Lady Gaga - Artpop
Over-long and cliché-ridden, but pretty damn exciting nonetheless
Oh, that title. Yes, there’s a tension between art and commerce in Lady Gaga’s work. We know. ARTPOP. Art + pop. You know, like pop art, like Lichtenstein or Warhol – only they were artists doing pop while she’s a pop star doing art. Or vice versa. DO YOU SEE …? This hammering-it-home-with-a-big-neon-hammer approach pervades the whole album, but subtlety is a crutch for those afraid to rhyme ‘Uranus’ with ‘My ass is famous’.
When it works, ARTPOP is remarkably good – the flamenco flourishes, sinister chanteusing and wibbly-wobbly, dubstep-infused fluorescence of ‘Aura’; the post-Squarepusher glitchiness and Grace Jones homage of ‘Sexxx Dreams’; the absurdly cartoonish Broadway-meets-Meatloaf mid-eight of the otherwise onerous ‘Mary Jane Holland’. ‘Gypsy’ finds Gaga lauding her itinerant lifestyle via rousing 1980s bratpack AOR filtered through a 21st-century dance aesthetic. Current single ‘Applause’ brings Gaga’s wilder ideas and über-pop instincts together in a perfect symbiosis. And ‘Swine’ is arguably the highlight, a furious anti-chauvinist tirade that sounds like classic Girls Aloud given a post-dubstep twist.
There’s a really concise, focused, idiosyncratic pop album somewhere in here, but at 15 songs and an hour long, ARTPOP is not quite it. For every genuinely thrilling, way-out idea, there’s a corresponding nondescript chart-music cliché or a refrain that would have sounded a bit stale at Eurovision circa 1983. The faultline is usually clearly delineated, too, with bold, imaginative verses and shamelessly obvious chart-bait choruses, continuing the tradition of ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Bad Romance’.
At worst, Gaga’s artistic aspirations make her pop side seem arch and cynical, whereas her pop sensibility makes the art side seem flimsy and obvious. But the biggest problem is that the central premise is mistaken. Pop is art and art is pop. In extension of this false dichotomy, Gaga takes the most blatantly obvious signifiers from both worlds and mashes them together into a weirdly lumpen and unwieldy hybrid – albeit one that’s pretty damn exciting more often than it has any right to be.