Is the world bored of Lady Gaga? The build-up to ARTPOP hasn’t exactly gone as intended – we were a bit nonplussed by what we saw at the iTunes Festival, her Applause was (unfairly) drowned out by a Roar, and her hyperbolic musings on the marriage of art and pop (followed by a bat-shit performance on the X Factor) completed the licence everyone needed to start tearing her down.
We’ll be the first to admit that, barring the Fame Monster, we’re not the biggest Gaga fans on the planet. Sure, she can pull a Telephone and some Scheiße out of the bag now and then, but this whole Mother Monster, unsought ‘saviour of the marginalised’ schtick was always cumbersome, breeding the most rabid fans with the most contra-Gaga ethos.
But this is about Lady Gaga’s art, specifically her ARTPOP. On paper, it feels like once again she’s trying to champion something no one really asked for (an album cover appraised as art? Sure, pal, but we’d prefer some bangin’ tunes). In practice, it’s doesn’t even touch triumphant, and nowhere near as clever or artistic as it tries to be.
At times it feels like ARTPOP is trying to create a vocal tour of the genres we see in charts today, albeit with a Gaga stamp. If Applause is straightforward Gaga (arguably a contradiction in terms), then Sexxx Dreams and the Aguilera-channelling Do What U Want proffer the best of modern R&B. Venus tackles EDM, Gypsy does disco, while Swine is the apex of industrial electro, not to mention an album highlight. And while they’re not a patch on vintage Gaga, there’s much fun to be had with Manicure, Artpop, and the cheerleading of Mary Jane Holland.
But for the most part it’s spectacularly unsuccessful. Donatella has the most cringe-worthy lyrics that don’t even bear repetition, G.U.Y and Aura are a right old racket, Fashion! will reignite a Vogue-related ‘reductive’ debate, and Jewels & Drugs is singularly the most embarrassing take on chart hip-hop. Never mind tearing down Miley, it’s Gaga who should be slated for misappropriating black culture.
It also doesn’t help that Gaga has lost none of her penchant for attention-seeking. There’s not so much as a modicum of modesty here (chalk it up to the far-too-numerous allusions to being disgustingly rich) and, Applause notwithstanding, the Gaga dichotomy is most evident on a song like Do What U Want. If her pre-single Twitter tirade is to be believed, then this is a massive musical middle finger to the press that tore her down; later on, she claims that she’d fall apart if they ever let her go. It’s a rare moment of honesty we wish she would embrace more often, rather than being less self-aware than Geri Halliwell on an average Tuesday.
Then again, maybe she’s more self-aware than we realise. Gaga is way more intelligent an artist than this and, truth be told, most of this album feels like it could be a massive in-joke, her Joaquin Phoenix moment, a living art project to test the boundaries of taste and pop. Or perhaps the irony of the title is that this may well be a piece of work appreciated at a distance, over time, or at least better curated on the next touring cycle. Unfortunately something tells us that, either way, Lady Gaga is about to well and truly suffer for her ARTPOP.