Revisiting ARTPOP by Lady Gaga, Eight Years Later

WatersOnAir

Okay, so I’m 8 years late to the party. What can I say? Back in 2013, Lady Gaga put out her most controversial, avant-garde, and polarizing album, and I’ve literally never listened to it. Do you have an opinion about ARTPOP?

Spurred on by a recent fan movement to celebrate the under-appreciated album, Gaga’s supporters began suggesting that she should make a Part II. While that’s far from confirmed, there have been rumors that she and her old producers have discussed it.

So before I got too far behind, at the suggestion of a listener from Suffolk, VA (hi Aaron), I figured it was time to see what all the fuss is about.

Last night, I explored ARTPOP for the first time, taking notes as I went. So here we go, Little Monsters – almost a decade later, I was about to experience Gaga’s brainchild.

“Aura” – I was greeted by a rising acoustic guitar and a story about murdering someone. Not what I expected from Lady Gaga. I could already see why they said this was “avant-garde,” considering that over a minute into the album, I hadn’t heard her sing a single melody. Finally, a spidery EDM bassline kicked in, and I heard about the struggles of fame and beauty. She did say that she was in pain when recording this, after all. It wasn’t catchy, but it was very interesting, and I was curious to see if she could keep this up for 55 minutes.

“Venus” – From the get-go, this one sounded very similar to its predecessor. During the prechorus, she delivered both growling vocals and high notes; very nicely done too. It seemed to be a choice that these songs couldn’t be too accessible, considering that the perfectly good hook was buried under various effects and processors. The bridge was dreadful, and I’m not sure I’ve heard many worse rhymes than “Uranus / Don’t you know my ass is famous.”

“G.U.Y.” – The voice at the beginning of this song almost sounded like Siri. Once again, some very quirky and possibly Beck-influenced instruments colored the intro. Her gender-bending lyrics would’ve fit pretty well in today’s contemporary songwriting scene, but of course, her massive sine-wave synths were archaic by the current standards. A neat crossover between elements that stood the test of time and those that didn’t, “G.U.Y.” was my favorite so far. I’m never a fan of songs that spell things, but this could have been a lot worse.

“Sexxx Dreams” – I’m pretty sure that this album had as much narration as the Blue Man Group’s entire discography. Also: there’s been no innuendo in ARTPOP; Gaga made all her desires clear, and it was practically audio porn. Her vocal melodies here had an atonal sense that almost reminded me of Nine Inch Nails… although if Gaga were thinking about 9 inches here, I’m pretty sure she would’ve just mentioned ‘em in the lyrics.

“Jewels N’ Drugs” – This song featured a couple people, and started right off with those new voices. T.I. (remember him?!), Too $hort, and Twista all showed up somewhere, and I was about done with them by the end of the first verse. When Gaga mercifully came in, the beat has already modulated dramatically and channeled some serious Halloween energy. Every single rap in this song was trainwreck though, and this song was a skip, as far as I’m concerned.

“MANiCURE” – Some refreshing sounds! Here in track 6, I was treated to double-claps and electric guitars. This song was brash, bombastic, and – I was afraid to even type this, lest I jinx it – a straightforward pop tune. I could really hear the way she says she was suffering, though. I’d already heard a few lyrical “cry for help” moments that I know weren’t put in there accidentally.

“ARTPOP” – And with that, I was already starting on the title track. It was remarkably chilled-out, compared to what I’d experienced so far. There was still something “wrong” with the song, which I attributed to the slightly detuned keyboards, but they didn’t ruin the mood at all. Meanwhile, Gaga’s octave harmonies were enjoyable and well mixed. “Free my mind, ARTPOP,” she said at the end. I’m glad she’s doing better these days.

“Swine” – That’s an aggressive title, and the words really matched: “I’m just a pig inside a human body.” The beat drop was thrilling and old-school, with its ridiculously-long buildup before the sawtooth keyboards took it away and did their thing. These lyrics really sounded out of place on top of an otherwise 2010s-chart-ready beat.

“Donatella” – One letter away from being named after a Ninja Turtle, this song brought me back to the intro of the album. Featuring familiar narration and a carefree, blasé attitude, all wasn’t what it seemed to be once again. Speaking on the difficulties of being an it-girl but secretly struggling, along with a healthy mix of Italian and French accents, Gaga found herself back in between glamour and grim reality. One of the best songs on the record.

“Fashion!” – I was nearing the end of a pop album that, so far, had produced every emotion except the specific emotion of knowing you’re hearing an obvious hit song. This one made a strong argument that it deserved to be in the spotlight though, with summery guitars, funky bass, and relatively (for ATPOP at least) cheery subject matter. I got the feeling that when she sang, “lookin’ good and feelin’ fine,” she was being sarcastic, but unlike the rest of this record, it was more difficult to tell.

“Mary Jane Holland” – Named as a thinly veiled metaphor for marijuana, I felt like I’d heard this song once or twice before already. It didn’t offer much new musical material, and didn’t blow me away as it progressed, either. But I’ll bet more than a few drag queens call themselves Mary Jane Holland now, since it probably makes for great intro music at the gay clubs.

“Dope” – Continuing with the weed references, she stripped away everything except a piano and a soft organ-esque synth pad at the beginning. Gaga’s voice is undeniably good, and in this song, she finally gave it enough space to breath and to showcase her vocal tone. At long last, she didn’t bury her emotions under a massive club DJ’s presentation, and I truly felt what she was singing about this time.

“Gypsy” – Nearly an hour later, the album neared its conclusion with a half-time anthem. Until it turned into a pulsing, four-on-the-floor, “toniiiiiiiiiiight” anthem, that is. I was glad that ARTPOP was moving in a less depressing direction, although I wasn’t quite ready to call this song ~happy~ either.

“Applause” – Wrapping things up on a choppy and danceable note, Gaga provided one of the album’s best hooks on its final track. In her typical fashion for this era, though, it wasn’t immediately clear how serious she was being when she admitted that she lived for her fans’ applause. Was it a well-disguised dismissal of her pop peers, or a truthful moment of self-realization? All I knew is that I wanted to dance to it.

And there you have it – my honest opinions about ARTPOP, an album that got better as it went on. I’m only a mere 2,724 days tardy in listening, but hey, better late than never! I’m all on-board with creating a follow-up record, whether or not that happens remains to be seen. If it does, I promise I’ll listen with a little more quickness this time.