Album Review: Lady Gaga, ‘Artpop’

Lady Gaga Review: 'Artpop' bears little

Despite its title, its Jeff Koons album cover, its frequent nods to haute couture and Greek myth, and its creator’s Maude Lebowski-esque manifesto threatening to “bring ARTculture into POP in a reverse Warholian expedition,” Lady Gaga’s third full-length album bears little resemblance to fine art. Hell, it’s barely even Pop Art. Yet however short it may fall of Gaga’s lofty ambitions, “Artpop” is nonetheless admirable as a sort of throat-clearing mission statement, full of goofy digressions, brave if sometimes foolhardy stylistic explorations, and an emphasis on textures over immediate hooks that may well drive some fence-sitting fans away from Gaga’s camp. Not all of it works – in fact, quite a bit of it doesn’t – but it’s still Gaga’s most successful effort yet to bridge the gap between the eccentricity of her image and radio-friendly conventionality of much of her music.

Of course, one must be careful not to overstate the strangeness of the album. By the standards of 2013’s more boundary-pushing pop albums by Kanye West and Janelle Monae, Gaga doesn’t stray all that far from the mainstream. And even the new styles she appropriates (trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast) are far from cutting edge. But for someone of Gaga’s commercial stature, this is still an adventurously messy collection. Its song structures break from strict verse-chorus-verse patterns with surprising regularity, often adhering closer to the rise-and-fall dynamics of dance tracks, and at other times offering simple goulashes of melodies and soundscapes that rarely peak where one expects them to.

Ardent Gagademics will likely spot all sorts of thematic singularities and hidden throughlines in the album’s 15 tracks — if Gaga took anything truly indispensable from Madonna, it’s the ability to ensure that the discourse surrounding her work is far more complex than anything contained in, or directly suggested by, the work itself — but the recording seems to follow a pretty well-defined three-part structure. The first third contains the disc’s boldest experiments. The middle third, by far the album’s most successful sequence, focuses on sheer dance tracks, ably abetted by producer DJ White Shadow. And the final stretch revels in the self-reflexive myth-making and theatricality that dominated her previous release, “Born This Way.”

Aside from the snoozeworthy slog through second-hand Bowie-isms on “Fashion!” (featuring production from not one but two of EDM’s most egregious schlockmeisters in will.i.am and David Guetta), the album’s lowlights still exude their own odd fascination. Opener “Aura” sounds less like a Lady Gaga song than a hyperactive remix of some lost La Roux b-side, while “Jewels n’ Drugs” sees Gaga cede the spotlight to a trio of rappers (T.I., Too Short and Twista) who have nothing in common save the “T” at the front of their names. The R. Kelly feature, “Do What U Want,” is disappointingly less insane than one might expect from these two, but it’s interesting to hear her stretch her voice to match the pyrotechnics of her duet partner. Likewise on the lackluster ballad “Dope,” which showcases the singer’s instrument shorn of any vocal filters or obvious touch-ups.

Even when she isn’t calling attention to it, Gaga’s voice takes on interesting shadings throughout this record, her singing brassier and ballsier than the haughty, nasal line-readings she’s relied on in the past. On title track “Artpop” — the album’s obvious standout — Gaga effectively channels the icy allure of Debbie Harry over a downtempo disco throb, while the clangorous “Swine” sees her shred her larynx with some arrestingly percussive screams.

Lyrically speaking, Gaga’s skills as a wordsmith seem to have peaked around the time she penned the line “bluffin’ with my muffin,” and “Artpop” provides enough clunkers to supply several monster truck rallies. That said, after the stagy posturing that swallowed up much of “Born This Way,” it’s refreshing to hear Gaga approach relatable topics with simple straightforwardness and humor. Bedroom jams like “G.U.Y.” and “Sexxx Dreams” offer actual first-person accounts of sex (the physical act of love, coitus) rather than slogans cribbed from “Foucault for Dummies.” The bluntly-titled “Mary Jane Holland” crafts an ode to the demon weed with all the subtlety of Cypress Hill. And when she croons “I live for the applause” in the chorus of album-closer “Applause,” she’s not making another contrived statement about the vampiric enchantment of modern celebrity, she’s simply acknowledging and celebrating her own drama-kid histrionics.

