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Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga | ARTPOP

Label:  Interscope
Release Date: November 11, 2013 (AU, UK, FR, US)
Rating:  4.25 out of 5
Grab/Stream This At:
November 18, 2013
By Alan Ho

If The Fame and The Fame Monster introduced Lady Gaga to the music world, then 2011's smash Born This Way would be considered her breakout party.  Replete with imagery, inspirational messages and a fantastic mashup of multiple genres, Born This Way certainly catapulted the pop star into the zenith of music superstardom and all the trappings that come with it.  The question eventually became, what would she do for an encore?

That encore is in the form of her highly hyped (by herself and her own admission) and anticipated ARTPOP, a 15-track journey that on occasion seems highly perceptive to the pop star's struggles with the trappings of fame and in the end is such a journey and story into the soul and heart of Gaga herself that it actually qualifies as a concept album in itself.  So in other words, you will either like it or you hate it; that's simply the way storytelling concept albums go.  She delves into what is obviously her life so far:  sex, fashion, the excesses that come with fame and fortune, love and one song that entails her recently past struggles with addiction.

The album opens with the co-produced Zedd/Infected Mushroom piece "Aura," whose opening lo-fi, Spanish guitar-influenced line is quite dark and mournful but after asking the question "Do you wanna see the girl behind the aura?," the track transitions into a loud Eurobanger/Trancetronica mess interspersed with Gaga's musings but is saved by the fact this girl can sing.  The choral line is catchy, powerful and vintage Gaga, something that is extremely prevalent in this concept story. 

"Aura" immediately transitions into the trippy disco-trance mix "Venus," which in true concept album form, waxes philosophical and makes use of using Roman mythology and astrology as metaphors for what basically boils down to is sex.  Yes, sex.  Just pay attention to verses like "You're out of this world/Galaxy, space and time!"  The metaphors to sex drop and becomes quite obvious and evident in the aptly titled "G.U.Y.," (stands for "Girl Under You").  No pun intended, it is a lyrical and musical sucker-punch as she gets rather provocative and naughty in this track and hammers home her message of making a distinction between submission and equality.  The whole thing is odd and would be questionable, but in the context of the concept album and what Gaga has built her career on thus far, it actually works, even if the listener might get a bit hot under the collar and uncomfortable.

"SEXXX Dreams" is probably a penultimate combination lyrically between "Aura" and "G.U.Y" as Gaga combines R-rated sexual imagery with everything that is great about synth-pop/trance/club.  It is not a track for younger Monsters and the faint of heart in the audience; there are overt references to touching oneself and other sexual metaphors that would only work in the context of the concept album and nowhere else without inviting controversy to it.  And in a rare show of pure emotion, one must listen to the conclusion of the piece as Gaga shows off a rare light-hearted emotional outburst. Certainly not a track for her younger Monsters in the audience.

The most questionable track in ARTPOP is "Jewels n' Drugs" featuring rappers T.I., Busta Rhymes protege Twista and the unnecessary Too $hort. Every concept album has at least one or two tracks that feel out of place, but in the case of Jewels, it is much more than misplaced. This track, with the chest-thumping intro from T.I., that might startle a listener or two, the grimy delivery of lyrical metaphors from Gaga, which entails again her seeming addiction to the trappings of fame might have sounded, looked, read great on paper. But as the cliche goes, the game isn't played on paper; the track tries too hard to be relevant in a pop world that loves its hip-hop collabs too much. Although, Twista's fast-paced rap in the middle is classic Twista and overshadows the entire track and even upstages Lady Gaga herself. Ouch.

Next track "MANiCURE" might be about as close as Gaga and her fans will ever get to what began her climb to the fame that is told throughout the concept. Unlike the previous few tracks and pretty much all of Born This Way, "MANiCURE" is very very buoyant and catchy, especially in its refrain, almost has a "PokerFace" like quality around it on a musical level.  Lyrically, she continues the concept with metaphors to sex with lyrics like "Put your hands all over my body parts/Throw me on the bed/Squeeze, tease and please me, that's what I said!" 

