Pop has been in bad shape as of late. The genre saw a great resurgence seven years ago when Justin Timberlake more-or-less “solved” pop music with Futuresex/Lovesounds, ushering in a new era for the then struggling genre, which introduced the world to forward thinking pop artists like Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. However, like anything, pop’s dominance began to flatline as record labels churned out numerous mass-produced superstars, many with no discernible talent. With hip-hop also becoming stagnant, this void made way for house music to come in and be transformed into something called “EDM”, right under our noses.
Gaga took the world by storm with her debut album, The Fame, however she struggled to replicate that success on its follow up, Born This Way. While her debut and it’s companion EP, The Fame Monster, churned out hit singles like “Pokerface”, “Just Dance”, and “Bad Romance”, Born This Way had a harder time making dance floor magic out of singles like the title track or “The Edge Of Glory”, relying heavily on 80′s nostalgia in its sound.
Gaga’s new album, ARTPOP, is a return to form for our diva, making a natural progression towards the electronic music world to produce her new album. Names attached to this project include Zedd, Madeon, Infected Mushroom, and David Guetta, so many have feared that this merely an attempt to cash in on the “hot new sound”. While many times these types of things lead to a clunky, manufactured, and downright poor sound, Gaga is a musician in her own right, and makes these collaborations sound anything but forced.
In fact, Gaga is center-stage here, not the album’s producers, whom actually are an afterthought (which is ironic since many of them come from a world where they are the stars). Her trademark kookiness is all over the album, sonically living up to the extravagant wardrobes she’s rocked over the last half-decade. Songs like the opening track, “Aura” and its follow-up “Venus”, are all over the place, as she bobs and weaves with the track, changing up her vocal deliveries in unpredictable ways, making for some truly dynamic, catchy cuts. Her weirder sexual nature comes out on the role-reversal track “G.U.Y.” and the White Shadow produced “Sexxx Dreams”. The content is base, but presented in a unique enough way that it works.
White Shadow, who produces a good chunk of the album, actually does a great job meshing with his EDM contemporaries, as he and Gaga have a chemistry that shines through. Together they stay abreast of rapidly changing music trends on the trap-rap inspired “Jewels n’ Drugs”, which knocks it out of the park with verses from each T.I., Too $hort, and Twista; and later on the unbelievably infectious R. Kelly collaboration “Do What U Want”.
As the album begins to wind down, some of it’s best moments come out towards the end. Songs like the Zedd-helmed “Donatella” and the David Guetta/Will.I.Am assisted “Fashion!” celebrate her glam persona, while Madeon checks in for the anthemic “Mary Jane Holland”. She shows off her piano chops on the Rick Rubin produced ballad, “Dope”, and then closes out the album with its lead single “Applause”. Sidenote: we would have traded the original mix for it’s Empire of The Sun remix bonus track, however.
While the album is incredibly solid, it’s not without fault. Both “Manicure” and “Gypsy” draw too heavily from the same, dated 80′s-influenced production that plagued Born This Way. The White Shadow produced “Swine” does a good job of blending in with the rest of the Zedd tracks, but relies heavily on the Sausage Fattener plug-in, almost sounding like a cheap knock off. None of these songs are bad particularly, but falter in comparison to the album’s stronger moments.
Ultimately Lady Gaga has successfully defeated the sophomore slump that damaged Born This Way, and come out on top on ARTPOP. It’s clear that she’s driving this vehicle, as her producers act more like collaborators, as she writes all of her own songs. Like Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga is a different breed of pop artist. She’s a true musician and songwriter, and that talent shines through in abundance all over this album. She makes her female peers look laughably bad in comparison, truly defining herself as this generation’s Madonna. Scratch that, this generation’s Lady Gaga. ARTPOP? More like SMARTPOP.
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