A Review of ARTPOP, with GIFs and Umlauts

Hands rubbing together! Mouth slavering at the chance to write again! Tissue wiping at mouth! It’s been awhile, readers (?). My bad. November is a tough month. Cold winds, calories, emotional regression, air travel. But so much has been going down in my personal pop world and it’s getting regurgitated bit by bit. YUM!

First up, ARTPOP. I’m late, but who cares. The album barely made a blip in the cultural landscape, because Gaga died long ago in a fiery tornado of production values, sometime soon after Born This Way. But because I loves me some zeitgeisty ambition and experimentation, I’ve still been poring over it. It’s really not great, but it is interesting, and for that I feel comfortable paying it minimal heed.

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I think ARTPOP is less earwormy than previous efforts, but it is lyrically a relief because Gaga’s MERCILESS preaching has stopped; it has given way to the strictly personal. In a sense, Born This Way was written for the fans – for society, really – and that kind of pandering and proselytizing makes a smash album with a shitty legacy. In ARTPOP, the pendulum has swung towards the über-esoteric and the über-grand, which feels WAY more Gaga than a bloated ode to anti-bullying. ARTPOP is a colorful and epileptic melange that fails a lot and wins a lot, and although I don’t really love it, I do love how fucking nakedly insane it is.

So let’s start with the shit that stinks.

Tracks That Sück

It would have been wonderful to see a follow-up effort in the vein of “Yoü and I,” stripping down the arrangements and making use of Stefanie Germanotta’s brassy Broadway bawling. ARTPOP‘s one ballad, “Dope,” is a shell of an imitation:

 

The melody is virtually nonexistent, and her voice sounds so drama school final showcase. And no one really buys that Gaga’s some kind of world-worn addict stalking the underbelly who can actually get off calling drugs “dope.” And what kind of dope are we even talking about here? You don’t come back from heroin to eventually pull off complex booby-grab dances. Supposedly she’s singing to her former assistant, who left as a result of Gaga’s “destructive behavior.” Which kind of also sucks the authenticity juice out of this overpostured confessional yawp.

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Hey rappers, stay away. Stay far away. Gaga has NO IDEA how to utilize rap, including simple sampling, and “Jewels n’ Drugz” absolutely buries T.I., Too $hort, and Twista in a calamitous pile of poopyshit. It’s a torturous song and I have no idea how it made it to the final cut of this album.

 

Öther tracks that sück: “Sexxx Dreams,” “Swine,” “Donatella”

Tracks That Are Jüst Ökay

There are some moments on ARTPOP that are simply middling – they have their moments of beauty but mostly just expand to take up two minutes of odd, gentle filler. Like those multi-colored sea monkey things you buy in the store, watch grow into mildly interesting lumps, and then forget about and leave to rot in your old fishtank.

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“G.U.Y.” is languid and druggy, reasonably hypnotic, and I like it because I completely get the lyrics. Some classic Gaga gendering. She’s gotten enough control over her language that her treatise on sexytimes is never offensive, always mildly pleasing to THIS lady listener who hates most things about being a lady in the sheets.

I’m gonna wear the tie, want the power to leave you
I’m aiming for full control of this love
Touch me, touch me, don’t be sweet
Love me, love me, please retweet
Let me be the girl under you that makes you cry
I wanna be that guy

“Gypsy” is a fine little soaring ballad that veers surprisingly into Bruce Springsteen territory, but the melody errs on the side of trite. It’s really only notable for the #singlegirlproblems lyric “I don’t wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight.” I am also into “Venus” for its staccato fuckery and kooky space imagery. How can you hate a track that rhymes “Uranus” with “Don’t you know my ass is famous?”

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It’s got a bit of David Bowie vocal gymnastics, and although the intergalactic march rhythm never quite allows it to get off the ground, it’s still a fun little novelty. I also like to imagine Gaga thrashing about the recording studio, making similar faces to the one above, just to achieve the extreme enunciation that “Venus” boasts as a calling card.