That song would seem to be the record’s most obvious candidate for radio play, yet it was greeted with a relative shrug when released as a single in August, and follow-up “Do What U Want” fared even worse. Indeed, this is the first Gaga collection that doesn’t contain a single obvious smash, and one searches for a world-conquering chorus in vain. (Part of this may have to do with the relative absence of longtime collaborator RedOne, whose high-fructose beats and translingual refrains helped shape Gaga’s most earwormy early singles. Though his lone contribution, the “Edge of Glory” sequel “Gypsy,” doesn’t exactly scream “crossover hit” either.) “Artpop” will surely top the album chart when Soundscan numbers are released next week, but there’s still plenty of cause for concern.

Gaga’s first singles took quite a while to click, too, and it’s possible that listeners will warm up to the amorphous melodies of “Venus” or the Toni Basil-gone-bad stomp on “Manicure” once they find their bearings. Then again, if her hold on the monoculture truly is on the wane, Gaga can always find solace in her sizable cult, embracing a trajectory that’s more Grace Jones than Madonna. Judging from some of this album’s more left-of-center moves, that might not be such a bad thing.

Album Review: Lady Gaga, 'Artpop'

Production

(Interscope, Streamline) Producers: DJ White Shadow, Madeon, Lady Gaga, Dino Zisis, Nick Monson, Zedd, Rick Rubin, Infected Mushroom, RedOne, David Guetta, will.i.am, Giorgio Tuinfort. With: Lady Gaga, R. Kelly, T.I., Too $hort, Twista. Release date: November 12, 2013.

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    1. John Summers says:

      I’m a big fan of Gaga’s, (why else would I bother to leave a comment on here?) and though I’ve not heard Artpop proper, I’ve watched the live iTunes Music Festival and the Artrave sets where she sings I believe all if not most of the record. She’s one of the most talented live performers today and she’s in the best voice I’ve ever heard.

      That being said, Artpop is not her best collection. For a pop music artist that she is, the cd’s severely lacking in catchy pop tunes. Applause is by far the best song, the rest honestly sound like b sides that should’ve been used for the compilation box set she’ll inevitably come out with in 20 years. Why does she have titles like Venus, Fashion and Gypsy? Those are already titles to much bigger songs, I don’t understand why she’d draw the comparison? BTW, Applause is also a song title but it comes from a Broadway show, so it’s not as well known.

      All in all, I look forward to what Gaga will come out with in the future, this is a obviously a passionate effort on her part and today’s it’s No.1! I hope she goes in a different direction, more rock and roll and maybe more show tunes, cabaret or folk. She’s got the pipes to sing many different styles.

    2. WW1968 says:

      I’m not an uber Gaga fan and have been relatively disappointed in pop music that last few years. I thought Katy Perry’s lastest album was boring at best and she blatantly rips off no less than three other artists. I don’t dislike her, I just find her boring. I’ve always found Gaga to be, well, not so much interesting, but at least worth a look and a listen. I haven’t liked everything she’s put out and have rolled my eyes more than once at some of her antics. That said, she’s an amazingly talented musician. And she seems to be scrutinized more than other pop stars in her latest album reviews. So what? She called the album Artpop. Who is anyone to say it’s not art? I know I see and hear a lot of “art” that I don’t think qualifies. I like this record. I like the whole thing. I don’t think there’s one throwaway song on the record. I think it’s eons better than Madonna’s MDNA, and I’m a bigger Madonna fan than a Gaga fan. People will graze a Katy Perry album and give it a good review for being mediocre. However, they go through Gaga’s album with a fine tooth comb criticizing every last part of it. The song with R. Kelly is REALLY good and I am NOT an R. Kelly fan. She blew me away with her SNL performance. Like Justin, she could easily be a cast member. She’s not going anywhere. So people who say she’s over can join the ranks of those who said Madonna wouldn’t last, Britney wouldn’t last, etc. And when it comes to talent and originality, she blows so many other pop stars out of the water.

