Lady Gaga’s New ARTPOP Doesn’t Always Live Up to Title

Did Lady Gaga get less weird, or did the world just get weirder? A little bit of both

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ARTPOP
Interscope Records


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

At one point in time, Lady Gaga used to be weird. But, even if the woman born Stefani Germanotta has tried to maintain the outsider image for which she became known and beloved, the more time has passed, the more she’s become normalized; pop culture is weirder (much because of her), so she stands out less. Her ostentatious style, culled from MoMA art pieces and Madonna, Brooklyn drag fashion and Bowie, no longer has the shock-and-awe power it once did, and so her equally ostentatious musical style, influenced by many of those same factors, suffers from the same problem. On ARTPOP, Gaga lacks forward momentum in the same way she did on Born This Way. As her style has neared the mean and the DNA of her saw-toothed Euro ‘80s pastiche pop has been incorporated by other pop acts, Gaga has attempted to remain on the vanguard with only perfunctory musical evolution, giving less and less reason not to fall back on her earlier, more vibrant works.

At 15 tracks spread over just under an hour, ARTPOP becomes a marathon of a listen, especially on the back half; once the sound of the record has been thoroughly established, many of the songs tend to feel overly long. “Swine”, “Donatella”, and “Mary Jane Holland” all approach the four-and-a-half minute mark, but each of them could easily have chopped a verse and maintained the same effect, with the benefit of brevity. At the top of the album, the sex-obsessed back-to-back-to-back volley of “Venus”, “G.U.Y.”, and “Sexxx Dreams” feels like it could have all been summed by any one of those very similar tracks. Including all three simply isn’t necessary. On the back end, both “Dope” and “Gypsy” serve similar “epic end-of-album track” purposes, where either would have done the job better than both.

Additionally, aside from the Lex Luger drama rap explosion of “Jewels N’ Drugs” or the electro gutter stomp of the R. Kelly-featuring “Do What U Want”, nothing on ARTPOP feels particularly different from Gaga’s The Fame and The Fame Monster peak. What’s the justification for listening to “Manicure”, or “Donatella”, or “G.U.Y.” instead of “Paparazzi”, or “Bad Romance”, or “Poker Face”?

(MORELady Gaga Debuts Flying Dress to Promote New Album)

The moments where ARTPOP sells the ambitions of its title are the moments that stand most apart from her prior work. “Jewels N’ Drugs” features T.I.Too $hort, and Twista, a combination that seems only Gaga would have been able to bring together, and it ends up working as one of the record’s best tracks. The title track is a patient contemplation on the intersection of art and pop culture, driven by what sounds like a dying, old school war dialer. And, even though I wouldn’t recommend anyone telling R. Kelly to “Do what you want to my body,” “Do What U Want” is keyed by how it splits the difference between its two titans.

The way Gaga tried to keep fresh on Born This Way was less by changing her sound and more by updating the topics of her discussion, a task she again focuses on with ARTPOP. On the former, Gaga tackled universal acceptance and promoted the freedom of image. On this record, Gaga’s issues with freedom are more personal: sex, and drugs, and “fashion!”, and weight, and continuing fame, and femininity. Where prior albums found her speaking on similar issues as if from the pulpit to a choir of her little monsters, ARTPOP is lyrically confessional, for better and for worse.

On the worse hand there’s “Donatella”, Gaga’s attempt at dismantling 1% culture, or maybe just the Versace maven individually (after all, it starts with a scathing, but accurate description of Ms. Versace’s appearance). “Donatella” could have been a solid body image anthem, one that announces in the pop radio format that it’s okay to be imperfect in your body, in your clothes, and with your money. But, the personal vendetta makes the song seem childish, an unfortunate look for someone approaching 30. A better tack is the dumb and fun “Mary Jane Holland”, a pro-marijuana anthem that doubles as a rock opera, complete with a titular character and a Les Mis-meets-Van Halen bridge. And, that opening sex trio is unabashed in its sex talk without being vulgar, a delicate balance to strike that implies that it’s possible to be sex-positive without appearing trashy to middle-aged White America.

(MORELady Gaga Calls Ex-Assistant “A Disgusting Human Being” under Oath)

In the past year or so, Gaga’s public appearances have fallen along a narrative of exposure. She’s ditched the theatrical makeup, the meat outfits, and Alexander McQueen obfuscation in favor of a more stripped-down look. It’s the equivalent of KISS taking off their makeup earlier in their career. The more personal lyrical tone of the record fits that theme; on the opening track, “Aura”, Gaga asks a prospective lover, “Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura?” Later, “Dope” is the most streamlined track of Gaga’s career. She absolutely lets rip with her voice, though the effect would be more powerful if “Dope” didn’t hit every excruciating piano ballad cliché (and feature the hilariously clunky line “I need you more than dope”).

