoying myself at the moment, and things will fall into place at the right time,” the South African runner told the AP.

That time may now never come. On Thursday, World Athletics announced athletes who have DSD will have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment and maintain a testosterone level of below 2.5nmol/L for 24 months, in order to be eligible to compete in any event in the female category.

Semenya vowed following the 2019 ruling that she would never again take any testosterone suppressing medication, terming the rules discriminatory and unfair.

This new rule could impact not only Semenya but also as many as a dozen other elite runners, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said. Among them, Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, who won a silver medal in Tokyo two years ago but didn’t compete last year because of an injury. Mboma has not publicly stated whether she would be willing to undergo hormone therapy.

Like Semenya, Olympic 800-meter silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi has said she will not undergo hormone suppression. 

Even though Niyonsaba, Mboma and Semenya are not trans like Telfer and former Connecticut high school track athletes Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller — who have been targeted in federal court by opponents of inclusion — there is one thing all these women have in common: They are all women of color, and all targeted for being too fast because of their natural gifts.

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Chicago Blackhawks: No Pride jerseys over Russia concerns

Several of the team’s players are Russian



Chicago Blackhawks players wearing 'Pride Night' jerseys in April of 2022 (Photo Credit: Chicago Blackhawks/Facebook)

The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks franchise have opted to not wear the team’s Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against the Vancouver Canucks based on security concerns over the recently expanded Russian law prohibiting mention of LGBTQ rights in Russia the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, the decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.

Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country the AP noted.

The team has participated in the LGBTQ themed part of the ‘Hockey is for everyone‘ campaign and has in previous years set aside recognition for the LGBTQ community in Pride night celebrations.

While the team will forgo the jerseys, the AP noted that DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.

The decision by the team has sparked outage including Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler, who noted on Twitter that the NHL has an inclusion problem as the Chicago team joins the New York Rangers, who opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their Pride night this past January despite previously advertising that plan. The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in the Sharks Pride Night wearing Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community, telling multiple media outlets that support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

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Reading ‘Blue Hunger’ is like watching a Stanley Kubrick film

Lush, dreamlike, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it



(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Blue Hunger’ 
By Viola Di Grado, translated by Jamie Richards
c.2023, Bloomsbury
$27/ 216 pages

You can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s been rolling around in your mind since it happened and you can’t stop. You replay it over and over, how it started, how it progressed, why it ended. You wonder if it’ll happen again and in the new novel “Blue Hunger” by Viola Di Grado, you wonder if you truly want it to.

Shanghai was not her first choice for a place to live. Sometimes, she wasn’t really even sure why she came there, except that it was Ruben’s dream.

For months and months, he spoke of Shanghai, showed her maps, talked of a life as a chef living in a high-rise apartment, and he taught her a little bit of the language. She never fully understood why Ruben loved China and she never thought to ask before her other half, her twin brother, her only sibling died.

She was brushing her teeth when it happened. Now, weeks later, she was in his favorite city, a teacher of Italian languages in a Chinese culture, alone, friendless. Then she met Xu.

It happened at the nightclub called Poxx and she later wondered, with a thrill, if Xu had been stalking her. Xu claimed that she was a student in the Italian class, but though she was usually good with faces, she didn’t remember the slender, “glorious” woman with milk-white skin and luminous eyes.

She did remember the first place she and Xu had sex.

It was a hotel, but Xu liked it outside, too; in public, on sidewalks, in abandoned buildings, and in crowded nightclubs. They took yellow pills together, slept together in Xu’s squalid apartment; she told Xu she loved her but never got a reply except that Xu starting biting.

Xu had used her teeth all along but she started biting harder.

Soon, she was bleeding, bruising from Xu’s bites, and seeing people in the shadows, and she began to understand that Ruben wouldn’t have liked Xu at all.

You know what you want. You’re someone with determination. And you may want this book, but there are a few things you’ll need to know first.

Reading “Blue Hunger” is like watching a Stanley Kubrick movie. It’s surreal, kind of gauzy, and loaded with meanings that are somewhat fuzzy until you’ve read a paragraph several times – and even then, you’re not quite sure about it. Author Viola Di Grado writes of sharp, unfinished mourning with a grief-distracting obsession layered thickly on top, of control and submission, and while the chapters are each brief, they feel too long but not long enough. There are so many questions left dangling within the plot of this story, so many small bits unsaid, but also too much information of the mundane sort. You’ll feel somewhat voyeuristic with this book in your hands, until you notice that the sex scenes here are humidly uber-fiery but not very detailed.

Overall, then, “Blue Hunger” is different but compelling, short enough to read twice, quickly. It’s lush, dreamlike, and once started, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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