One of the best tracks on the album is the R. Kelly duet/collab "Do What U Want," which combines the power of Gaga's vocals (and cries at the end that some may mistake for Christina Aguilera) with the smooth operating croon of the veteran Kelly. It combines a comparatively (to the album) understated synth/R&B beat, lending an almost sultry, hot, theatrical feel when you add the oddly well-transitioned and seamed vocals.

The title track is virtually a manifesto for everything that makes Gaga...well Gaga ("My ARTPOP could mean anything.").  It serves as a transition, almost a halfway point to the concept album and the electro-jazz tune begins to grow angrier and wilder by the second until you reach the angry-sounding...

"Swine." Wrapped up in a heavy, gut-punching Industrial beat, Gaga takes the listener to a very dark and angry corner of her psyche, using the metaphor of a "disgusting pig" and the title itself for someone she cut out of her life. She furthers the referencing in lyrical disgust, with the subject described as an "animal." There is a very nice touch with the keyboards playing, simulating a squeal, adding mayhem and sloppiness to the track. One may argue on a lyrical level, it's rather cliche, but in the album's case, it makes for a very interesting change of pace lyrically and musically.

The next two tracks moves the concept into Gaga's obvious love for fashion beginning with the almost ode-like "Donatella," obviously a reference to likely muse and power fashion designer Donatella Versace.  And true to herself and perhaps even Donatella, the almost-ode is as close as one gets to "Born This Way," as Gaga turns the song into a fitting anthem for outcasts that have a right to feel pretty.  The refrain though is rather catchy and hynoptic and feels right at home on a runway show.  Would not be surprised if it ever gets played ironically at a Versace runway show somewhere in the world.

"Fashion!" is a wonderfully playful and campy tune that worships the process of "looking good and feeling fine." The tune is further accentuated with a runway-like musical motif. Lyrically, it is not the most creative thing coming out of her, but the runway music wrap around it doesn't require anything, just needs to look good and look fine!

"Mary Jane Holland" needs no introduction. The stormy, straightforward, subtly dark EDM piece makes many references to weed and smoking weed once you get past the wonderfully messy rhythms like "When I ignite the flame and put you in my mouth, the grass eats up my insides and my brunette starts to sprout." The ending of the song is well worth the PG-13/R-rated admission as the EDM mess begins it transition with "I know that Mom and Dad think I'm a mess/But it's all right, because I am rich as piss."

The transition from "Mary Jane Holland" is the dark but cathartic "Dope," which is about as stripped down a track you may ever get from Lady Gaga. She is somewhat apologetic about the effects of the drugs she loves and needs the most has done to her life and how the only thing that may have saved her from a drug-fueled abyss is the man in her life. The song is constructed as somewhat of a broken, soul-baring ballad behind pensive piano and some very powerful vocals.  Outside of "Do What U Want," this is another clear gem in the concept story.

"Gypsy" tries too hard to recapture the perfect glory from Born This Way's "The Edge of Glory." Sure, you can still rock out to a piece that is an ode to love, uncertainty and following one's instincts," but you might be left with asking the question, "what was the point?" All in all, it felt a bit clunky and not exactly well-executed at all.

The album (non-bonus tracks) ends with the much talked about "Applause." The song, despite its disjointed verses has one hell of a chorus line and hook, perfect for Top 40 and for a lot of commercials. It's a top-notch jingle and it saves the piece from being a thud, since Gaga has envisioned playing this entire album from start to finish in a concert. The jingle, hook and choral lines alone would make for a thrilling end and even more so if the verses could be cleaned up.

In the end, what we have here in ARTPOP is a surprisingly fluid (even with the clunker and out of place track here and there) story-telling concept, highlighting the subject's obsessions with sex, drugs, fashion, addiction, at the end a little rock n' roll and then some "Applause."  But like previously mentioned, concept albums are either loved or hated and they are in some ways an experiment between the artist (Gaga) and the listener (you).  There is no gray area when it comes to concept albums.  And in that particular context, ARTPOP for the most part is a successfully executed experiment between the artist and the listener; she hit pretty much every note she needed to in the story and bore her soul out for the world to see like never before. 

Facebook Comments: Keep 'em clean folks!
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