Let's get art on this pop, track-by-track.
As Lady Gaga famously said back in the summer of 2013, ARTPOP is intended as a "reverse Warholian expedition." For those not fluent in Gaga-nese, she is positioning herself to infuse art into pop music, just as Warhol had done with pop culture in the art world. Lofty goals? Sure, but as she said on her last album: "I was born this way."
Compared to that 2011 LP, Mother Monster's third studio album is a much more focused, holistic package that creates a specific mood from start to finish. What that mood, um, is will probably vary from listener to listener; "My ARTPOP could mean anything," as she notes on the title track.
While there are noticeable highs and lows throughout the 15-song track list, I think that Gaga's reverse Warholian ambitions are achieved by the end of ARTPOP. From "Aura" to "Applause," she has produced a thorough meditation on what it means to be a performer, specifically one in the Top-40, all through the medium of love songs and sex jamz -- the bread and butter of those charts.
To underscore Gaga's aims with the album, we've decided to review with our own art-infused take on pop culture's five-star rating standard. So, instead of three stars out of five, a track will get three "Untitled Film Stills" -- got it? Cool. Now, breathe... and let's begin.
Well, this track certainly ruffled feathers back when a demo version hit the Internet early in August. While the explosively ethereal choruses on "Aura" are pure Gaga, the verses are cackled, hissed, consciously Auto-Tuned, and more vocally fried than Quinn's friend Tiffany on "Daria."
I feel like this is an important step for Gaga to take. To paraphrase Willa Cather ('CAUSE GOOGLE SEARCH IS NOOOOT HELPING ME OUT RUN), an artist must learn to paint before they learn to unpaint; a writer must learn to write before they learn to unwrite. Lady Gaga's vocal chops had been proven a long time ago, so it's very interesting to see her exercise vocal stylings that are perhaps less classically skilled but more innovative all the same.
Plus, "I killed my former and/ Left her in a trunk on highway 10" has gotta be one of the greatest opening album lyrics of all time.
RATING: 4 Salvador Dalí mustaches out of 5
Speaking of innovative vocal stylings, Lady Gaga lets her David Bowie freak flag fly on "Venus." Seducing Aphrodite lady aliens, eating aphrodeezies, getting sleazy, emceeing an interplanetary vogue ball -- is this what we can expect when Mother Monster actually blasts off on rocket No. 9 to perform in outer space in 2015?
But seriously, despite its retro-futuristic themes and often atonal rendering, there's a very old-school feel to "Venus" -- as in Renaissance-era. Especially on the "Oooooh wonder if this could be love," Gaga could easily pass as a 16th-century traveling bard. ("DOST THOU NOT KNOWETH MINE OWN ASS IS FAMOUS?")
Rating: 4 Botticelli's Venus on the half-shells out of 5
Read the rest of our track-by-track review of Lady Gaga's ARTPOP after the jump.
Undergrads, start your theses! On "G.U.Y.," or "Girl Under You," Gaga plays with gender, sex roles, dominance, and submission, and wraps it up in a pulsing synth beat reminiscent of The Fame era. While the ideas expressed in the lyrical content pushes new boundaries for the singer, I just wish that the music she paired it with was equally as innovative.
RATING: 4 knowing glances from Marina Abramovic out of 5
4.) "SEXXX DREAMS"
There's something so goofily erotic about telling someone "you were in my sex dreams." (Note to self: STOP DOING THAT.) It's such a cumbersome phrase, yet Gaga somehow makes it one of the most erotic lines you'll heard all year. The half-giggled "I really shouldn't be telling you this" line at the song's climax -- no pun intended -- really seals the deal.
RATING: 5 vaguely vaginal Georgia O'Keeffe orchids out of 5
5.) "JEWELS N' DRUGS" FEATURING T.I., TOO SHORT, AND TWISTA
As Lady Gaga hinted with 2012's (not entirely successful) "Cake," she's been interested in infusing more hip-hop and rap into her music for a while now.
While track No. 5 is certainly more appealing than her flirtation with trap last year, it's definitely not the most compelling song on the disc. T.I., Too Short, and Twista don't feel entirely incorporated to their full potential, and the instrumental sounds a little too much like an up-and-comer's low-budget demo at times. Say "Eh... Sure?" to "Jewels N' Drugs."
RATING: 3 Yoko On Sky Ladders out of 5
AND, WE'RE BACK. From the very first growled-on-growled-on-growled "Put some lipstick on," you know that Gaga's comfortably back in her ARTPOP element. The goofy sexiness of "Sexxx Dreams" is back in full force. Mother Monster demands a "MANiCURE" -- the "I" is silent, FYI -- and she's gonna channel everyone from The Ronettes to The Runaways to get it.
