Before I start my rant on Lady Gaga’s just-released ARTPOP, I need to make one thing clear: I’m no Little Monster. Don’t get me wrong, I lived for Gaga during The Fame–era. The girl had me dreaming of disco sticks for days on end. One of my favorite earlier Gaga songs is “Fashion,” a super gay (and super under-appreciated) track from the film Confessions Of A Shopaholic. It’s hard to believe that was only five years ago. Back then, Gaga’s music felt new and had a fresh sound that had all us gay kids bluffin’ with our muffins. Then things started to go south. I was fine with the meat dress at the VMAs, but that weird egg hatch at the Grammys? Then came Born This Way, which, title track aside, was a long and exhausting production of preach-y lyrics and pranc-y beats. Throw in those weird American Horror Story-worthy faces she makes on stage and her recently announced plans to perform in space, and we have a performer who’s taking this fame-is-art-art-is-fame thing way too far. I find myself longing for the days of sick beats and poker faces and, ARTPOP is none of those. It’s simply too much art and not enough pop.
That’s not to say it’s totally unlistenable. I’m completely obsessed with “Do What You Want,” the sexy headboard banger featuring baby-makin’ crooner R Kelly. This song is pure, simple pop, and it doesn’t find Gaga sounding like she’s giving birth to triplets like she does on some tracks. (Ahem, “Venus.”) There is also “Gypsy,” which hits you by surprise almost at the end with a gripping hook. This song could be the single that humanizes Gaga on this record. (Taking notes, Miss Germanotta?) Over time, the album’s lead single, “Applause,” has also grown on me. It’s destined to be a club banger for years to come. “Mary Jane Holland” isn’t half bad either, a trippy little nugget for all you tokers that recalls Gaga post-hip surgery when she was reportedly smoking 15 joints a day to mask the pain.
Speaking of pain, let’s move on to the doozies. The record starts off sour right from the beginning. Opening tracks “Aura” and “Venus” are a pair of overproduced EDM messes. The former is the biggest misfire. Reminding me of another Gaga track I couldn’t stand, “Judas,” the song’s lyrics mock Muslim women (“Enigma pop star is fun/ She wear burqa for fashion), questionably taking jabs at their faith. Yikes. Tracks “G.U.Y.,” “Sexx Dreams” and “Donatella” all sound like weak replicas of Gaga’s glory days. On “Manicure,” Gaga tries her hardest to sound like an electronica act from the ’90s. (Welcome back, Elastica!) And don’t even get me started as to why rappers T.I., Too $hort and Twista landed on this album. The trio is featured on the track “Jewels and Drugs,” a hip-hop number that sounds like something Miley would have left on the Bangerz cutting-room floor.
I’ve saved the ratchetest tracks for last: “Swine,” a Courtney Love-sounding number, allegedly takes a shot at celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. On it, Gaga screeches over a sloppy beat, “I know you want me/ You’re just a pig inside a human body.” Maybe she wants revenge on him by making his eardrums bleed? I know mine did. The absolute worst on this album has got to be suicidal track “Dope.” What a mess. Besides sounding like Gaga was actually on dope while recording this track, the piano-driven tune only feels more out of place on an album full of disasters. That is certainly saying a lot. Basically, as the Material Girl would say, it feels “reductive.”
It’s simple here, really. I don’t care whether Gaga lays an egg or flies away in a rocket ship, but I wish she’d keep the theatrics out of her music. At the end of the day, we don’t want to figure music out, we just want to listen to it and enjoy it. Despite its flaws, ARTPOP will probably do well for Gaga and her Little Monsters. But for me, I’ll keep longing for the days when Momma told me to get drunk and just dance.