Following the bedazzled coattails of Lady Gaga’s announcement to be the first performer to sing in space is the pop superstar’s third studio album, ceremoniously titled Artpop. This album is Gaga’s attempt at bridging the gap between highbrow visual art and the banality of popular culture (as represented in the album cover itself). Designed by famous contemporary artist Jeff Koons, the album cover appropriates Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, with Gaga as the Goddess of Love and a disco ball in place of the original painting’s pearl.
After Madonna, Gaga is probably the most resourceful recording artist to fully take advantage of video and performance, not as an extension of the record, but also as an integral component of it. While Gaga has been responsible for sonic addictions such as Bad Romance and Poker Face, it becomes difficult reviewing Artpop without taking into account the possibilities Gaga could offer in terms of music videos and other visual material that will undoubtedly accompany the record.
So far, the only video released by Gaga to support Artpop is for the first single, Applause. Mostly in high contrast black and white with sporadic bursts of color, the Applause music video is set up like a performance art piece mixed with theatrical elements. It contains a multitude of visual references, including Black Swan, German Expressionist cinema from the 1920s, and Heath Ledger’s Joker.
The song itself is not far from Gaga territory; the usual retro disco beats and Synth pop grooves we’ve loved in The Fame and The Fame Monster resonate throughout the record. As a teaser for Artpop, Applause works, and sets the tone for what fans can expect from the rest of the album.
Aura kick-starts Artpop and has been featured in the trailer for Machete Kills (Gaga’s upcoming feature film).The track itself starts with a country-western intro, with Gaga echoing the following:
I killed my former and
Left her in the trunk on highway 10
Put the knife under the hood
If you find it,
send it straight to Hollywood
Venus, possibly the most radio-friendly track on Artpop, follows Aura. Rumored to be Gaga’s next single, the track has everything that made us love Just Dance. This song is also a brilliant representation of Gaga’s ability to string random words together in a melodic, tongue-in-cheek way. You can’t help but chuckle at:
Mercury, Venus – uh ha!
Don’t you know my ass is famous?
Sonically and thematically, G.U.Y and Sexxx Dreams follows a similar formula: catchy disco beats, hooks, and choruses with overtly sexual overtones. A similar coupling can be made of Jewels N’ Drugs and Do What You Want. T.I. makes an appearance in the former, and R. Kelly features on the latter. Both tracks see Gaga experimenting with RnB and Hip hop, and the resulting material isn’t up to par with the rest of the album.
Manicure and Donatella, Gaga’s fashion-inspired and bass-heavy pop confections have a Pussycat Dolls (PCD) feel to them, with the baseline for both songs sounding eerily similar to PCD’s Don’t Cha and Beep. This isn’t a bad thing though, and we could easily see both songs charting the Top 40 with ease.
Artpop, Fashion!, Swine, and Mary Jane Holland are fillers at best, after you get over the novelty of the subject of the songs (Mary Jane Holland is an ode to Marijuana). Pass these, and there are two gems that await you. Dope is probably the highlight of the second half of the album and is a brilliant display of Gaga’s strengths as a songwriter and vocalist. Gaga enunciates the lyrics in Dope in a slow, casual drawl with the result being nothing short of an Elton John styled Billy Joel hybrid ballad. In the midst of uptempo dance beats and synthetic rifts, it’s refreshing to hear Gaga’s beautiful vocal range set against a simple piano melody:
My heart would break without you
Might not awake without you
Been hurting low, from living high for so long
I’m sorry, and I love you
Sing with me, “Bell Bottom Blue”
I’ll keep searching for an answer cause I need you more than dope
Gaga closes Artpop with Gypsy and Applause. We’ve mentioned Applause before, but Gypsy’s Springsteen-esque disco pop anthem has to be taken note of. Gaga recycles in Gypsy what she did in Hair, Edge of Glory, and Born This Way, but better. The lyrics are mature, and the music makes you want to get on a convertible and speed on the highway.
I’m Russia, UK, Paris, I’m Italian, Asian combined,
African, India, I’m a Gypsy, Gypsy, Gypsy,
I’m Latin-American, I don’t speak German but I try.
Someday in Jakarta, I’m American, I’m Gypsy,
I Bangkok, Australia, Malaysia, Sweden, Finland, Norway.
Be my home, just for the day.
Artpop marks a triumphant return for Gaga, who uses a wider pool of resource materials for this album than she has before. There is no denying the pop star’s place in popular culture, and we at Bidness Etc can’t wait for the exciting year Lady Gaga has surely planned for us.