13 November 2013

artpop || lady gaga || 2013

It's been a long, emotional wait for we Little Monsters to finally get our paws on this album. Much of the publicity leading its release seemed to divide or confuse part of Gaga's fanbase while also being a tad lofty to reach out to new audiences. At the dawn of the launch of her new album, it seems that Gaga knows who's listening to her and isn't interested in impressing the general pop audience - or anyone, really - but her integrity as an artist has solidified.

"Aura" was the first of two tracks from the album to leak, and one wonders if this propelled it to the front of both her iTunes Festival performance and the album itself. I'd say that's not likely, though, as it seems like the most logical opener of the fifteen songs. We're immediately enticed by a lone stringed instrument being strummed, before Gaga begins calmly explaining the murder she's just committed. The track launches from there into a techno sound that sticks around for the majority of the rest of the album.

The first time I heard "Venus," I immediately thought of Ace Of Base's first album Happy Nation, especially the track "Young & Proud." The arrangement will seem bizarre on the first few listens, which is to be expected as this is Gaga's first solo production, but stick with it. It'll grow on you and you'll be pounding your steering wheel to it in no time.

"G.U.Y." is a brilliant tribute to power bottoms and codependents alike. The early-'90s techno production is compounded by Super Mario synth noises and effects.

Perhaps it was the wig she had on the first time we all heard her perform it, but I can't help but compare "Sexxx Dreams" to earlier Mariah Carey music. Gaga's delivery reminds me of the choruses of "Dreamlover" and "Honey." This is a very likely candidate for a third single and it should be a massive hit. I can't be the only one who was hoping for a collab with Rihanna on this one, though.

Speaking of likely future singles, "MANiCURE" is almost certainly on the list. Structured like an '80s powerpop song but delivered like a Gwen Stefani hit, it doesn't let up until about the 2:45 mark, when a high school marching band snare drum (à la every 2002 hip hop song) introduces a breakdown that takes us to half speed for the song's final 30 seconds. Brilliant production.

"Do What U Want (With My Body)" is the highlight of the album for me. It's the best single she's released since "Born This Way" and should eventually dominate radio, in spite of a few awkward edits for the airplay version. R. Kelly doesn't overstay his welcome or overshadow Gaga in any way, even if his lyrics don't do much to contribute to the song's message of media mistreatment (a topic you'd think he'd have something to say about).

Gaga has yet to disappoint with a title track, and this album's is no exception. She's great at allowing her title tracks to speak the thesis of her album, and in no obtuse terms: "Doin' it for the fame" / "Baby, I was born this way" / "My ARTPOP could mean anything." This track may also be the most obviously influenced by '90s techno and eurohouse, a motif that seems to flow as the lifeblood through the other tracks.

"Fashion" sounds like an Old Navy commercial from 1999. A better testament to Gaga's love of cheap fashion I couldn't possibly conceive.

The softer "Dope" and "Gypsy" will undoubtedly be the hardcore fan favorites, as they're where we hear Gaga at her most personal and most directly speaking to her fanbase. Wise production choices were made on both, "Dope" especially, as the biggest complaint from Born This Way's ballad "You And I" was that much of its sweetness was lost in Mutt Lange's loud production. (For the record, I thought his version of it was fantastic and I love it just as much if not more than Gaga's live version, but full disclosure: I am a Shania Twain fan.) "Gypsy" is such a well-done piano rock song that it almost sounds like it belonged on the previous album.

If Gaga indeed intends to perform this album front to back at each stop of her tour, "Applause" is certainly a logical closer. A direct thanks to her fans presented in perfect pop form.

Lady Gaga has planted her feet. Her roots aren't moving, and the blossoms of this artist are blooming. Even if her future products continue to appeal to an increasingly esoteric fan base, her place in the music industry is hers to keep forever.