Öther tracks that are jüst ökay: “MANiCURE,” “Fashion,” “Mary Jane Holland”

Tracks That Are Really Güd

Hey, let’s talk about the title track! Really, all I can say about it is “BEEP BOOP BOOP BEEP.” It’s R2D2’s wet dream, and I don’t mean one night inside C3PO’s hard drive. The mechanical sounds are beautifully muted and layered, and I enjoy Gaga’s near-academic lyrics: “Come to me with all your subtext and fantasy.” Her plaintive and detached musing, “We could, we could belong together, ARTPOP” gives me some of that old avant-garde hopefulness for a brighter and more complicated musical landscape.

 

And now it’s time for the two best gifs to come out of the “ARTPOP” promo video.

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“Aura” was leaked early and got a HUGE backlash for its politically-charged goad: “Behind the aura, behind the curtain, behind the burqa, behind the aura.” It’s gimmicky, but it’s sooo much fun. It’s over-the-top, aggressive, cool, and kitschy in a Tarantino way. Her introductory litany of “HA HA HA HA” will wend its way into your daily vocabulary faster than you think (she said to no one). I also quickly warmed to “Do What U Want,” the dark and stormy synth R&B party that co-stars R “Urine for it now!” Kelly:

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Listen, you try to do sex pushups. It’s easy, ’til you have to rotate the orientation of your entire vagina, like the groin of Gymnastic Barbie. It’s a good song. It makes you do stuff you didn’t think was anatomically possible.

And of course, there’s “Applause.” Oh, “Applause”…I hated you so much when you came out, but contextualized in ARTPOP you’re not so bad. In fact, you’re kind of infectious and thrilling. Be sure to watch the video of this song performed at the VMAs; no one really got it then. Finally, Gaga’s passion and personality come through on this track. Not only is it the most classic Gaga on the album, it’s also the most solid song, the most accessible, and the clearest in terms of message. And the music video is pretty fucking cool too.

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And there we have it! A day late and a dollar short, so they say. Anyone out there with an opinion on this thing? Leave me a comment, space mortals.

Kill Your Idols: Lady Gaga’s Final Round of “Applause”

I sincerely apologize for the astronomical length of time that’s passed between the VMAs and this blog post (3 days)! It’s just that Breaking Bad is also on Sundays and I had to go to work and then it was Monday, and then Tuesday…whatever. Tardy to the party.

I pointedly refuse to address Miley’s moment, because my analysis will bear no new fruits. It was terrible in so many ways. You’re all smart people, you know racism and internalized mysogyny when you see it, right? You don’t need to see the word “twerk” again in print, do you?

Instead, here’s some words on my fave moment, because I think it deserves a little sweet love from my fangirly fingers. Witness the Lady:

Color me disappointed, but not surprised, that Gaga’s performance of “Applause” was met with a lukewarm reception. People were meh on the staging because it wasn’t up to her usual standards of insane, and they were meh on the fact that she even appeared. I hate to say it, but Gaga’s zeitgeist is nearing its end, fading gently into the warm embrace of the 2000s. Perhaps the viewers expected more of a shocking swan song after last year’s provocative performance of the best thing she ever wrote.

If it wasn’t obvious before, let me state definitively for the record that I’m a big Lady Gaga fan. I admire the cultural work that she’s doing from the precarious ledge of a pop star. She’s a gifted songwriter, producer, storyteller, and performer. She knows Americana inside and out, and she actively critiques it through her art. The thing I love most about Gaga is that she TRIES, she ASPIRES. She may not always get it right, but she is unafraid to disgust people or lose favor. She believes the iconic and/or the transcendent is possible in pop, following in the great tradition of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. I think her career would last longer if she was male. I think she knows this.

