Maybe when Robin Thicke was singing about ‘Blurred Lines’ earlier this year, he should have really been talking about the blurring between pop and art which is the concept behind Lady G
Maybe when Robin Thicke was singing about ‘Blurred Lines’ earlier this year, he should have really been talking about the blurring between pop and art which is the concept behind Lady Gaga’s latest dramatized offering.
Stylistically written, work on ARTPOP began soon after 2011’s Born This Way with the album title announced last August. Injuries sustained during her mammoth world tour meant the album couldn’t be refined for release for its original due date in March, instead emerging at the other end of the year to compete with the return of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Britney Spears.
In the album’s opening track Aura, Gaga provides us with some pretty apt album elements which will source my use of sub-headings in this review.
If there was one thing fans and critics expected from a Gaga album, it was catchy, club-friendly beats and choruses. While each song seems to contain its own ridiculous lyric (‘Take me to your planet’ fromVenus), Gaga’s unrivalled ability to create a killer chorus saves each song from being a complete write-off. Lead single Applause is one of the best and most assured tracks on the album, whilst Gypsy and MANiCURE are so chart-friendly it would be a crime not to release them as singles.
The album could be seen as a glorified soundtrack to what goes on in Gaga’s bedroom (let’s hope she doesn’t wait for the applause at the end!). She is clearly in a happy place with her boyfriend, actor Taylor Kinney, who is satisfying her enough to inspire the tracks Sexxx Dreams and the wonderfully ambiguous Do What U Want featuring R. Kelly.
Gaga’s extensive promotion for the album has included her being near-naked for a lot of her performances, but this might have more to do with the section that follows.
Art has always played a big part in Gaga’s pop career and finally she is able to exercise her incredible creativity with this conceptual album. The album artwork was always going to play a big role in this and it does not disappoint: exhibiting the singer’s naked form, immortalised as a sculpture by Jeff Koons against an image mash-up which includes Sandra Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus.
It’s definitely refreshing when artists put a lot of effort into their album cover but whether that translates into commercial and critical success is another ball game.
A lot of critics have written Gaga off following the release of this album and losing the imagined chart battle with Katy Perry. Examiner.com called it ‘one of the biggest musical disasters from a major artist in pop music history’, but then that reviewer goes on to compare it to albums by Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince that didn’t perform too well. That is to say, Gaga is a pop icon.
The fact is there are still a good handful of tracks here that Gaga could release as singles to keep her busy for most of 2014. Her long-awaited comeback into the world of pop has been dramatic and sustained, still being able to top the charts with this album on both sides of the pond despite a lot of criticism.
Not much has been said about Gaga’s use of an album-app through which listeners can interact and download. It’s still a fairly new innovation, only previously undertaken by Björk and Jay-Z. The app is essentially a platform for her ‘little monsters’ to interact and share their love of Gaga; there’s plenty of extra musical content, games, features on it to keep fans immersed in ‘the ARTPOP experience.’
At her album launch party she was also able to unveil the world’s first flying dress (or was it just an elaborate helicopter with a corset-shaped insertion for people to stand inside?). Pushing the boundaries of what is expected of her as a pop artist, technology seems to be playing an increasingly bigger role in her aims to shock and inspire.
‘My ARTPOP could mean anything,’ Gaga proclaims in the chorus to the title track. Whilst it’s a bit worrying that not even she knows what her album concept is, maybe that’s the point. The album contains a mix of assured pop hits and unfinished, messy fillers. This should have been a mind-blowing 12-track album, living up to the months of teasing and hype but instead the end result feels overlong and a bit rushed.
The best songs are the ones that have less of a messy, experimental production but sadly a lot of it is very hit-and-miss. She’ll probably embark on another world tour in support of the album and has already announced intentions for an Act 2 for ARTPOP. Her upcoming collaborative jazz album with Tony Bennett, Cheek to Cheek, has been less publicised but may be exactly what this pop star ordered to get back on the right track.
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Image: Jason H. Smith