It may be that we’ve come to expect too much from Lady Gaga. At her peak, her mishmash of European dance music, American pop, ‘80s Madonna, glam Bowie, hair metal, Giorgio Moroder, and The Killers sounded both reverently referential and ahead of its time. The hype that combination commands is always followed by the expectation of further exploration. Instead, Gaga has added only a few by-the-numbers modern elements to that initial formula: some Skrillex-lite dubstep on the awkward “Swine”, a Brandon Flowers imitation on “Gypsy”, and the aforementioned rap-ready “Jewels N’ Drugs”. That refusal to experiment as wildly as she once did reads as fear, and a pop star who’s afraid ends up sounding like the once-weird Lady Gaga does on ARTPOP: boring and normal.

Essential Tracks: “Jewels N’ Drugs”, “ARTPOP”

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87 comments
Summertagged
Summertagged

She is still one of the weirdest mainstream singers of the decade, Miley Cyrus is just a little joke trying to prove she's an adult. However, the ARTPOP is so gaga labeled. Without a clearly observable evolution it is easily being criticized as not original and not refreshing. She's not reaching your expectation and she never tried to reach anybody's expectation. Of course she needs improvements or so called evolution on her works, but who knows what would she be like if she became even weirder, or became just normal electrical-oriented pop star. She's never a real artist, and it's hard to identify her as a serious pop singer. If your looking for some really breath-taking songs or serious music, please try classics, Gaga is just another piece of craps idealized by commercial branding. ARTPOP is a weird, gaga-labeled, a little bit psychedelic and electrical dance hall pop album. It's worth listening, way much better than those Britney Spears craps and meaningless porn rap songs. And that's it. Don't ask for too much and don't be so harsh, or you will be really disappointed

JBBreck
JBBreck

MADONNA rules and get used to it, you big monsters

JBBreck
JBBreck

She's over, should have known just by looking at the cover not to listen to it, what a mess, and that's that the label made her redo the album twice and she still didn't get it right, back to your room to cry to mommy, only this time just stay there, cuz u already were caught coping Madonna and she is still the queen, give it another 50 years when Madonna has died then maybe it well be cool to try to be her....Like NEVER!

SophiaPrice
SophiaPrice

Okay so i sat down and read like 100 comments written for ARTPOP. i have been a fan since 2008 when she first started. When she came out people werent happy at all because they simply thought Pop music was over..but Gaga proved them wrong by being one of the most influential artists of her time. As she started growing her music started growing too. People believe that ARTPOP is all about drugs, sex, fashion and fame but seriously if you've actually sat down to understand her songs you wouldnt have been agreeing with all of this as she clearly opens up and lets us see her real self the girl behind the aura..with the Fame she was clearly talking about fame and money. The Fame Monster was a continuation of The Fame with her talking a bit more about her fears ( you can see how she started becoming a bit more mystical) . With Bron This Way she clearly talks about equality which takes her to the level of maturity within her self. As for the music it has never been the same. Fame was more Popish bringing a new era of music to the world. The Fame Monster was a new era of electronic pop music which was a mass hit for her. Born This Way evolved in its own way which lots of people didnt like because they simply couldnt follow the new style she presented because she clearly evolves musically really fast. ARTPOP cannot be compared with any of her work or with anything out there because its simply something different that i personally believe will be the new era of music whether people like it or not. And for all of those who state that Gaga is not talented just listen to some live performances look at her weird but amusing creativity and also with who she has worked with. Tony Bennett one of the most amazing artists clearly stated how much of a fan he is so who are you to say that Gaga is not a well-talented and respected artist? I agree that not everyone is going to love this album cause it is different..but respect artists for their work and try to be open-minded about music...in conclusion for me ARTPOP is a risky album as its so different and open in every way from any music out there. But its one of the most confusing and exciting with great hidden melodies vocally and instrumentally album i have ever heard. it makes you fall into a more spiritual path through music which lots of people cant do simply because they are afraid to search within themselves. Thats why Gaga is actually selling because she dares to do things that none dares to do. Try to look at the essence of the melodies within the pieces and not the production or musical effects. And since i do want the music industry to evolve i give my full support and love to this album

mauricio.mauricioenrique1
mauricio.mauricioenrique1

Sayin that this completely mess is the album millenium, proves that Gaga knows about art after one hour researching in wikipedia...Her album is a mess...she tried to look fashionable and almost  naked with Appluse but after niticing that everyone misses the extravagant Gaga she went back to her roots and start looking like a demented clown..No sense of originality, no sense of good taste, no sense of art...Her album will be known as the most pretentious shi* in music business...Amateur

