It’s been almost three months since artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball ended and according to reports, Gaga is hard at work on her fifth solo album, the follow-up to 2013’s psychedelic electro-pop extravaganza, ARTPOP. If you count 2014’s Cheek to Cheek recorded with jazz legend Tony Bennett and consider The Fame and The Fame Monster two separate albums, the upcoming creation will technically be her sixth.
Additionally, Mother Monster is set to star in the next season of the FX hit anthrology series, American Horror Story. And that’s not all: On Valentine’s Day, Mother Monster got engaged. Boyfriend and now-fiance Taylor Kinney popped the question on Valentine’s Day, presenting Gaga with a large heart-shaped diamond. A celebratory dinner at Gaga’s family’s Manhattan restaurant Joanne Trattoria followed. The following day Gaga posted a photo of the behemoth rock on her Instagram.
Lady Gaga on American Horror Story
“My ARTPOP could mean anything”
Lady Gaga worked diligently on ARTPOP while touring for her Born This Way Ball. While Born This Way represented maturity and responsibility, ARTPOP veered in a completely different direction, being a fun, carefree, somewhat feminist, sexed-up, psychedelic dance party with a variety of experimental sounds and sonic shape-shifting.
ARTPOP was released November 6, 2013 and as expected, critics were pretty divided. Most of her biggest fans will love anything she puts out, but it seems ARTPOP had divided fans a little more than the highly-acclaimed Born This Way. “Applause” was very well received as the first single, featuring choppy synths and a Euro flavor to it with vocals similar to what you’d hear on a David Bowie single. Critics have called the song “an electro-pop sugar cube” that sounds like something you’d hear in a “Berlin sex dungeon.” “Applause” is perhaps the most Fame-like song on the album, so it’s not surprising that it was the first single as a way to ease people into the new sound.
“Do What U Want” was the second single from ARTPOP and featured R. Kelly and a prominent 80s R&B influence. Written in response to critics accusing Gaga of gaining weight in the wake of the Born This Way Ball, the single was written and chosen because it was so different from all of Gaga’s previous singles. The second single was originally supposed to be “Venus”, but “Do What U Want” was chosen at the last minute and was a commercial success. The racy music video, however, never saw the light of day; apparently it featured Gaga laid out on a hospital bed, and R. Kelly reaching under her blanket and Gaga moaning in response — and that was the intro before the music even started.
There were two promotional singles released for the album as well: “Venus” and “Dope”. The first promotional single, “Venus”, samples “Rocket Number 9”, originally a Run Ra song, but Gaga sampled the Zombie Zombie cover version. It’s a synth-heavy dance-pop song that has not one, but four hooks, which was meant to give the space-themed song an epic feel. “Dope” was the second promotional single and the only ARTPOP ballad. Originally called “I Wanna Be With You”, “Dope” is an electronic piano-rock lament with lyrics that talk about substance abuse and needing someone “more than dope.” According to Gaga, the lyrics were originally a fan’s song that she tweaked and retooled, and it eventually became a track that she felt a deep personal connection with. The media has also reported that Gaga has had some issues with substance abuse in the past, particularly with alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana; the song is representative of her struggles with addiction. The single’s artwork featured Gaga wearing a square blazer, lace panties, an exaggerated grill, floppy black hat, and donning bruises on her body; it was compared to Michael Jackson, Frankenstein’s monster, and was considered very creepy. The single was released just a few days after Halloween and a couple days before the full album’s release, which is the reason for the Halloween-inspired artwork.
The final single, “G.U.Y” (which stands for “girl under you”), was written and produced with Zedd and deals with what Gaga referred to as “new age feminism” in which being willfully subordinate to a man is an exercise of power and strength. “G.U.Y” has been compared to Fame-era Gaga and while there’s a similar style like how the bass and synths are used to create the melodic hook in much the same way a guitar or piano would provide the lead, it’s definitely more assertive, even aggressive and futuristic than The Fame. It was accompanied by an 11-minute music video, the only other music video produced for ARTPOP, in which Gaga is a fallen angel revived by her followers, then takes revenge on those who tried to kill her and replaces them with her GUY clones. “G.U.Y” has been considered the standout and most memorable, well-received single from ARTPOP with critics commending the partnership with Zedd, the hypnotic chorus and production.