    3. Auds went gaga for Lady Gaga last night, as her hosting gig helped “Saturday Night Live” match its best overnight rating since March.

      In Nielsen’s metered markets, “SNL” did a 4.9 household rating/12 share, making it the night’s No. 1 program.

      The show hasn’t done a higher overnight score since the March 9 episode featuring Justin Timberlake as host and musical guest. That installment of “SNL” ended up averaging 8.4 million total viewers in the nationals, so this episode figures to be in that ballpark.

      In adults 18-49, this week’s “SNL” did a 2.6 rating/9 share, matching the show’s best since Miley Cyrus hosted on Oct. 5.

      Lady Gaga was the host and musical guest on Saturday and was featured in a number of sketches, including as a very enthusiast dance mom and an Apple Store Genius. The show’s final bit saw Gaga playing herself at age 77 in “Upper West Side 2063.”

      Lady Gaga Ignites ‘SNL’ for Highest Ratings of the Season

    4. Dope and Applause are in the Billboard top 10. It’s more than likely that her fanbase will be bigger than Grace Jones if she wanes as she’s never had this happen before, so she has a career long after the a-list status if she continues to do her own thing. I am a fan, I have all the albums and paid lots to see her live,but this album (while has some great songs) has lost me a little partially due the the very PR that helped her, plus the begging fans to buy multiple copies and the Twitter Feud between her and Perez Hilton made both look bad no matter who started it, rich people aren’t allowed to bitch. She says listen to the music and not the media, but she also uses media in a way that’s impossible not to include it. She has great singles but hasn’t put out a solid “concept’ album yet, which wouldn’t be bad if she didn’t call them ‘concept’ albums to begin with. But, she has great, even classic, albums in her future if she drops the training wheels that are her influences, and yes, ARTPOP shows that Madonna is still one of them, not a bad thing She also need to own the clothes instead of the clothes wearing her and, most importantly, get out of her 20’s as the ones were truly great in their 20’s peaked or died. She will be more like Madonna, Cher, Stevie Nicks,even Piaf, and others, who just got better in their genres as they got older because they don’t have to prove anything and just focus on being better for themselves and not the image. That’s when the critics see better and fans really think about who they’ve been supporting when they see more of the real artist instead of ARTPOP.

    5. E.V. says:

      I take it she had some say in the album cover. I saw that Yoga video and her boobs aren’t that big.

    6. Melissa says:

      Why insulting Grace Jones ? Ok she did not make an impressive records until her fourth album (Nightclubbing) and got lazy after 3 successful reggae/dub inspired masterpieces then became more famous than her music (she’s not a msician though) and finally released her best album at 60. Gaga’s best work was on her first album and then it got old because there was no artistic evolution at all and all the promises people put in her turned out to be wishful thinking. 4 albums in and there’s not one earnest soul baring moment in Gaga’s discography. Her lyrics are not universal and even hyper self centered. It’s hard to rely to a girl raised as CPW princess with a messiah complex and sense of entitlement and i’m not even gonna tallk about the drugs and her white girl problems.

    7. izaleah says:

      No…no….no…gaga i dunno what s going on…she started cool unique now is like she us recycling from the legends…each artists that have been legends hardly relied on others ideas…mj…madonna…bowie….prince…queen…jim morrison…elvis…bob Marley…each different and unique…i like applause….artpop…dwyw is ok…maybe in2015 she will be able to find an alien specie to buy her music cause here in earth she is just going downhill…

    8. Gags, the Record Company's PUPPET says:

      This album should be named FartPlop. It’s downright awful, boring, lifeless and worst of all not fun or danceable. There are no standouts like past hits: Love Game, Paparazzi, Bad Romance… and the only listenable track is Applause, then FartPlop’s chart longevity will surely be in jeopardy.

      Honestly, I think the “Lady Gaga” art teams are running out of steam. They’ve ripped off so much from Madonna that now they have nowehere else to go. The record company needs to abandon their “Lady Gaga” project and start over .

