Friday, November 22, 2013

ARTPOP (2013)

Well, here we are. All of my reviewing culminates here. If you came for the end, you won't be disappointed (hopefully). At the time of typing this, this is Lady Gaga's brand new and therefore most recent album, and as such, this will be the final review on this site for the time being.

In Spring of 2012, coincidentally around when I decided to fully renew my interest in Lady Gaga for the first time since 2009, she announced that she would indeed be releasing a fourth album. Not one to make the same mistake twice, she kept quiet about this record for quite some time instead of hyping it up, only revealing its title, "ARTPOP" (stylized in ALL CAPS WHOO) in early 2013. Save for a few vague hints dropped through Twitter and Facebook posts, nothing else was said about the album until it was said to be slated for a Spring 2013 release. Not soon after, it was pushed back to an indefinite date.

During Summer of that year, Gaga finally announced the first single, "Applause", to be released at the end of the Summer(it actually released early rather than getting delayed). In September, the official release date, 11/11/13, was revealed. She also performed seven of the album's songs for the first time at the iTunes Festival in London, which also featured other popular acts such as Katy Perry. Finally, a few weeks before the release date, the cover art and entire tracklist were both revealed. The night before the album's release, Lady Gaga hosted a special concert, the "artRAVE", where she performed the album in its entirety. So, after a lengthy absence from the spotlight, how did the album that me and many others long anticipated fare? Let's take a look.

Opening up with the powerful lead single (and fittingly, the final song on the album), "Applause", we're treated to an energetic, techno-infused beat with some very complimentary vocals. Here, she sings about the importance of her fanbase and how she, unlike many mainstream artists, genuinely cares about and is active with her Monsters. This theme will be revisited later, but that's not a bad thing in this case. "Aura", a song that was leaked during the Summer, is a bit slower-paced and has a hard-to-describe, "epic" feel to it. It's subject matter revolves around the real Lady Gaga behind all the crazy outfits and showiness; the girl behind the aura.

The album isn't without its love songs, such as the second single, "Do What U Want", featuring R. Kelly, who I enjoyed from his hilarious series, 'Trapped in the Closet', and it was nice to see him back. His guest verse added very positively to this song. Another promotional single, "Venus", can really get you pumped with its excellent sampling and lyrical balance between physical and emotional attraction. We then head straight to the bedroom with the assertive, driving beat of "G.U.Y. (Girl Under You)", and the erotic, sultry tune of "Sexxx Dreams", two songs about the act of sex itself and what it can entail. Gaga continues to showcase her undeniable sex appeal in "Jewels 'N' Drugs", a heavily hip-hop influenced jam featuring three memorable verses from influential southern rapper T.I., classic 90s gangsta rap artist Too $hort, and the criminally underrated speed demon, Twista.

The Lady sure knows how to tug at your emotions, an example being the tear-jerking but undeniably catchy "Gypsy", and yet another spectacular return to her roots with the bittersweet ballad, "Dope", a song she dedicated to her fans after having to cancel her most recent tour due to a hip injury. Also returning are her power pop-rock vibes, in "MANiCURE" (I love the pun, by the way), stomping its way in as one hell of an earworm. I can't help but think of a cheer squad at a football game when I hear this one. Fittingly, preceding "Dope" is "Mary Jane Holland", a song about, you guessed it, weed and self-indulgence, which also has a bittersweet feel to it.

A focal point to the aforementioned iTunes Festival was "Swine", a vocally shredding song that had her backup dancers wearing pig-themed gasmasks a la Mother 3. The festival was even named "Swinefest". Next on the list, what would a Gaga album be if it didn't touch on her love for all her signature shocking-yet-stylish clothing? She delivers well in this regard, with what is perhaps the most dance-oriented song on the CD, "Donatella", a tribute to well-known designer and long-time friend of Gaga, Donatella Versace. Keeping with this theme is "Fashion!", easily one of the best songs on the album. Her vocal prowess shines through masterfully here to the point of giving me chills!

Last and certainly not least is the title track. As it might suggest, the song is about the harmony of art and pop music. Lady Gaga restates the theme of putting raw passion into her work and focusing on the art itself and her fans rather than money and commercialism ("music, not the bling", as she says). Much like "Monster" before it, I consider this arguably the highest point of the album. Her title tracks are always unforgettable, and this is no exception.

I feel a lot different writing the closing thoughts for this review, as well as the review itself because, unlike her other albums, this one is still fresh in my mind and I haven't had several years to reflect on it the way I have her other work, so my opinions may change over time. Either way, I'll share my thoughts after I touch on something a bit.

