[POP] Lady Gaga – ‘ARTPOP’ Album Review

[POP] Lady Gaga – ‘ARTPOP’ Album Review

[POP] Lady Gaga – ‘ARTPOP’ Album Review

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Lady Gaga - ARTPOP Cover

The holiday shopping season is upon us and that always means that the record companies release a boat load of big name albums which accounts for half of their annual sales. The most talked about pop release of the season will undoubtedly be Lady Gaga’s follow up to her hugely successful 2011 album, Born This Way. In a world where many of the women she has modeled her image and musical style after are still around but are unable to produce chart hits (Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani, the list goes on) the competition for the dance pop throne is actually scarce. Yes, one can argue that Rihanna, Miley and Katy are just as successful, but let’s face it; these days no one can craft a beat-heavy and dance floor-ready anthem as well as Gaga. She’s current, she’s young, she’s constantly in touch with her 40+ million Twitter followers, and she sure knows how to pick the right producer (current hot EDM hit makers Zedd and French prodigy Madeon produced several tracks on ARTPOP).
 


 
I have been following Gaga from the beginning, when back in 2008 her debut hit, “Just Dance”, slow burned itself onto radio playlists and to the top of the charts. The song and its dance influenced production resonated well with me as not much dance music was on the radio at the time and having been a lifelong fan of synth-heavy beats and catchy melodies the Akon co-penned and RedOne produced jam was a welcome breath of fresh air. Let’s not forget that the hypnotic bass-heavy remix by Chicago’s own Tony Arzadon was a hit on a local radio station and only added to the song’s appeal. Soon after came “Poker Face”. While the song became a global sensation, I found the video quite enjoyable in spite of not being able to understand why she was putting her hand around one of her eyes and gesturing an “OK” sign. LoveGame was the third single off of The Fame, a dance pop album full of pop gems I thoroughly enjoyed, and although I wasn’t too crazy about singing along to lyrics about riding a “disco stick,” the raunchy subject matter and accompanying video were nothing that really hasn’t been done before. All was forgiven.

A year later came Bad Romance. Gaga was now a global superstar and the song and its glossy and visually stunning video became an instant hit of monstrous proportions. Although I thought the song was nothing short of brilliant, the video simply disturbed me. This was definitely not the same girl that just a little over a year and a half ago wore bows made out of hair and sang about partying and losing her phone. The tone of the video, its symbolism and even the way she delivered the vocals were much more aggressive and much more sinister.

Thematically ARTPOP combines everything Gaga has previously heavily touched upon: fame, fashion, sex, drugs, and plenty of occult symbolism (if you can’t hear it on the album you sure as hell will see it in her videos). On the planned but later shelved second single, the self-produced Venus, she sings about cosmic love while cleverly rhyming “Uranus” with “Don’t you know my ass is famous?” Nicely done, but perhaps shelving the single release in favor of Do What U Want was the right move as the multi-tempo nod to the “Goddess of Love” (yet another obvious occult reference) may not have resonated too well with radio listeners.
 


 
On the hypnotic Sexxx Dreams she sings about stealing a man’s girlfriend for the night and fulfilling her erotic fantasies. On the Zedd produced G.U.Y. (stands for Girl Under You) she toys with male vs. female role reversal while assuming the role of a power bottom. The arguably effective, grimy hip-hop anthem Jewels n’ Drugs has her boasting about fame and money with the swagger as equally convincing as the guest rappers she hired for the affair, T.I. and Chicago’s very own Twista. Donatella and Fashion! seem to be married to each other, both sound-wise and topic-wise, as she playfully toys with the ideas of glamor and self-validation through couture on the Zedd and Will.i.am and (gasp!) David Guetta produced tracks, respectively.

The aforementioned Do What U Want, a duet with another Chicago legend- R. Kelly, the album’s definite stand out, has her telling her lover that he can’t have her heart or mind but he can do whatever he wants with her body. Leave it to Gaga to tell you that she wants to get busy. Are the lyrics just another metaphor that Gaga is merely a puppet to be used by outside forces to present a larger agenda? Perhaps, but we won’t know until the video drops, of course.

My problem with Gaga isn’t the sex, the wacky outfits, or the constant stunts orchestrated to gather as much media attention as possible. My problem with Gaga is that she tries to be more than just an entertainer. She regularly urges her fans and the world to follow her ideology, she constantly makes statements that she considers valid about theology and the way one should lead his/her life and she went as far as adding her own grossly inaccurate and twisted spin on one of the New Testament’s most important stories in the video for Judas. Some might argue that it isn’t my place to bring up God and religious and spiritual matters when discussing a pop star, especially in an album review, but what gives Gaga the right to constantly bring them up in her lyrics, videos, and TV interviews? What gives her the expertise and credibility to tell the world what to believe or how to believe, especially since those who understand occult imagery know that everything she says and does is an ongoing contradiction?! I could easily write a book here, but one thing is certain: she has massive influence and whether we like it or not people pay attention and accept what she has to say as “truths.”
 


 
Although, she is a good songwriter, her melodies and pop hooks are well crafted, and ARTPOP is probably one of the year’s best pop albums, at this point, there is probably nothing she could do to make me accept her as a credible role model. She sings that she is a “free bitch” yet the imagery in her video for Applause shows her as an enslaved and caged puppet that does nothing but fulfill the more sinister agendas of her handlers. She says she loves Jesus and sings carols in TV Christmas specials but then undeniably forms a pentagram with her body while wearing an upside down cross on her robe and near her private area in the video for Alejandro. She says that Applause isn’t about pop stars doing everything for attention, yet she does nothing to disprove that with her actions or words on a daily level.

Perhaps, one can argue that I shouldn’t criticize her because ‘Lady Gaga’ is just a fabricated on-stage persona. Well, not quite according to Gaga. Over the years she has continuously stressed that “Gaga” is who she truly is, an alter-ego she has fully accepted and integrated into her daily life and existence so much that even her own mother calls her by her stage name instead of her birth name, Stefani. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t all bad. On Dope, she seeks redemption and asks God for forgiveness; something many, including myself, can closely identify with. The thing is; however, that for every “Dope” there are countless other gimmicks, songs and videos that far outweigh the benefits that heartfelt ballads like Dope provide. Call me “old-fashioned” or a “Jesus freak” or whatever you want, but don’t call me uninformed or someone that just accepts everything that Gaga shoves in front of me at face value. As artistic and as creative as she is, ARTPOP or otherwise, this brand of “art” or “pop” is just not one that I am buying.
 


 

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James Kabat Editor, based in Chicago specializing in pop, dance, and underground club culture. I have interviewed some of the world's biggest DJ's and I enjoy diving deep into the minds of my musical heroes.