Lady Gaga has been away for a long time, longer than most pop stars tend to stay away from. After all, the world is fast-paced now – a star can be born in January, reach their peak in mid-July and have their name be met with a resounding ‘who?’ as the holiday season rolls around.
However, Gaga – Stefani Germanotta to the layman – is back, having salvaged an impressive comeback from a worldwide tour cancellation, a torn hip and a career in flux. ARTPOP is the result of this period of seclusion from the eyes of the world, a record promised to be a non-stop ‘party record’, an exploration of deeper themes and most of all, pop music at its best.
For the most part, ARTPOP lives up to its promise of forward-thinking, enjoyable pop music at its finest and most creative – lead single “Applause” and album closer (so that if you play the album front to back, you’ll be able to sing all the words at the end, apparently) is a blast of electropop so effective at raising the positive mood at a party that it didn’t give any pop fans concern as to whether Ms. Germanotta had lost her spark as a singer, lyricist and artist. The song and video also introduced the idea of art being immersed in Gaga’s pop, which continues throughout.
Take glam-rock-sounding promo single “Venus” which is an ode to sexual desire, femininity and the goddess of love herself, or album standout “G.U.Y (Girl Under You)” which is an empowering blast of new-wave feminism and sexual liberation (the opposite to Robin Thicke’s own brand of catchy misogyny), wrapped up in a club-aimed production from dance maestro Zedd and which has Venus’ son, Eros (the god of sexual desire) giving the introductions.
This loving feeling is ever-present throughout the largely positive and upbeat ARTPOP – in “Manicure”, a fantastically bonkers and effervescent pop-rock track that evokes The Go-Gos at their finest, she describes being addicted to love, and in another standout, “Sexxx Dreams”, she turns the naughty nocturnal dream into a chant-worthy anthem. The title track itself is a serene and sweet invitation for love and creativity that provides a hypnotic break in the largely dance-fuelled proceedings.
Elsewhere, the subject matter and indeed sound on ARTPOP veers from standard Gaga fare to more unusual climes – R Kelly duet “Do What U Want” doubles as both an R&B-light sexual ode and a one-fingered salute to her many critics, while “Swine” is a vitriolic, cathartic blast of anger and rage against a blazing EDM production. Elsewhere, “Jewels & Drugs” acts as an extremely unusual but compelling trap and rap track with rappers such as T.I., Twista, and Too Short stopping by for verses, and weed love letter “Mary Jane Holland” is a compelling EDM song about marijuana with a middle eight to kill for and stellar production from house wunderkind Madeon.
The true standout for me, however, is “Gypsy”, the true successor to previous album Born This Way closer and acclaimed track, “The Edge of Glory”. “Gypsy”, despite the kind of problematic title’s usage, is an uplifting ode to the nomadic way of life, a love letter to the man in her life, and an anthemic, stadium-sized blast of EDM-pop that could be the massive hit that Gaga has needed this year should she release it as a single (she should), and one of her finest tracks altogether.
Not everything is great on ARTPOP, however – the sonically-captivating opener “Aura”, for example, is fantastic dancefloor fare but the appropriation of Muslim culture and the burqa as featured in the song feel inappropriate and unnecessary. Other songs such as “Donatella” and “Fashion!” are both solid, if forgettable pop songs, and while the former is a gay-club-aimed floorfiller (and a tribute to Gaga’s pal Donatella Versace), the latter feels listless and boring with its early 2000’s-sounding production despite having dance auteurs such as David Guetta and will.i.am on board for writing duties. The worst offender is clearly “Dope”, a misplaced and minimalist piano ballad that stops dead this ‘party record’ and which just sounds so maudlin, skipping it is the only way to keep the good vibes going.
But, fortunately, the vast majority of ARTPOP is quite amazing and possibly the best pop record of 2013, re-establishing Gaga as a force to be reckoned with, and providing listeners plenty of solid, hook-laden pop songs to sink their teeth into. While I hope that the ARTPOP app tracks provide some more fantastic tunes for fans, regular listeners can content themselves with the knowledge that the woman once proclaimed as the saviour of pop is back, and as long as she can keep on creating new and exciting pop music, her title as such should be all but secured. Glad to have you back, Ms Gaga.