HelenaMeyer
HelenaMeyer

I stopped taking this review seriously when you said that "Jewels and Drugs" was one of the best tracks. Seriously? I know everyone has different tastes, and I love Gaga with all my heart, but there is nothing in that hot mess of a song that would even remotely qualify it as one of the best tracks. There's no cohesion, and it's way too overproduced. If she had left out that song, as well as "Fashion!", the album would have been a 10/10 for me.

mcnaugha
mcnaugha

You lost me when you said Dope could replace Gypsy. Then the final death blow when you swooned over the generic and awful, dated attempt at Hip Hop that is Jewels. Congrats on working for Time, but boy does it disappoint me that your taste is trapped in an early noughties timewarp.

mlv1
mlv1

I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong; to crash the critics saying is it right / is it wrong.

my ARTPOP could mean anything

SH01
SH01

Does anyone else get the idea that Bosman may be the type who is too snooty to actually acknowledge anything as well-made?  The type who would gladly attack someone else's weakness rather than his own? Most of his articles are just critiques on how awful somebody else's work is and benefits from the idea of "chopping" his opponent down. I mean half of these so called "down points" are his own claims of value ("but each of them could easily have chopped a verse and maintained the same effect, with the benefit of brevity") perhaps some of us actually have an attention span and like a song which lasts longer than two minutes. 



YoaniVeg2014
YoaniVeg2014

ARTPOP ♥

In 2009, when “Just Dance” rose to the top of the singles chart, we desperately needed Lady Gaga. America hadn’t embraced a pop musician this brazen and flamboyant since Madonna (not to mention Boy George). Quite simply, the scrappy, self-made New Yorker with her dance-meets-glam-rock jams provided the perfect escapism for the recession-weary, music-loving public.

Just four years later, however, Gaga is a much different artist than the aspiring superstar who gave us the disco-pop of “Summerboy” and Bowie-as-Ziggy-Stardust pastiche “Brown Eyes” — tracks off The Fame that sound downright quaint compared to the jagged and spiky production on ARTPOP .

Gaga’s third studio LP (sure, okay — let’s just go with the notion that the brilliant The Fame Monster is not a full album) states its case up front: If The Fame was about ambition and Born This Way was about acceptance (plus, you know, mermaids with green hair, government hookers and heavy metal lovers), ARTPOP’s opening number asks us if we’re ready to see “the girl behind the aura, behind the curtain.”

Lyrically, Gaga delivers on the insights. And, unsurprisingly, there’s not really much here that we haven’t heard from the singer’s predecessors in pop and rock over the years — tales of sex, love, drugs and Donatella. Melodically, though, with the exception of woefully out-of-place hip hop headscratcher “Jewels N’ Drugs,”ARTPOP is Mother Monster’s most cohesive work to-date. It’s here that she finally cements her “sound.”

Upon first listen — or even second — the employment of EDM throughout ARTPOP comes dangerously close to miring the whole thing down in a sloppy heap of overproduced mess. But you have to hand it to Gaga’s knack for savvy songwriting — those choruses chainsaw through the album’s flaws and rise like cream. “Aura,” “Venus,” “G.U.Y.” and “Sexxx Dreams” kick it all off like four relentless sucker punches to that part in the head where our craving for addictive pop is generated.

Said sex and drug references run amok on ARTPOP, as Gaga clearly tosses any hangups about being a “role model” for her younger Monsters out the window. “I lay in bed and touch myself and think of you,” she confesses on the not so subtle “Sexxx Dreams,” which, as mentioned, is one of the album’s standouts. Later, on the equally straightforward “Mary Jane Holland,” the singer declares, “When I ignite the flame and put you in my mouth, the grass eats up my insides and my brunette starts to sprout.” Not even the piano ballad “Dope” is without mention of intoxicating substances, as, of course, the title implies: “Been hurtin’ low from livin’ high for so long,” she laments, before offering, “Toast one last puff and two last regrets, three spirits and twelve lonely steps up heaven’s stairway to gold.”

