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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Album Review: Art Pop - Lady Gaga

The beauty of pop music is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Pop art visionary Robert Indiana once said that "pop is love" because "it accepts everything." The rich variety in pop music today is a reflection of the diversity in the world around us that continues to change at lightening speed. One way to absorb popular culture is to amplify its defining characteristics through art. American artist Jeff Koons understands this like no other. He's known for creating vibrant and larger than life art pieces that glamorize (often seemingly trivial) pop culture artifacts and characters.

It should come as no surprise that Lady Gaga and Jeff Koons take an interest in each other's work. Both artists have an obsession with pop culture, a fascination with fame, sex and desire, and they don't shy away from a little bit of controversy to execute their vision. In a way, Lady Gaga is to pop music what Jeff Koons is to modern art. Their efforts are highly conceptual yet easily accessible to the masses.

Lady Gaga partnered with Koons to create the cover for her new album ARTPOP. He also played a starring role in her artRAVE album launch event in New York City last Sunday. Koon's ARTPOP sleeve art is a mash up of Botticelli's classic painting of the Birth of Venus and his famed blue gazing ball that has been a part of his previous art installations.

There are clear parallels between Koons' style of art and Gaga's point of view on ARTPOP (most notably in its production and lyricism). Koons' work is highly stylized, scales small details to gigantic proportion and often garners a strong emotional response. Gaga's music captures all of those qualities and more. Much like Koons' visual art, Gaga's new album often appears excessive, outrageous and over the top, but that's deliberately the point.

ARTPOP is a multi-layered, multi-faceted musical journey that Gaga created with the intent to embed art into pop music. The pop star has said in interviews that she set out to create an album that "is considered commercial art yet is viable as fine art." Gaga has realized her vision by creating a cohesive body of music that is dominated by hard-edged and audacious production stylings, the theatrics of her performance and occasional lyrical references to the art that has inspired her.

Musically, the album is a brew of pounding EDM (with gentle hints of R&B) that is infused with glorious hooks and soaring middle-eights that are solid proof of Gaga's songwriting savvy. ARTPOP kicks off with "Aura" that is a perfect representation of the album's overall sonic aesthetic that gives listeners plenty to chew on. Drenched in Zedd's flaming techno beats, it's a non-stop parade of melodic hooks that will have you dizzy on your feet from beginning to end. The mind-numbing groove of "Swine" courtesy of DJ White Shadow (aka Paul Blair) packs a similar intensity.

Other ARTPOP's highlights include the punchy "G.U.Y" and "Venus" (featuring ABBA-esque vocal ornamentations) that is a hyper-melodic adventure ride that shoots listeners into outer space and takes them for a spin around the Milky Way and back.

Gaga's duet with R&B icon R. Kelly on "Do What U Want" glows like a pop beacon halfway through the album and reminds us exactly why we fell in love in Gaga in the first place. It's one of the best song she's ever recorded and will without a doubt stand the test of time. Gaga gets playful on tunes like "MANiCURE" and "Donatella" that combines electronic pop with a whole lotta sass.

Shooting straight from her gut, the album's title track gets to the core of Gaga's growing artistic struggle. It candidly deals with the fine line she must walk between commerce and art. Even though she's an artist who is part of a major corporation looking to make a profit, she ultimately seeks respect as an artist. "I try to sell myself/But I am really laughing/Because I just love the music, not the bling," she sings.

Gaga demonstrates her vocal prowess on "Dope," an intensely personal song that was co-produced by Rick Rubin. The track is followed by "Gypsy," a massive anthem in waiting produced by RedOne and Madeon that is a homage to all dreamers who are always searching for greener pastures elsewhere. The album closes with "Applause" that is perfectly sequenced as the album's grand finale and truly shines in the context of the rest of the LP.

ARTPOP's biggest accomplishment is that it shamelessly pushes the pop envelope both conceptually and sonically. Instead of playing it safe and walk a path already paved, Gaga steps out of the box and takes a risk by creating a wild art-pop "hybrid" that is rooted in her distinct point of view. Some may criticise that the album is too dense and idea-heavy for its own good, but its occasional opulence is intentionally part of Gaga's vision to make pop her way. (Click to download Lady Gaga ARTPOP on iTunes.)


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