      • susan says:

        You must have fuhking terrible ears then, man. And hey, those songs are from 2008, not 2013. Artists GROW and their music DEVELOPS. Hell, take a look at muse from the early 2000s and now – technology. I learn to love it.

    9. Jay says:

      This review is crap u don’t know a dam about her or what artpop had to offer u need to do ur homework cuz u don’t know a dam about music

    10. Cher Bacca says:

      BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    11. nippy says:

      ARTPOP is the album with most catchy songs gaga has done… one can listen it from start to finish… and i love the fact she creates her own music no matter the critic reaction or chart performance… is rare these days to have a pop artist like that…. im def on gagas side with this!

    12. yurek says:

      (trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)(trap, dubstep, Lex Luger-style hip-hop bombast)

      I don’t think you know anything about music;

      There isn’t a single trap or dubstep pattern in this album.

      I repeat!!!
      There isn’t a single trap or dubstep pattern in this album.

      I am not a fan of hers and the album is okay, just fyi

    13. Priscilla says:

      Can we please all just STOP with all the harsh comments already? I’m a 41 year old mom of 2 and music is one of my passions. And artpop is a damn good cd. Is it as good as fame and born this way? Some may say yes and some no. With every cd gaga has put out has their own meaning behind it. if you want to find out what that is then do your homework like I did and find out. I can say this about artpop she’s in a good place right now off the drugs and came out of all of those costumes masks and shown just her. Thats gotta take a lot of guts to do that. So instead of the negative trolls why dont we put all this nonsense aside. I mean she’s doing things that get her on the cover of magazines and trying to do good in fighting against bullies. I’m sure if all the downplayers take a good hard look in the mirror they will realize the aren’t perfect either. If no one likes the music or her style just simply look the other way and grow up!

      • Here for the Review (Review, Review) says:

        And yet her fans are some of the biggest bullies online. Really toxic crew. Honestly, the best part of her declining fame is they aren’t nearly as omnipresent on Twitter as they once were. They rival Bieber fans.

        I remember when Just Dance came out. I laughed out loud, the lyrics were so spot on and funny and it had a great hook. Then she started taking herself too seriously and buying into her own hype, and that’s when the fun died. ArtPop pretty much exemplifies that, failing as both art and pop for me as a listener. Applause had some catchy moments, and some not so catchy moments. Also, she tends to excel in the visual medium but there was a lack of cohesion between the song and the video. It didn’t enhance the song the way the video for Bad Romance did, as an example.

        There’s also the problem with her being derivative of others but that’s been discussed to death. At the end of the day, she’s selling a product, and people are well within their rights to review that product to help others decide how to spend their hard earned money. That’s what people read reviews for, not just to see empty praise. Perhaps if Gaga received more constructive criticism herself, she would not be making the mistakes she is now.

        I think the biggest difference between Gaga and Madonna is Madonna enraged people by saying she wanted to rule the world whereas Gaga acted like she already did. Time will tell if she can bounce back from criticism and recapture the magic like Madonna has done so many times in the past, or if she got too big too fast.

        • susan says:

          As a ‘fan’, I can tell you that every single fanbase has those really bad apples which make the rest look bad, whether it’s swearing or telling other artists to kill themselves or whatever else. Hell, look at all of biebers and mileys followers. Not really an excuse.

    14. Albert says:

      Judging by the essay of delusional Cher praise you wrote not too long ago, I take this review as one coming from an old queen rolling his eyes at a contemporary diva and scoffing at the youngsters because “you’ve seen it all before and better”. Whats sad is that people will take this article seriously, they’ll read it and foolishly think it came from someone without the intent of finding every fault possible just to report the negative as opposed to actually LISTENING to it. ARTPOP may not be inarguable perfection but she has once again proved she makes great commercial pop records because need you be reminded she IS a commercial pop artist. She may wear elaborate costumes and lace her radio pop with clunky metaphors but she is not trying to be Grace Jones musically. Thats the common misconception people have about her.

      And can’t write a good chorus? The Venus chorus is damn good. Do What U Want is damn good. Sex Dreams and GUY are damn good. There are hits and misses as with most records. I don’t understand why with Gaga all people focus on are the misses. People just review her wanting her to falter.

