59:04 min • Interscope • November 6, 2013
Andrew Darley reviews
ARTPOP. The title of Lady Gaga’s fourth album is an odd word. Not only does it jarringly turn the notorious Pop Art movement on its head, but those who have followed Gaga’s career so far will note that the word encapsulates exactly what she has been doing, both implicitly and explicitly, since her first record. Her knowledge of and dedication to art, fashion, film and technology has acutely shaped and informed the way in which she presents herself and her own art to the world.
From the beginning, her music, clothes, videos, and stage performances have been laden and enriched with references and nods to other artists’ creations, from Dadaism to Surrealism and, of course, Warhol himself. It initially seemed odd that she should now choose to make a point of her own aesthetic when it has been clear all along. The album’s title and concept intends to subvert the original ‘50s art movement in what she frames as a “reverse Warholian expedition”. Gaga recognised how Warhol insinuated mainstream ideals into galleries around the world. Gaga is on a mission to bring art into popular culture through pop music and show that they can coexist within the same space.
The first evidence of this is the album’s cover. Collaborating with artist Jeff Koons, it immortalises the singer through a nude sculpture in which she is armed with one of his gazing balls and supported by a backdrop collage of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The cover is loud, colourful and instantly pop. It is a fine representation of the music on the album too. Musically, the record shows the singer taking a side step, rather than a step forward. ARTPOP sharpens and embellishes the various elements she has previously explored and that have distinguished her sound. It takes from her three previous albums, incorporating the sassy attitude of The Fame, the spectacular choruses of The Fame Monster and the aggressive electronics of Born This Way.
There is a shift in lyrics too. She has moved away from the message of self-empowerment and self-love of her last album, deemed by many as her career obituary, to topics that are more spirited; namely sex, love, drugs and fashion. Upon first listen, what will strike you down is the album’s production. The album was co-produced with DJ White Shadow, Madeon and DJ Zedd who’ve honed a quality that bubbles and pops from the speakers with a production that is airtight. The broody drum patterns of ‘Sexxx Dreams’ and the filthy throb of ‘Mary Jane Holland’ are as mesmerizing as the words she’s singing over them.
The album also deals with her own struggle and acceptance of her meteoric stardom. Her internal chaos, the transparency of music business and her dedication to performance art is a common thread throughout. The crunchy EDM of ‘Swine’, sounding like early Hole at a hardcore rave, details her until-now unspoken experience of being taken advantage of, both sexually and artistically. Whilst ‘Do What U Want’ may appear on its surface as smooth R’n’B jam about a great lay; in reality it is about how the public can critique and tear an artist down, but can ultimately never detract from their spirit and talent.
Succinctly sung on the title song, she passionately believes that the hybrid of art and pop music “can withstand these things”. Although the concept is ambitious and engaging, as an album ARTPOP is an above average, yet vibrant affair. It features some wonderful rushes like ‘G.U.Y.’ and ‘Gypsy’, which is what you can imagine The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ would sound like on ecstasy. Yet, it is sadly balanced out by some off-kilter moments like the hip-hop sound and feature-heavy ‘Jewel N’ Drugs’ and the over-the-top and at times grating ‘Aura’. By the time you reach the end of the fifteen highly charged pop songs, you may ask “Where’s the art?”. As I observed in the review of the album’s lead single, ‘Applause’, the art of ARTPOP and its message will no doubt be developed and expanded over time through her visuals and future performances.
ARTPOP epitomizes the intent of Lady Gaga’s career and how she frames herself as an artist in the world. Her approach makes one wonder whether she has made a deal with devil in choosing to be a mainstream artist. Her belief in her own ability to combine art and pop in a commercial way has been critiqued and judged by art and music critics as well as the general public alike. It poses the question whether her work and persona would be more respected if she was an under the radar pop artist, like Robyn or Annie, than a household name. Whether people want to see the art in her music or not, there’s no denying that she is devoted to the idea of how the two “belong together”.