Lady Gaga can be likened to CBS’s reality television show Big Brother in one regard in particular: “expect the unexpected”. Just when you think the pop/dance artist has topped her eccentricities and set that bar to almost unreachable heights, she once more shocks, making one’s mouth fall agape. 2013 effort ARTPOP is as much an eye-/ear-opener as her previous efforts, sporting those signature Gaga cues, but also incorporating some timbral contrasts and infusing more ‘stank’. That stank? Amplified sex, drugs, and electronica. Even though Gaga still goes for shock value, it doesn’t necessarily mean that ARTPOP truly one-ups her strongest material.
Opener “Aura” is the first hint that Gaga has landed…on some other planet. ‘All over the place’, yet slickly produced, “Aura” definitely makes a statement. The first statement is just plumb cray cray: “I killed my former and / left her in the trunk on highway 10 / put the knife under the hood / if you find it, send it straight to Hollywood…” WTF? Later, the lushly, full-fledged voiced chorus definitely seems to be playing into double meanings – one meaning being literal and the other more metaphorical: “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? / do you wanna peak underneath the cover? / do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura…” To answer that question, I’m not sure… LOL.
On “Venus”, at least Lady Gaga admits she’s not from planet earth. Well, she doesn’t really, but perhaps she should as it is one strange, if intriguing number. Essentially, the song is one of many centered upon many people’s favorite three-letter word – sex. Even though Lady Gaga certainly has some kind of way with words, after listing the planets during the bridge section, she especially highlights Uranus: “…Ur-anus! / Don’t you know my ass is famous?” There are also other references to sex, notably during verse two when she sings “Have an oyster, baby / it’s Aphrod-i-sy / act sleazy / Venus…”. The point? Oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac, or so I’ve heard. And being named “Venus”, she’s not really talking about the planet… Read into that how you wish.
“G.U.Y.” is a definitely standout, continuing on the quirkiness that Gaga has laid on heavy here… no pun intended. The intro is bizarre: “Greetings, Himeros / God of sexual desire, son of Aphrodite / lay back, and feast as this audio guides you through new and exciting positions.” Even so, Gaga does let you know where she’s going with this. The first verse says it all: “I wanna be the girl under you (oh yeah) / I wanna be your G.U.Y.” So she wants her man to hold her down and make good love. That’s actually very human of Lady G. On the lustfully bold “Sexxx Dreams”, we learn even more about Lady Gaga’s fantasies. She’s honest on the chorus: “Last night / damn, you were in my sex dreams / doing really nasty things…making love in my sex dreams…” Relatable lyrically? I guess so, but the Gaga-ness definitely makes it a bit awk-ward.
On “Jewels & Drugs”, Lady Gaga goes gangsta, or at least it sounds that way. “Jewels & Drugs” brings an all star hip-hop cast including T.I. (verse one), Too Short (verse three), and the ultra-agile Twista (verse four). As a record, it definitely provides alluring ear-candy, matching the slickness of any hip-hop record. As a song, well, it’s filled with widely interpretable lyrics, particularly when Gaga sings “Don’t want your jewels, I want your drugs / don’t want your money, want your love…” It’s not the ‘love’ part, but the ‘drugs’. Is she referring to ‘drugs’ metaphorically or literally? Probably both. “I admit that my habit is expensive / and you may find it, quite offensive,” she sings on her sole verse, “… but I won’t die at the hands of another.” “Jewels & Drugs” is… um something. Seems like it belongs elsewhere…
“MANiCURE” rocks, literally finding Gaga asserting herself here against a rocking beat. That said, Gaga isn’t studying a manicure, but she wants her ‘man to cure her’ of her horniness. Verse two epitomizes this sentiment: “Touch me, in the dark / Put your hands all over my body parts / throw me, on the bed / squeeze, tease, and please do what I said!” There it is. Single “Do What U Want” is much more electrifying, arguably the valedictorian of ARTPOP. Who would’ve ever envisioned a duet between Lady Gaga and R. Kelly of all people? That said, it works perfectly, particularly given the sexually charged themes of ARTPOP. What’s more alluring here is the fact that for once Gaga doesn’t seem to be as literal here. The wider message seems to be one of empowerment and inner beauty as evidenced by the hella catchy chorus: “You can’t have my heart and / you won’t use my mind but / do what you want with my body… you can’t stop my voice, ‘cause / you don’t own my life but / do what you want with my body.”
