Two weeks ago Lady Gaga released her third record here in the States, Artpop. While sonically it feels very familiar, thematically it feels worlds away. While The Fame is a mostly forgettable dance record that just happens to have three perfect songs on it and Born This Way is a celebration of life, Artpop walks a different path, and it's kind of a bummer.
In broad terms, Artpop is a familiar story: artist loses self in the excesses of stardom, only to shake it all off because in the end the only thing that matters is the fans. It's pandering in a way that an artist with a dedicated fan base like Gaga really doesn't need to do at this point in her career, so it must be how she really feels.
Except that if you really pay attention to what's going on in the album, that's not how she feels at all. If Artpop is supposed to be a snapshot of how Gaga feels in the year 2013, then the message is clear: Lady Gaga hates being Lady Gaga.
Before we can get to the ending revelation, we have to talk a bit about emotion and vocal delivery.
Artpop is an emotionally flat record, and that's by design. Gaga spends a lot of it sounding bored out of her mind, but that's all part of the story she's trying to tell; after all, she's singing about being bored of the sex and drugs that come along with the rock and roll, so she can't really sound too excited about either. It's a choice that leads to a lot of weird moments, like when "Do What You Want" should be an empowering anthem but is instead just a really good mid-'90s R&B track.
This whole sort general disinterest builds over the course of the album, through some nice highs ("G.U.Y.", "Manicure") and some of the worst tracks of her career ("Jewels n' Drugs", "Fashion!"), all leading up to what is the emotional core of the record.
Think about Born This Way this way for a moment. Remember how she sounded engaged across the entire record, from "Marry the Night" all the way through "Edge of Glory"? Even silly songs like "Highway Unicorn" were charming due to the fact that she was clearly having a ball with the album. Yeah, not a lot of that on Artpop.
But at last the emotion does arrive.
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First up is "Dope," which spells out the entire album up to that point just in case you hadn't figured it out yet, while also announcing that she's aware that she has a problem. Simple stuff, not much to talk about.
At long last, things actually do get interesting with "Gypsy," which gives the album the anthem it was sorely missing to that point. It's a big, bombastic song, the closest thing to "Born to Run" in her catalog. Our hero admits that more than the drugs and the sex, what she really wants is to not be alone.
Finally Gaga has shown up on her own record to sing about something she cares about, which is supposed to lead us to the happy ending. Except that's not really what happens at all.
Little monsters, it's time for you to accept the ugly truth. Do you remember how excited you were the first time you heard "Applause" because a) OMG new Gaga music! and b) she was singing about how much she loves performing? How it was all a grand statement about how everything she does she does for the fans and how that was awesome?
Ever notice how incredibly bored she sounds on that song? How there isn't really much in the way of emotion in her voice?
It's because like many addicts she's simply traded one vice for another. She may not have her dope anymore, but she does have the adoration of her fans, and because she can't give that up she is in fact destined to be that one thing she doesn't want to be: alone.
Go back and really listen to what's going on in "Gypsy."
She hits the album's emotional peak on the line "Cuz it's you and me/ Baby for life" and then within the same breath that boring voice, that addict voice comes back to say "if you go with me." She's on the verge of getting what she wants, and she self-sabotages, damning herself to a life alone, but hey, at least she's got the public she's bored with.
And that's what Artpop is -- a very public statement on her own personal boredom and her inability to break away from the dangers of being Lady Gaga. Yeah, she's rich enough to have a flying dress and cool friends and can wear nifty outfits everyday... but imagine having to be that all day, every day. Sounds exhausting, especially when all you want is true love.
Remember that every time she goes out and gives yet another "you can do anything you want" speech. Mother Monster can do a lot of things, except have the one thing she wants, and that's a bummer.
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