It’s been over five years since Lady Gaga dropped “Just Dance,” and since then she’s become arguably the biggest English language pop star in the world. Her new album, ARTPOP, is proof of Gaga’s pop genius, but it lacks a feel of genuine greatness.
I have a bit of bias for this record because Gaga’s rise coincided with my rising interest in pop music. In fact, The Fame Monster, which is one of the best albums released in the last five years, cemented my love for the Billboard Top 40.
The first thing that struck me about ARTPOP is that it is very sexual. It sounds ridiculous to say that about an artist who first came to my attention with a song that includes the line “bluffin’ with my muffin,” but there’s a song called “Sexxx Dreams” that is pretty much about just that. Prince would blush at some of the lyrical content.
(As a brief feminist aside: the closest ARTPOP gets to being art is through how Gaga challenges ideas of female sexuality and gender roles. However, Gaga has always been challenging these ideas, so ARTPOP brings nothing new in that regard.)
One very nice thing about ARTPOP is its sonic uniformity. Most of the album is produced by Zedd, the artist behind this summer’s hit “Clarity,” and DJ White Shadow, who produced a good chunk of Born This Way. It has the aspects of EDM that I like (loud, distorted synths, pounding drum machines) while lacking the aspects that I don’t like (bass drops, obnoxious vocals).
Of course, there’s always the one song on every Gaga album in which she becomes a 70s rock star, usually from the help of a superstar producer. This time, Rick Rubin produces “Dope,” a sad piano ballad about leaving a lover. As usual, it’s a highlight and yet another tantalizing glimpse into a world where Lady Gaga is unconcerned with appealing to her audience.
Gaga’s desire to appeal to her audiences — in fact, “Applause” is literally about this — is ultimately what hurts the record. It plays a bit too safe and sounds too much like Born This Way, which prevents a lot of the songs from standing out to me. There aren’t even totally out of left field guests like late saxophonist Clarence Clemons III; ARTPOP fans will have to settle with R. Kelly and Twista.
ARTPOP is good, despite not being particularly daring. If you love Lady Gaga or pop music, you’ll love ARTPOP; if you don’t, you won’t be converted. At any rate, I’m looking forward to a rumored ARTPOP Part 2, which will supposedly contain more experimental material. Until then, I guess I’ll have to make do with what Mother Monster offered us.
RATING: As much as I want to defy audience expectations in order to make this review Art, I’m going to give this a 4/5.
If you like this album, you should check out these musicians: Grimes, Soft Cell, CHVRCHES, Patterns and Disclosure.
— John Kelser