I respect that she sticks to it when she enters a new phase of her career. The new album, ARTPOP, may be terrible, and this song “Applause” may also be terrible (it is), but I’m digging the meta-ness of her new identity. This time around, Gaga Is Art. She chooses to reveal herself as a changeable construction. I think that many viewers missed the nuance of this performance, like her visual shoutout to The Birth of Venus:

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Note to female pop stars and females in general – THIS IS A BODY! I’m so hungry for all the meaty feminist living flesh hanging off this bitch!

And then there was her rapid transformation – five onstage costume changes to make clear that the persona of Gaga is ever-changing, ever-derivative, like the culture she lives and thrives on. In case you didn’t get it the first time around, during the “Telephone” era, Gaga reminds us that Warhol Matters:

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And then there’s the actual song itself. “Applause,” like I said, is really not great when you stack it up against her far superior stripped-down-dance hits like “Alejandro” or even “Judas.” The melody is super weak, as is the beat. But I found that it grew on me when I actually watched her perform it. I kind of got that the song is about the utter desperation that drives our icons, and the constant switching-up and face-clawing that becomes necessary to stay on top. It’s also about how celebrity is contingent on the fans, and that a star can’t measure their worth by box offices or concert attendance, but by how loud their audience screams and how long they clap. For now, Gaga is interested more in occupying the space of a star, and reminding all of us that we’re basically religiously beholden to a cycle of building/destroying false idols. And YOU thought it was just a show! For shame, little monsters!

As Lord Gaga’s time on earth comes to an end, I find myself saddened. Why did she have to die so soon? Who will take her place? I guess only history will tell if Stefanie Germanotta managed to achieve immortality. I really hope so. Not because I think she’s perfect, but because I badly want a female to ascend to pop legend – not selling sex, but truth and humanity like the dudes are allowed to sell. Side-eye, Madonna.

What did you think of Gaga’s performance? Toss me some brainjuice in the comments.

Yoü And I (Mark Taylor Remix)

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For reasons I can’t explain, Jo Calderone has been on my mind lately. I miss him. I miss Gaga’s ever-so-brief comeback. Born This Way was not a very ambitious album overall (almost every song sounds the same), but it doesn’t matter, because it showcased the finest composition of her career, “Yoü and I.” The rawness of the lyrics, her honeyed voice, the musical triumph of it all! Gaga’s so talented when she’s real, and when she’s not blatantly Madonna-ing all over me, I’m so in it with her.

Here’s a fantastic remix I stumbled upon via Spotify. It’s much more dancey, which I think brings out the nostalgic joy of the song. Something about lonely nights, and my lipstick on ya face.


Just for posterity, I’m posting an old Tumblr post that I spat out after the “Yoü and I” video was released.

Okay, so here is my thing about this video. Well, first let’s get macro: I really do support and appreciate Lady Gaga’s assertion that she represents gender issues by occupying an objectified media-whore space. She says she brings problems of femininity to light by perfectly embodying THE OBJECT. And through purposely performing that identity, she becomes THE SUBJECT, and starts dialogue about power, relationships, culture, etc. Cool. Thumbs up.

This song, Yoü And I, really zinged me in the heart when it first came out. It sounded like some of her most honest and universally appealing work – she’s bare and vulnerable and wailing about how the love of her life will never truly fade from her soul. It is by far the most sensitive and real track off Born This Way.

I am a little disappointed by this video, because on the one hand it is so conceptually ambitious and emotionally complex, and on the other, it’s a total retread of all of her artistic endeavors. The strongest parts of it, by far, are the brief glimpses of Gaga’s gritty Italian greaser alter-ego Jo Calderone and his reverent girlfriend with lips and hair like sweet corn. Their relationship is represented in raw, sexy strokes, like an old Fellini romance or a James Dean film. Now THAT’S a rumination on the exchange of power between a man and a woman – aggression mediated by understanding, rough meeting soft, love conquering brutal strength.

Jo was a flesh-and-blood iteration of the best, most relevant work that Gaga’s done for the reinvention of the female pop artist. More confrontational femme masculinity, please, sweet Lady. Vive Calderone!

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