Gaga Goes “ARTPOP”

Since the release of “Just Dance” in 2008, Lady Gaga’s accomplishments have overshadowed that of any other pop star. Her carefully conceived performances, such as her emergence from a temperature-controlled egg at the 2011 Grammy’s, are equally entertaining and meaningful while combining performance art, mesmerizing choreography, piano virtuosity, sex appeal and stellar vocals.

Courtesy of Interscope Records

Courtesy of Interscope Records

Fittingly, the songs on each of her albums conform to a very specific theme. “The Fame” explored the dynamics of celebrity status, and its follow-up, “The Fame Monster,” highlighted Gaga’s own fame-related fears. Finally, “Born This Way” celebrated Gaga’s worldwide fan base. Yet “ARTPOP,” her highly anticipated fourth album, disappointingly fails to maintain the complex theme it attempts to create, and its songs simply lack the musicality of Gaga’s previous work.

Like the pop artists of the 1960s, such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, who visually combined high art and popular culture by appropriating images from comic books and iconic photographs of celebrities into their artwork, “ARTPOP” attempts to combine art and pop from the pop perspective. Yet it is much less successful at this.

“Aura” starts the album off strong, with Gaga belting, “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? /
Do you wanna peek underneath the cover? /
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?” implying a difference between Gaga the pop star and Gaga the woman, and anticipating the album’s attempt to combine them.

Perhaps the most successful song, in terms of its expression of Gaga’s complex theme for this album, is “Venus,” which continues to play with dualities — Venus the Goddess, and Venus the planet; Aphrodite the supernatural being and Aphrodite the lover. It begins, “Rocket #9 take off to the planet (To the planet)/Venus /
Aphrodite lady seashell bikini (Garden panty)
/ Venus.”

To the VMA’s in September, Gaga wore a thong and seashell bikini top. During her October performance on “The X Factor,” Gaga became the goddess–flowing blonde wig upon her head, two seashells covering her breasts, and bikini bottom around her waist, while images of Botticelli’s 1486 painting, Birth of Venus (also featured on ARTPOP’s cover), appeared behind her. “Venus” defines “ARTPOP,” encompassing Gaga’s newest persona and comes closer to combining art and pop than any other song on the album.

“ARTPOP” disappointingly declines from here; its title track shattering all of the album’s progress toward a clear and innovative theme. “My artpop could mean anything,” she declares. If “ARTPOP” could mean anything, does it have any specifically intended meaning or theme at all?

“Dope,” a nasally, yet passionate power ballad, is a nice relief after several over-produced and almost unlistenable tracks and shows off Gaga’s impressive vocal range, but lacks the brilliance of “Speechless” and “You and I,” some of her earlier slow songs, which Gaga has performed acoustic on several occasions.

“ARTPOP” owes its failure largely to its reuse of much of Gaga’s older material. Though “Sexxx Dreams” is one of the only great songs on the album due to its catchiness, Gaga is far too talented to still be producing songs entirely about intercourse, especially ones with such indiscreetly (and annoyingly) sexual titles. “Sexxx Dreams” is reminiscent of “Lovegame,” but less memorable. “Applause,” “ARTPOP’s” first single, provides a shaky conclusion to the lengthy album — isn’t applause a part of fame? Hasn’t she already sung fame to death?

Perhaps merging pop music and art is one feat Gaga just cannot achieve. “ARTPOP” tries very hard, and only minimally succeeds.

 

Only Recommended If: You are a Little Monster and are willing to appreciate what little greatness ARTPOP has to offer. Gaga is still Mother Monster, but sometimes mothers make mistakes.