“Applause”, “Do What U Want”, and “G.U.Y” were the only official singles from ARTPOP. The two promotional singles, “Venus” and “Dope”, didn’t experience the same commercial success as the others. As for other notable songs, “Aura” was the EDM, psychedelic album lead-in, another Gaga-Zedd venture with a Middle Eastern influence; the song’s production and beat were praised, but many didn’t care for the lyrical content and the burqa being reduced to a kitschy costume.
“Sexxx Dreams” was another song that was praised by many fans and critics. Evoking 80s Janet Jackson and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”, the beat-heavy song is an exotic, erotic dance number that talks of same-sex fantasies. It’s also vaguely reminiscent of “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls both thematically and in its composition.
The album’s title track, “ARTPOP”, is decent in a forgettable way. It’s a steady techno-esque electronic number with digital, computerized sounds and Gaga alternating between singing in a robotic voice that evokes David Bowie and in her best Madonna. Although the ARTPOP concept promises in-your-face eccentricity and a lot of pushing of the envelope, “ARTPOP” is surprisingly passive, soft, and comes off as a little unsure of itself. Although Gaga is very deliberate with her themes and concept, the lyrics “My Artpop could mean anything” suggest uncertainty, and the chorus — which should have been an energetic burst akin to “Alejandro” and “Telephone” — isn’t something you’ll be singing in the shower, though Gaga stated her intent was to forgo the explosions so the song came off as hypnotic and infinite. It’s very acceptable, but I expected more from a title track.
“MANiCURE” is another album standout. A fast-paced, rock-inspired electro-pop song, “MANiCURE” speaks about getting ready for a night out and finding a hook-up. It’s been called a “beauty shop track” and has also been called another same-sex love song in the vain of “Telephone”. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most catchy, singable songs on the album and the lyrics are really amusing.
Widely considered one of the album’s highlights, “Gypsy” has a slow, somewhat melancholic beginning, then quickly becomes an uptempo, Euro-influenced dance number. In the song, Gaga compares herself to a gypsy that has no home, but considers being on the stage in front of her fans her true home. The song has a great progression as it evolves a little bit over the course of its four minutes. Gaga has stated that she intended for the song to receive its own music video, but to this point there’s no news of a video for “Gypsy”.
I have a love/hate relationship with “Swine”, the ninth track of ARTPOP. It has a dubstep, industrial feel to it, and the pre-chorus is really catchy. The melody is good and I like the “dance break” drops that make the album feel like it’s destined for night clubs. However, I can’t say I care for the lyrical content. The song speaks of dismissing of a suitor who is being rejected on account of acting like a pic, which means the lyrics contain lots of pig references such as “squealing” and shrieking “swine” over the synths and is really just kind of a bizarre detour on the album that’s much less accessible for obvious reasons.
Another decent song, something in between a standout and just acceptable, is “Mary Jane Holland”. It’s got a slower tempo so it’s a bit more mellow, much like it’s lyrical content. It’s reminiscent of The Fame Monster, but it’s definitely more ARTPOP in style and content. The pre-chorus beginning “‘Cause I love love, ’cause I love love…” is perhaps more audibly appealing than the actual chorus, but I’m sure the song has its share of avid fans.
“Jewels ‘n Drugs” featuring T.I. and Twista is really just not appealing to me. It’s an admirable dive into the realm of hip-hop for Gaga, but the song just doesn’t really work for me. The music isn’t bad, but I don’t really care for the vocals or the guest stars. “Donatella” is another mediocre offering, but its fast pace and heavy beat keep me from skipping it every time. “Fashion!”, which was co-produced by will.i.am, is also utterly forgettable; I don’t care for it at all.
The release of ARTPOP was accompanied by a global tour to promote and perform the album, Gaga’s artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball. It was critically acclaimed, with there being two clear runways that protruded into the audience and made the concert a little more intimate and interactive.