Album Review: Lady Gaga’s Artpop

Artpop Album

The cover for Lady Gaga's most recent album Artpop. (Image courtesy of Streamline and Interscope Records)

by Joseph Mastando

Rating: ****

She’s wacky, she’s weird, yet for some reason I find her wonderful.

Though she dominates the radio airwaves, Lady Gaga truly defines the term “artist.” She fashions each song, each performance, and each music video with a conceptual vision. She weaves symbols throughout every dimension of her craft, and each of her creative outlets never lacks a deep and potent meaning.

To Lady Gaga, music is not simply vibrations rippling through our eardrums and into our minds, but a living and breathing creature, a monster that rips out our hearts and serves them back to us in delectable dishes of complex poetry, electronic synths, and a bit of rock ‘n’ roll.

Her most recent studio album Artpop captures all the title implies: art hidden beneath the structures and chord progressions of pop tracks. The album, in all its complexities, made for a difficult beast to tame; however, much can be revealed by discussing its cover.

The image depicts gaga, nude, with a large blue sphere between her legs. Behind her body is a broken image of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Though the image would make for a rather inappropriate topic at a family dinner, much significance lies behind the seemingly raunchy.  Just as Artpop takes art and places it beneath contemporary demands, so does its cover, setting this classic painting behind Gaga’s naked body. Gaga transforms herself into a contemporary Venus—a goddess of sex, love, and beauty—sitting atop the shell Venus is birthed from, while holding a blue pearl.  And let’s face it, celebrities have become America’s contemporary mythology, so who else to embody than the goddess?

This idea of Venus, not only the essence of the goddess, but also Venus the planet, explodes on the album as topics of sex, love, and beauty become integrated in cosmic and space-like instrumentals.

The album opens with “Aura,” one of the darkest numbers the CD has to offer. Its chorus reads, “Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to peek underneath the covers? Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura?” Gaga, a master of disguise, cunningly opens with these provocative lyrics, informing the audience that the album will unveil her own truths hidden beneath the music, not forgetting the number one rule of marketing yourself: sex sells.

The second song: “Venus,” a song with hilarious humor wrapped in Dionysian themes.

Aesthetically, this track is one of the album’s best. Here, Gaga fuses the concepts of Venus as a planet and Venus as a goddess, while cunningly raising eyebrows with its lyrics. Every four bars of the verse, Gaga rings off the word “Venus,” each time denoting a different meaning: “Rocket number nine, take off to the planet Venus. Aphrodite lady seashell bikini (garden panty) Venus.” Her playfulness with the word heightens in the song’s pre-chorus: “Take me to your planet. Take me to your planet. Take me to your leader…. Take me to your planet, take me to your planet, take me to your Venus.” When heard, not read, the word “Venus” doesn’t sound much like the spelling entails. If you can’t figure out what is being implied here, simply replace the “V” with a “P” and the “u” with an “i.”. Its essence is reminiscent of Britney Spears’ “If You Seek Amy.”(Again, if you didn’t catch on to this one, say the title 10 times really fast and hopefully something will click.)

In addition to its punny nature, “Venus” was not only written by Gaga, but produced entirely by her as well.

Other than the first two songs, Gaga released two other singles before the album hit the market: “Applause” and “Do What U Want.” As her first single off of the album, “Applause” set a tone for what was to come, fusing electronic instrumentals with an upbeat chorus and straight-forward yet complex lyricism. In one line, Gaga captures the essence of her entire album: “Pop culture was an art now art’s in pop culture in me.” Gaga opened up the MTV Video Music Awards earlier this fall with a performance of the hit.

The next song, “Do What U Want” ties with Venus in its complexities. Before she released the song, Gaga went on a Twitter rampage hinting toward the meaning behind the track. In her 125-character posts, Gaga regurgitated everything that has been said of her in the media from her weight to claims that she has copied Madonna. In the chorus of the song, Gaga makes sense of her outburst: “You can’t have my heart and you won’t stop by voice, but do what you want with my body.”  Though the lyrics seem sexual at a glance, Gaga’s intended audience consists of the people, media included, who have targeted her throughout her career. And who better to feature on the album than R. Kelly, an artist whose life was once monopolized by the media (not to mention his history for “doing what he wants ” with girl’s women’s bodies).

The two artists hilariously interpreted President Kennedy’s and Marilyn Monroe’s relationship in their performance last night on the American Music Awards. At the conclusion of the performance, Gaga projected tabloid images of all the rumors and headlines that have circulated about her.

Many other songs on the album deserve equal consideration. “Artpop,” a song that capture’s Gaga’s selfless relationship with the music industry, vibrates with originality. It’s lyrics denote the meanings behind Artpop, that it “could mean anything.” This combined with its spaceship-like instrumentals provide for the progressive and futuristic quality of the song.

In “Dope,” Gaga illustrates the struggles of being a drug addict longing for love and regretting the unbreakable habit. “Gypsy” expresses Gaga’s inability to find love, but celebrates her desire to travel the world. “G.U.Y” toys with concepts of gender, as Gaga refers to herself as a “G.U.Y,” a “Girl Under You,” and the guy the contrary: “You’ll be my G.I.R.L. Guy I’m romance and loves to hold you.”

Aside from the songs previously listed, “Fashion!,” “Donatella,” and “Mary Jane Holland” are tracks to keep an ear out for.

Though great, the album does maintain some inherent flaws. Some of Gaga’s lyric choices are questionable. For instance, in “G.U.Y,” the pre-chorus reads, “Touch me, touch me, don’t be sweet. Love me, love me, please retweet.” Every time I hear the word “retweet,” I cringe. Additionally, some songs just do not flow with the concentrated focus of the album. “Jewels & Drugs,” a song that features rappers T.I., Too Short, and Twista, doesn’t seem to work in conjunction with the other songs. The heavy staccato rap numbers clash with Gaga’s legato verse, bridge, and chorus. Its materialistic subject matter seems to brush the surface of complex meaning, while most of Gaga’s other songs stand alone as beautiful poems.

“This album is a celebration,” Gaga said in a video released on YouTube, “my pain exploding in electronic music. It’s heavy, but after I listen to it, I feel happy again, I feel lighter.”

Though the album must be more therapeutic for the woman who wrote it, I can’t help but feel the same lightness after listening to the cd’s 15 tracks consecutively. Its concepts are fresh, focused, and funky. I tip my hat to the superstar who has successfully distributed fine art to the masses.