On Second Thought: Lady Gaga – ARTPOP (2013)

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It’s not an easy time to be an artist. The gotta-have-it generation picks up and puts down performers like toys they tire of easily, tweeting and commenting with agitated glee about this illusory rivalry and that silly lump of chinwag. The music is secondary to niceness; art tumbles behind the looming necessity of pop and circumstance.

Lady Gaga’s third full-length studio album, the aptly-titled ARTPOP, attempts to straddle the line between its two titular conceptions. It is conceptually and tonally lighter than Born This Way and has more in common with her debut record The Fame.

It explores the idea of pop as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s Cesare emerging from another deep sleep and bursting into shards of sudden color. ARTPOP is as much a visual experience as it is as aural one in that regard, as evidenced through Gaga’s alignment with artist Jeff Koons — who designed the cover — and the components of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus that form both lyrical and graphic context.

“Aura” commences the proceedings with touches of psychedelic trance, Middle Eastern music and thumping club beats. After an ethereal intro that finds the vein, the cut jams into a rattling bulk of synth-pop and eddying effects. “Do you want to see me naked lover?” Gaga sings before a three-chord detonation sends things into the stratosphere.

This notion of looking behind appearance, of stripping nude, saturates this record (and most of Lady Gaga’s material) even as it seems to stand in sharp juxtaposition to her public image. But the “weird” outfits and “bizarre” behavior is part of a larger scheme to sequester Gaga the artist from Stefani Germanotta the woman.

ARTPOP leads the abstract strip-show onward with songs about sex (“G.U.Y.” and the overwhelmingly appealing “Sexx Dreams” in particular) and the fine art of celebrity (“Donatella” and “Fashion!”). Lady Gaga’s interest lies underneath the excessive, throbbing Fame Monster and this 2013 entry takes the love affair deeper to the point that it very nearly provides a complete vision. Her ability lies not necessarily in crafting the utterly exceptional but in insisting that the popular be received as artistic.

So when a song like “Jewels ‘n Drugs” surfaces with T.I., Too $hort and Twista as guests, it stands to reason that it begins with a swell of an orchestral tuning. Splashing what could, in the right square-headed hands, be thought of as unbearable against the sanctity of classical music is another push along the neon line.

No, it’s not an easy time to be an artist. Maybe it never was. Maybe Kanye West was right when he said that being an artist was like being in a service industry and meeting demands of what customers want rather than offering the sort of harvest that really lies within. Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP at least attempts to push back, using some damn fine pop tunes to shamelessly “live for the applause, applause, applause.”

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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