Title track “ARTPOP” is one of many production treats on ARTPOP (produced by Paul “DJ White Shadow” Blair and Gaga). It’s also pretty attractive record overall, with a sense of mysteriousness about it. The point of the song? Well it’s obvious isn’t it? She wants to create ‘art’ and ‘pop’ music. If you want to get all technical, she there are skeptics who wouldn’t consider pop, particularly modern pop, to be ‘art’. In some cases, skeptics are ‘on point’. However, anything Gaga seems to do seems to be captivating and “ARTPOP” is no different. It’s not Beethoven, but it is ARTPOP.
On “Swine”, Lady Gaga is doing some hardcore name-calling: “I know, I know, I know, I know you want me / you’re just a pig inside a human body / squealer, squealer, squeal out, you’re so disgusting!” This manic number may not be a preeminent feature like say “Do What U Want”, but it is Lady Gaga being Lady Gaga and she does that well. And she’s pissed!
“Donatella” (named after Donatella Versace) is centered around a motto of self-confidence and affluence: “I am so fab, check out / I’m blonde, I’m skinny / I’m rich, and I’m a little bit of a b*tch.” With this theme of ‘being-the-shhh’ basically, the attitude is conveyed not only lyrically but instrumentally through Zedd’s production work (Gaga also produces). Keeping in line with fashion and affluence, “Fashion” is in company. If nothing more, the somewhat predictable Gaga cut is superbly produced by Gaga, Giorgio Tuinfort, will.i.am, and David Guetta. Vocally, as always, Gaga impresses.
“Mary Jane Holland” wasn’t necessarily one of my ‘go to’ songs, but the bridge is definitely a highlight, particularly when Gaga states “I know that Mom and Dad think I’m a mess / but it’s alright, because / I am rich as piss / When I ignite the flames and put you in my mouth / the grass heats up my insides and my brunette starts to sprout…” See why it stands out? “Dope” was introduced prior to the release of ARTPOP and is the slowest track of the set. While that could be a bad thing, it’s not because it finds Gaga pouring out her heart, something that the faster dance cuts don’t always do nearly as effectively. Confessional by all means, Gaga draws the listener in with such lyrical moments such as “I promise this / drink is my last one / I know I f*cked up again / because I lost my only friend / God forgive my sins…” or even the grit she puts into repetitive chorus lyric “I need you more than dope”. It may not be another “Speechless” but it’s one of my personal favorites.
Penultimate cut “Gypsy” begins slower, but the tempo and intensity picks up, contrasting the more emotionally-driven “Dope”. Don’t let the quick danceable nature fool you though – Gaga still shows the power and rawness of her pipes. Oh and by the way, she alludes to Born This Way’s “Schieße”. “Applause” is an appropriate closer, and stands out more in the context of ARTPOP than it did as a single. It is still trumped by more intriguing listens (and ‘sex’), but it was smart choice to have a relatively successful single by Gaga standards conclude.
So how does ARTPOP fare? Well it’s a big pop/dance album, so that always seems to signify a mixed-bag that is all over the place. Some of ARTPOP shine brightly while others are just less impressive. This particularly Gaga album won’t necessarily give any of her previous albums a ‘run for their money’ as one can’t envision the same level of success for this set’s singles. That isn’t to knock the records, but there is not another “Bad Romance” or “Poker Face” here. Still, it’s enjoyable and very much done Gaga’s way.
“G.U.Y.”; “Do What U Want”; “Artpop”; “Dope”; “Applause”
Lady Gaga | ARTPOP | Interscope | US Release Date: November 11, 2013