    15. G says:

      Do What U Want was initially a promo single and its surprise success (going #1 in 70+ countries including the U.S.) prompted it to be moved as second single. Applause is still being played round the clock on mainstream radio so Do What U Want is going to gain momentum once Applause dies down. How on earth could this journalist even state flat out that its being treated with a shrug? What irresponsible journalism.

      This is obviously an example of a critic giving her a mixed review for the sake of giving her a mixed review. They eye roll and pre-disposition themselves to slam her without giving any genuine intent to listen to her commercial pop music (and I stress commercial because from the start of her career shes had no intention of being anything else even despite her ramblings on art) with open ears.

      Do What U Want is excellent and one of Gaga’s best since Bad Romance. Seriously I just have had it with some of these faulty critics, they have no credibility anymore.

      • Jon says:

        A song going to #1 on iTunes doesn’t mean it’s a hit!! The iTunes song chart tracks sales on iTunes, it’s not an official chart. Aside from that, DWUW was #1 on iTunes for HOURS, not days, and that is only due to the fact it was a free download attached to the pre-order of the album on iTunes. The same thing happened with the other 3 songs she released prior to the full album release, it’s not indicative of actual sales or interest in the songs themselves.

        You “Little Monsters” need to develop a thicker skin! Just because someone doesn’t care for Lady Gaga or ARTPOP doesn’t mean they are unqualified to comment on her or the product and it does not make them a “bully”. The facts are that this album has not lived up to the hype that surrounded it for the past 2 years. The sales are far below expectations and the singles are performing poorly for someone who should be in the pinnacle of their career. This album is cold, dark, distant, aloof, and chaotic….there is nothing for a general audience to connect to, which is why it is being so poorly received outside of Gaga’s cult-like fan base. Everybody else sees it for what it is…….a lackluster bore…… Turns out there is no ART or substance to Lady Gaga’s POP!

        • susan says:

          I mean I’m a gaga fan, and my intention isn’t to ‘grow a thick skin’ and accept the fact that ‘the album has not lived up to it’s hype’ – hey – it’s only been out for a goddamn month man. I don’t need to do this as I do not care about critic’s crappy reviews on music which sounds good to me. Least of my worries, so I am not sure why you are saying that we must realize this. Reviews mean shit to me, as long as the music sounds good to me and holds meaning, I couldn’t care less. As for poorly received by gaga’s fan base – you shouldn’t judge a whole group of individual people. Anyhow, you sound very narrow minded to me, especially in that last sentence and exclamation point.

        • Tish says:

          And….you come off as the typical “little monster” celebrating her every move and kissing the ground she walks on no matter what. If you’re going to bash someone’s intelligence, why don’t you do so, hmmm, I don’t know… intelligently?
          Bottom line, Gaga has never again touched the scary, sexy beauty of love-hate tracks such as “Bad Romance”, and “Paparazzi”. Not to mention, that, people are catching on to the fact that she is nowhere near as different as she purports to be. Her fashion is one thing (and beautiful, I think), but her song lyrics talk about nothing but sex, drugs, and the high life….the same things that pop stars have been talking about since the beginning of pop! There is nothing unique about that! The article is right. She’s got that commerciality, which she needs to lose.
          People need to read articles like this and come back to earth. Don’t sensationalize someone uncritically. In some ways, yes, Gaga is avante garde, and I admire that, however, it’s not nearly enough.

        • Albert says:

          Nothing written in this response sounds rational or intelligent especially in context to what I was saying. You just come off as your average bitter pop stan trying to berate her with a vengeance.

    16. Brooke says:

      Really? if you read the lyrics, you will notice a storyline between two people throughout each song. Aura invites the listener to know Gaga “behind the curtain”. Venus and G.U.Y suggest Gaga meets a man and wants to not only be his “male counterpart”, but he could be her G.I.R.L. The environment is kinda dirty and sleazy with “Jewels n Drugs”…MANiCURE shows the guy’s makeover…..he is wearing heels and a dress….continue reading the lyrics to figure out the rest of the story. I did.

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