RATING: 5 junk-covering fig leaves out of 5
7.) "DO WHAT U WANT" FEATURING R. KELLY
One of ARTPOP's standout tracks, Lady Gaga's collaboration with R. Kelly is perhaps the songstress' most successfully "reverse Warholian expedition." On the one hand, "Do What U Want" works brilliantly as a sexy-as-f*** sexy sex jam. (#sex) The pulsing synth beat is spot on, and, much like "G.U.Y.," the lyrics play with sexual dominance and submission in an innovative way.
Below the surface, however, the song doubles as a sort of artist's statement for the pop star. "You can't have my heart, and/ You won't use my mind, but/ Do what you want with my body," she sings on the chorus, continuing, "You can't stop my voice, 'cause/ You don't own my life, but/ Do what you want with my body."
As the media proved this past year with its rancid body-shaming attempts, news and gossip outlets are more than willing to have their way with Lady Gaga's body. But, that's where she draws the line. Her physical self may be a public commodity, but her heart, mind, voice, and life are hers and hers alone.
RATING: 5 sexy unmade sexy Tracey Emin sex beds out of a sexy 5
"My ARTPOP could mean anything," Gaga croons on song No. 8. Unfortunately, here it just translates to a boring title track.
RATING: 2 Christo and Jeanne-Claude gates out of 5
At Lady Gaga's iTunes Music Festival-opening set back in September, "Swine" was easily one of the standout tracks. However, the unbridled energy and relentless rage exhibited on the London stage don't quite translate onto this studio recording. Look for this on the inevitable ARTPOP Ball tour, though.
RATING: 3 Albrecht Dürer selfies out of 5
I wish that Gaga had explored the Versace matriarch as a subject way less literally. Based on the opening lyric ("I am so fab. Check it out: I'm blonde, I'm skinny, I'm rich, and I'm a little bit of a bitch."), I hoped that "Donatella" would be Gaga's meditation on what it's like to be middle-class brunette made famous and rich as a blonde, what those signifiers mean to her, what they mean to society, etc.
Instead, we get a more straightforward ode to Donatella Versace. But, whateva -- the Yelle-worthy instrumental makes this a super fun romp through decadent designerdom.
RATING: 4 H.B.I.C. Mona Lisas out of 5
Again, the super dance-able Daft Punk instrumental saves song No. 11 from a lower rating. It's just, like, we get it. Lady Gaga likes fashion -- sorry, "Fashion!" Nevertheless, although Our Lady of Reverse Warholianism doesn't really provide any new insights into her well-documented love affair with haute couture, the track still deserves a moderate tip of the outrageous, gravity-defying Philip Treacy hat.
RATING: 3 Damien Hirst cow slabs preserved in formaldehyde out of 5
12.) "MARY JANE HOLLAND"
An interesting complement to the skinny, rich blonde of "Donatella," "Mary Jane Holland" documents what happens when Mother Monster's "brunette starts to sprout" away from the public eye. Unfortunately, the track hesitates between a full-on Gagaloo belter and mood-setting The Fame-era electro-pop -- ultimately settling on neither.
RATING: 3 Venus de Milos out of 5
Did somebody say Gagaloo belter? Look, I'm not usually the biggest fan of Lady Gaga's piano-pounding numbers, but there's something so raw about "Dope" that I can't stop singing its praises.
Perhaps it's the previously unexplored lower vocal registers. Maybe, it's that the naked vulnerability reminds me of Liza Minnelli's seminal "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret." Either way, track No. 13 is dope. (Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go #uglycry along to "Maybe This Time" on YouTube 17 consecutive times. BAI.)
RATING: 4 Warhol soup cans out of 5
Graggggh, next time you write a really catchy, heart-pounding, road trip-ready anthem, can you please not frame it in an outdated cultural stereotype about the Roma people -- i.e., "Gypsy"? Thx.
RATING: 3 Yayoi Kusama polka dots out of 5
Gaga, your musical theater queen is showing! Although a solid, if slightly bizarre, choice as ARTPOP's lead single, "Applause" makes complete sense in the context of the track list. Serving as the album's curtain call of sorts, Lady Gaga's call to action -- "Give me that thing that I love/ Put your hands up, make 'em touch" -- has never been more appropriate. Brava!
SUDDENLY THE RATING IS: 5 Jeff Koons flowers out of 5
Photo credit: Interscope, Jimmy McCain of MTV, Getty Images / GIF: s6naapteek.tumblr