The album’s centerpiece is “Do What U Want,” an unlikely duet with R. Kelly that succeeds in combining funk and ‘80s synth flourishes while still managing to sound timeless. With its harmonies and impeccable ad libs from both vocalists, the song is one of Gaga’s greatest compositions to date — one that also allows Robert Kelly the perfect vehicle for reminding us why he became one of R&B’s brightest stars two decades ago.


While the first half of ARTPOP finds Lady Gaga driving through EDM territory, the record winds down with a bit of a throwback. “Mary Jane Holland” sounds like a first cousin of Born This Way’s “Heavy Metal lover.” Likewise, the upbeat, curiously sweet “Gypsy” is the twin sister of “The Edge Of Glory.” (It’s probably no coincidence, then, that “Gypsy” was co-written by longtime Gaga collaborator RedOne.) The album closes out with its lead single, “Applause” — a song that, let’s face it, plays like a retread of the best bits from 2009 chart topper “Poker Face.”

At this point, the innocence Gaga displayed on The Fame and The Fame Monster is clearly a thing of the past.ARTPOP‘s greatest achievement is showing us a more focused artist than the one behind previous, all-over-the-place effort Born This Way. She might not have nailed it 100% this time around, but now more than ever, Lady Gaga has found herself on the right track.

Pops Like: A bible for weekend nightcrawlers doubling as Paris runway music.


Idolator Score: 4/5

DonRyan
DonRyan

I like about 4 songs on the album and deleted the rest.  Gaga doesn't need to stop screaming or overproducing her music, but until she does I'm not going to be paying attention.

AJWILLIAMS_IT
AJWILLIAMS_IT

I was surprised when it ended, it did last some grande finale but who cares. It's pure pop and reminds me of hot summers in Spain the 80's. Lady Gaga is just that, Lady Gaga.. Forget who what where when, it's just music from her heart and I think most people will love it. I'm surprised how much I enjoyed it, just disappointed it ended so abruptly.

JonathanCummings
JonathanCummings

I like the Artpop.  It is going to change the world? No.  Are all the songs terrific? No.  Is it as good or better than most of the crap on the radio?  YES!

ItsKevinAndrew
ItsKevinAndrew

OK SO IF GAGA IS GETTING THIS "BAD" REVIEW OR WHATEVER, THEN WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE EVEN LISTENING TO?? MILEY?? WHAT?? WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE THAT IS THIS GOOD?? ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO MUSIC THESE DAYS?? 

music_shell
music_shell

he lost me at describing Jewels n' Drugs as 'one of the record’s best tracks'.......

the trashiest pseudo-hip-hop I ever heard

info.jean.spies
info.jean.spies

really, you guys suck , I never bought the TIME magazine in my life, but now I will never buy it and I will tell people to not buy the TIME magazine !!!!!

vinylpoison
vinylpoison

More often than not, the album is a mess...a complete lack of coherence and more often than not, what one hears is senseless noise thumping and she can't get any worse lyrically.

LucaGitani
LucaGitani

I am a Fan Of Gaga But sorry this is a FLOP

Gerard22
Gerard22

I think some of these reviewers need to focus less energy on "putting her in her place" and actually listen to this album for what it is, commercial ear candy. Which is what had made Gaga such a refreshing delight in the first place.

Certainly this album isn't what you'd consider experimental in a raw sense, but Gaga plays within the confines of commercial radio pop where her peers wouldn't dare and unlike her previous record, successfully.

Gerard22
Gerard22

Whats often unacknowledged, regarding articles such as this, is the way that people like this reviewer throw objectivity out the window and just project onto her. Theres rarely genuine objectivity, just biased rants equivalent to some old queen annoyed by the fact that the younger generation has taken a liking to something they feel they've already seen. But at least this reviewer listened to the album? Whatever.

Lady Gaga is a contemporary commercial pop artist that very much acknowledges and thinks of herself as a commercial pop artist. Her intent on fusing art into her career does not lie within the music so much as it does her general persona, because at the end of the day she intends on making commercial pop music. Its always been her intention and always will be shes made that blatantly clear since her days as a go go dancer doing pop shows in New York. I see way too many critiques centering their entire articles harping on the fact that shes not experimental enough for her to be allowed to consider herself an artist and just brushing aside the fact that this is a solid contemporary pop record with great hooks and interesting references/samples that once again prove Gaga to be above most of her contemporaries (Perry, Minaj, Rihanna). This album may not be inarguable perfection but thats a rarity anyway. This is still one of the best pop albums released this year.

