90 million singles. 24 million albums sold, and that’s just within the last 5 years (and counting the legal copies sold, mind you). Love her or hate her, it’s undeniable that she’s changed the landscape of pop music since she’s busted on the scene in 2008. It is irrefutable that Ms. Gaga herself will be one of the very few current artist who will withstand the test of time, despite this fact, many people still despise her, not her music or her ability, just the image that is Lady Gaga. Before you completely write off ARTPOP as attention-seeking, let me stop you there, she’s had your attention for the last half-decade, but this time, no make-up, now wigs, no lobsters as hats. The artifice is being peeled away for a direct and hard-hitting approach (the enigma has even taken her wig off to display her natural hair – something you’ve probably been curious about). With that in mind, let’s take a look at ARTPOP.
Aura blazes in with western-style guitars, a very sultry Tarentino or Rodriguez-esque number that quickly turns into EDM banger, the lyrics are beautifully simplistic, the real prize is at the end of the song, where Gaga brilliantly delivers a concise warning of what lies ahead: “Dance. Sex. Art. Pop”.
Venus blends 70s psychedelic melodies with disco rhythms and Roman mythology, a very Ziggy Stardust meets Depeche Mode, meets Vogue-era Madonna. The most pleasing and perhaps craziest entry into her musical catalogue yet, this is the first self-produced track by Gaga, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t show. There isn’t a moment where anyone but the Lady herself could sing it convincingly especially my favorite lyric “Uranus/ Don’t you know my ass is famous”. The chorus builds on itself using repetition but offering something new each time. It leaves more of an impression than Aura, but certainly just as unforgettable.
G.U.Y a Zedd produced head-banger with acronyms littered throughout, the lyrics are mediocre at best even though the chorus is killer with a brilliant bridge. The vocal delivery is excellent thought it falls short of audacious compared to Venus or Aura, but completely viable as a single.
Sexxx Dreams is one of my favorites. The verses are wonderful and the dual vocals demonstrating what one is saying and what one is actually thinking is executed with precision, until the chorus. The chorus is a mess, it’s catchy and hooks into your brain, but it feels redundant having dual hooks conveying the same message. They shift in lyrics is a bit unsettling, we’re thrust from intelligently crafted lyrics about imaginary infedility (“We could be caught/ Both convicted criminals of thought”) to insanely simple lyrics (“Last night/ Damn, you were in my sex dreams/ doing really nasty things”). It’s playful and well-crafted in most places, but I have the same problem with this as I do with 4 songs on the record, it’s hit-or-miss lyrics.
Jewels N’ Drugs (feat. T.I., Too $hort, & Twista) – It’s hard to say whether this is a good or bad song. The production by DJ White Shadow is some of his best to date, but I simply couldn’t get over the fact that T.I., Too $hort and Twista were on a Gaga song. However, it does twist and shifts to each artist’s verse to create a melody that suits each individual on the song. It’s memorable, but I don’t know if in a good or bad way.
MANiCURE – Perfection. The simplicity of the production, the guitar-driven music, and undoubtedly the greatest vocal performance Gaga has ever put forth, the vocals are raspy, soring, and belting, and controlled at all the right moments. It’s impossible to get out of your head, with the repetition and rhyming scheme: “She wanna be Man Cured/He wanna be Man Cured/Ma-Ma-Ma-MANiCure”.
Do What U Want (feat. R.Kelly) – A thinly veiled warning to critics everywhere. It’s angry and sexy, with a rewarding chorus and a sense of vulnerability from both artist, it’s an excellent example of what a middle-finger-to-the-press track should be with lyrics like “You can’t stop my voice/‘cause you don’t own my life/But do what you want with me body, world”. It’s a backhanded invitation, it’s not the strongest on the record, but it’s catchy as hell.
ARTPOP – Poetic and entrancing, also horribly boring. Despite being the title track to the record, its incredible lack luster make it the most forgettable on the record. Even when the beat drops it’s still dull, its inviting appeal is completely antithesized by how monotonous it becomes.
Swine – Gaga has a gift of making unapologetic rock-and-roll records with nothing but electronic instruments. The face-melting dance breaks that make use of synthesizers, and the lyrics provide glimpses of a history riddled with sexual abuse and escapism through drugs (“ I know you want me/you’re just a pig inside a human body”) and “Maybe I should have a little more to stay out of my mind” are favorites). The chorus feels huge and the record plays like a radio smash, but the EDM breaks that give it ferocity are also drag on too long and distract from what could have been a perfect pop song.
Donatella – A Fame Era song in every sense of the word. An open love-letter to Donatella Versace (sister of Gianni Versace, and current head designer, a woman whose history is riddled with drug abuse and an unapologetic over-the-topness about herself, it’s easy to see why her and Gaga are kindred spirits). The lyrical content is shallow, but is meant to be satirical, “DONATELLA” feels like a war cry that’s hard NOT to scream along with. The production and shallow nature of the record make it one of ARTPOP’s most fun and memorable moments.
Fashion! – One of the best vocal performances on the album, a will.i.am produced club banger it’s everything a viable single should be. Despite all of this, this track just feels like filler. It’s sleek and cool as all get-out but filler nonetheless.
Mary Jane Holland – Pulsating and hypnotic. This song is everything “ARTPOP” the track should have been. Produced by upcoming Parisian DJ Madeon, this track is dark, catchy and well-crafted in every aspect. Clearly a marijuana track, it kind of makes Mary Jane Holland into a princess of sorts makes this one of the album’s standouts.
Dope – Lady Gaga and just a piano, a great combination. “Dope” is unfiltered and raw, which makes it hard to listen to at times because the production is rough around the edges (probably intentionally so). Regardless of that, the track is still a tear jerker and spine-chilling with lyrics like: “My heart would break without you/ Might not awake without you/Been hurting low from living high for so long/I’m sorry and I love you”. Completely void of theatrics, “Dope” is the album’s revelatory moment of love.
Gypsy – Another piano/vocal entry and building slowly into a power ballad “Gypsy” is one of the best songs on ARTPOP. It’s epic, lyrically stunning, and vocally perfect while maintaining a honest veil of sincerity. Acoustic guitars blazing forward over an elctro-blast of power chords, “Gypsy” is way beyond a good Lady Gaga song. It’s a brilliant song period. A new classic that has felt as though it’s always been around.
Applause – Gaga has a habit of making the first single from her album a misleading single that is completely different from the album. After listening to other songs in the album, “Applause” feels out of place and boring by comparison. It’s not bad of course, it just seems like an oddity compared to the rest of the album.
Overall, ARTPOP is one of the most hyped Pop records this year to date. It comes at the perfect time when interest in its creator is, once again, in the spotlight. Despite tremendous gaps in the quality of the songwriting, the two recurring trends on ARTPOP are mediocre lyrics redeemed by amazing vocals and catchy choruses that drill into your brain with little to no effort. Honestly, ARTPOP is the best Pop album of the year, Every moment feels expertly crafted from start to finish, even when it does fall short. For every misstep, there is redemption; wheher it be from stunning vocal delivery or production.
It’s far from completely perfect, but even the worse moments of ARTPOP are better than what has crept onto the radio this year, and it’s well worth a purchase.
Key Tracks: “G.U.Y.”, “Venus”, “Do What U Want”, “Swine”, “Donatella”, “MANiCURE”, “Dope”, “Gypsy”, “Mary Jane Holland”.