ARTPOP has been receiving generally mixed reviews since its release, almost all of which I completely disagree with. I won't elaborate on this too much, but these "professional" reviewers get a lot of their facts wrong, make many statements in bad taste, and generally shouldn't be taken too seriously. This album's first-week sales were also small in comparison to her past work, being outsold, albeit very marginally by Miley Cyrus(who I don't really see the appeal in) and Katy Perry(who I enjoy, but not as much), due in part to their inconveniently close release dates.

The low sales can be largely attributed to the fact that many people do not buy music in this day and age, usually just torrenting it for free. Sadly, another contributing factor is that the kid and teen audience would rather have repetitive commercialized club music with little meaning to it than something deeper such as ARTPOP, which appealed to a more mature, adult audience.

As for me, I hope none of you found this review to be too positive. All of what you're reading is my unbiased opinion. I didn't say any of this just because I'm a fan, and honestly, I see ARTPOP as a very interesting experiment, and her best album since The Fame. I won't put it above that spot, but I'll definitely place it right beside it as an equal. My reasoning is that it had so many songs that were instant favorites, namely Dope, MANiCURE, ARTPOP, Gypsy, and Fashion!. Not many albums have five songs I can genuinely adore that much. Despite what reviewers say, this is definitely worth giving a listen to, and might even change your opinion on mainstream pop music. ARTPOP was well worth the wait and, for me, delivered what it promised.

Favorite track: ARTPOP
Least favorite track: Swine
Overall rating: 9.5/10

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One-off songs (various)

I think I'm skipping straight to dessert ifyouknowwhatimeanbro

Just to preface things, this review will be pretty short, but I wanted something to bridge the rather sizable gap between Born This Way and the recently-released ARTPOP. Sorry it took me so long, so let's get on with it!

While Lady Gaga has countless unreleased songs that can be found all over the internet these days, there are the odd few that saw an official release without actually being part of an album or collection. These will be the subject of this review.

Earlier in her career, during the Fame days, she released a few songs digitally to promote the then-new album. "Vanity", one of her older songs with an interesting feel to it, came out around that time, as did "Fashion" (not to be confused with her brand-new song of the same title with an exclamation mark added), a simple-yet-catchy tune recorded for the popular TV shows, Sex and the City and Ugly Betty. Gaga originally wrote it for Heidi Montag, and they actually ended up both singing their own versions.

Also noteworthy was "Future Love", a charming, lighthearted piano love ballad that Gaga sang during her Fame Ball tour. It contains humorous lyrics alluding to space and related sciences, and even a Star Wars reference, of all things. There does not exist a studio version of this song, as Gaga says she believes that the fans make this song what it is.

During the 2008 Holiday season, she also released the double entendre-laden "Christmas Tree", featuring the DJ Space Cowboy, who worked with her a lot on The Fame. It contains a lot of sexual puns based on Christmas-related things. This was one of the first songs Gaga made as a "joke", and many people took it far too seriously. It was even made free on Amazon as a part of some Christmas music promo, and needless to say, it didn't blend in well with the traditional Holiday tunes.

Quite a few of these songs were released in 2012, probably to tide the fans over during the "down-time" between albums. This gave her more of an opportunity to "play around", so to speak. A lot of the songs released at this time were made with humor in mind and not meant to be taken seriously. 2012 saw songs about odd or inane things such as "Tea" (exactly what it says on the cup), or "Stache (Princess High)" (weed, if the title flew over your head).

Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch was "Cake Like Lady Gaga", the cover of which I used as the picture for this post. The entire song was one elaborate joke, starting as a supposed 'contest' held by DJ White Shadow, who made a hip-hop instrumental and posted it to twitter, saying that whoever made the best rap over the beat would have the song produced and published. Not soon after, the 'winner' was announced, though it was just Gaga herself, originally with her voice lowered to sound like a man(though the final product has her normal voice). The entire thing is, as you might have guessed, a rap song, which surprised fans who hadn't heard songs such as "Paper Gangsta" before. It is a very clear style parody of modern mainstream rap, featuring boasts of riches and success, and multiple uses of the word "swag". You may think otherwise on your first listen, but when she informs her critics that they "can suck her dick" in the final verse, it's plain to see that she's thrown all sincerity out the window in favor of humor and hyperbolic exaggeration. Despite it not being a "serious" song, she flows rather well and adds a sense of her signature sex appeal to the mix, proving that she can occasionally transcend genres. 

Not much to say on the closing thoughts here. These are all enjoyable songs for what they are. I already know I missed a few in this category; I simply picked the ones that stuck out to me the most. I do hope that Lady Gaga continues to produce these types of songs, if only for their playful, non-serious nature. I can't really say anything negative here because these songs aren't all over the place and therefore aren't "forced" on those who might dislike them. Check them out on YouTube or other media sites if you get the time.

Favorite track: Future Love, or Cake
Least favorite track: Tea
Overall rating: Unclassifiable