skankslayernj
skankslayernj

For all you crying "bloody murder", this review is a fair and an accurate  assessment of "Artpop"...Nothing on the album is fresh, the sounds and melodies are so similar from other songs of the 80's and 90's..Is not that anyone wants her to reproduce "Bad Romance" but her sound and image has evolve in order to survive..Madonna taught every pop diva the #1 lesson in Pop...Work a sound and look to the fullest, then you move on; just look at Gaga's contemporaries like Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, none of those girls look or sound the way they did 5 years ago...Change an experimentation is the only way to be relevant in Pop, and Gaga is still pulling the same stunts from 2008...If she doesn't evolve,  in 2 years she'll be the only person in the world left showing "monster claws" ... 

RyanAbernathy
RyanAbernathy

I like that the writer listened to the album, but they seem to ignore Gaga's description of each song. Donatella is not a vendetta. Gaga wrote that for her. I do not particularly like Jewels N' Drugs, but it is not bad. It is good to see that the writer has listened to it, instead of buying into fan wars, but at the same time, ARTPOP was meant to be different. If you want someone that put out the same kinda stuff all the time, then you are not looking for an artist.


I love ARTPOP, not just the fact that I am a fan, but she is doing new things with her voice. It shows growth. Not everyone has to like her. There is no album on Earth that EVERYBODY loves. It is probably impossible. Criticism is fine, but do your homework a little next time.

arome139
arome139

unfortunately to really get the full effect of this album you have to be some what of a committed little monster (which i am) i can kind of see where the negativity is coming from, but at the same time gaga, and zedd both acknowledged that this album was experimental and nothing like anything they've done. i for one enjoy the album. 

GenuineMusicLover
GenuineMusicLover

Well said. For better or worse, you and I share the minority view right now. But remember, Gaga will be remembered for much time to come, while the comments and the "critical reception" will be largely forgotten. The album is genius, but most people will not have the mental capacity, contemplative soul or humor to understand the importance of this work as a unified album, to pop culture and to music.

theroxbury4321
theroxbury4321

@AJWILLIAMS_IT Ended abruptly?  I feel like the album is way too long and it should have been around 10 or 11 songs.  

Reality_Rules
Reality_Rules

@ItsKevinAndrew There's A LOT of good music, but none, absolutely NONE of it is getting played on the radio. Here's a few suggestions: Tarja Turunen, Primus, Tori Amos, Therion, Opeth, Rene Marie, Claudia Acuña, and Earth Wind & Fire to name but a few. Dig into the classics, too. Nothing wrong with listening to music that was released years, even decades (hell, even centuries ago).  Lady Gag (intentional spelling) is laughable, at best. Vapid, pointless crap. Clean the syrup off of your ears and listen to some real music.

mauricio.mauricioenrique1
mauricio.mauricioenrique1

@Gerard22 This is not commercial ear candy..commercial ear candy is Katy Perry or Lorde..this album is chaotic mixture or bad quality EDM songs, pitchy voice and poor lyrics.. Gaga was refreshing in Fame but after trying to be Madonna/bowie in BTW she suddenly become annoying...she is artist with no sense of originality..she thinks that being artistic os to red in wikipedia everything about art..Artpop is the worst album of the year for being pretentious and arrogant...yeas art can meani anything, gaga art is acompletely mess

Gerard22
Gerard22

A good portion of negative reviews that i've seen of this album seem to strategically intend on taking her down a peg and ultimately bypass (on purpose) what a solid commercial pop record this is, much an improvement from her last. In my opinion they just know that by giving it a mixed score it will affect is overall rating thus effectively loosening the screws keeping her pop culture footing in place but thats nothing more than my own assumption.

KilledByDying
KilledByDying

@Gerard22 Perfectly said. I think perhaps people are looking to her to be a 'freak', as many people thought of her when she first arrived on the scene, however people like Miley Cyrus are 'shocking' people more. I really like Gagas music and enjoy her whole theatrics stageshow type of personality. I really like the song Swine as to me it sounds a bit edgier than past songs and has a riot girl/Hole type feel to it. The only song I think is lame on the album is Dope.

Gerard22
Gerard22

@skankslayernj 

blah blah blah. you're just another biased hater as made obvious by the fact that you have transparently made a profile just to write something negative. move along.

Reality_Rules
Reality_Rules

@Gerard22 It's crap. Everything she's done is crap. Hopefully, this one flops hard and we never hear from her again.