Key Tracks: “Venus” “Swine”
There’s a piece in some corner of the MoMA that’s a light, plugged in and emitting a low strobe, on top of a piece of wood and a tire. Some people might call it a true artistic endeavor. Some, including my normally artsy self, will just call it stupid and self-indulgent. That’s what Gaga’s third album intends to be – something to take in on both a superficial and an artistic level. But it’s really only enjoyable at the most superficial basis. Sure, it’s an alright listen, but to try and analyze any merit would just be a waste of time.
Gaga said she was inspired by the word “Artpop,” and felt it reflected what the project is. She also said it’s a “reverse Warhol” formula and a “celebration and poetic musical journey” with “a lack of maturity and responsibility.” I don’t exactly know what “reverse Warhol” is supposed to mean, but this isn’t it. Warhol’s work is full of immaturity. For “Empire,” he filmed the Empire State Building for eight hours, as it did nothing. “ARTPOP” is actually an embracing of everything Warhol was about – fame, loose caricatures, controversy, and a disconnect with the general audience. Except there’s no art here.
The first track, “Aura,” is one of the album’s more interesting songs. It’s about taunting the audience by promising them looks into the artist beyond the work. But it’s an EDM track, simply. Zedd and Infected Mushroom collaborated with her on it, and while they’re great at what they do, there isn’t exactly much artistic merit in it. It’s club beats. The album’s first half is full of this frustration – songs that think they’re experimental but are just club-ready doses of EDM, electronic and pop. Most of the earlier tracks are great listens. They’re booming jams, even bigger than what she’s done previously. Somewhere along the way, the music loses it’s touch. The album’s second half is almost totally forgettable. It’s not as catchy, and although it’s more the faults of the vocals, it’s completely ineffective pop. “Swine” has a spine-tingling keyboard rupture, and R. Kelly duet “Do What U Want” has some sweet R&B. But those aren’t enough to save the album’s dragging second half.
Lyrically, Gaga has fallen under whatever caused Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” to be so irrepressibly bad. There’s a total disconnect to the audience. Gaga’s two previous albums have been so, so good because she created huge club songs while still sounding like someone you could call up to have lunch with. She was easy to relate to. Here, though, she’s not. Two straight songs are called “Donatella” (as in Versace) and “Fashion!” She’s fallen prey to Jay-Z’s ‘If I sing about luxury, people will respect me’ train of thought. Nearly every song is just basic club lyrics. The R. Kelly duet, an intended sexy song, is made creepy by the presence of R. Kelly. Only two songs explore any sort of topic – the decent “G.U.Y.” looks at male submission in sex, and “Mary Jane Holland” is a cliche and trite look at marijuana. “Venus,” the album’s best song, is the only really poetic track. Everything else is just simple rhymes.
I didn’t find anywhere to work this in but I still want to mention it – there’s one track called “Jewels N’ Drugs” that has a few notable rap guest spots. The last is from Twista, and I’m just really glad to see him still popping up in places; I don’t think I’ve seen him on a track in years. He hasn’t lost anything – he still raps at a world record speed.
So “ARTPOP” is really a total misstep. Not artsy, sometimes not even catchy, and unintentionally alienating. This is why I chose the image that I did for the review. It feels experimental, but there’s nothing artistic about the album, it’s really just Gaga. Any experimentation has no real basis or reason. Some of the songs work, a lot are at least enjoyable, and some are just bland and useless. Diehards will eat it up, those looking for a dance record will be more than pleased, but those looking for the promised experimentation will only find a light on top of a stick and a tire.
-By Andrew McNally