So, Just How ‘Dope’ Is Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP’?

I take issue with many of the criticisms that have been leveled at Lady Gaga over the last several years. People accuse her of being humorless (patently untrue), egomaniacal (likely true, but irrelevant), too “try-hard” (scoffing at ambition in a a world where Miley Cyrus sticking her tongue out constitutes “a performance” is deplorable), and attention-seeking (newsflash: every person who picks up a microphone is seeking some kind of attention). Things have been especially rough since 2011’s Born This Way, which was inarguably successful, though perhaps less so than people expected.

In the two-and-a-half years since Born This Way, Gaga embarked on a hugely successful world tour, broke her hip, smoked a lot of marijuana, pissed off Madonna and Perez Hilton, beefed with Azealia Banks, and even disappeared off the face of the earth for six months. Oh, she also recorded a new album, ARTPOP. She jokingly referred to it as “the album of INFINITE!,” and now that it’s here, let’s engage in a reverse Warholian expedition and tackle the only question that matters: is it any good?

Many fans and critics found themselves baffled by Born This Way, likely because there was no album she could have released at that stage in her career that would have met people’s expectations. Despite being overlong and occasionally too aggressive, the album was not as bad as people made it out to be; songs like “Sheiße,” “Government Hooker, “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Marry the Night,” “The Edge of Glory,” and “Bloody Mary” rank among Gaga’s finest, and nearly all of Born This Way is better than the non-singles from The Fame.  I think we’re all on the same page about the bad “Bad Kids” though.

Only time — and many, many repeated listens — will tell how ARTPOP stacks up against Gaga’s other albums, but after a week of repeated plays, the results are looking good.

Yes, at times, the album is a messy. Album opener “Aura,” despite having a massive chorus that rivals The Fame Monster’s “Dance in the Dark” in term of unadulterated grandness, suffers from confused production and irritating verses. (It doesn’t help that the demo, which leaked in July, featured superior verse vocals.)  “Venus” is also incredibly messy — four songs, chopped up and spliced together into one three-and-a-half minute ode to Roman gods, sex, the cosmos, and butt jokes — but it’s the kind of messy that works. For my money, “Venus”‘ chorus gives “Bad Romance”‘s a run for its money. I said it, and I am prepared to deal with the consequences. That said, whoever thought this would work as the second single has some ‘splainin’ to do.

ARTPOP really hits its stride with “G.U.Y. (Girl Under You),” a sexy role-reversal anthem that plays like an updated (and superior) take on The Fame’s “LoveGame.” It is one of the best songs Mother Monster has ever released, and it would make a great single. (After “Gypsy,” which should be next, and if it’s not, I QUIT EVERYTHING!)

Throughout the course of the album, Gaga dabbles in trap (“Jewels ‘N Drugs” with T.I., Too Short, and Twista), R&B (second single, “Do What U Want” with R. Kelly), dub step-leaning EDM (“Swine”), bluesy arena jams (“MANiCURE”), and more. Instead of feeling “all over the place,” though, this genre-hopping suits her. Vocally, she’s never sounded better, and the album doesn’t suffer under the same weighty “sameness” that many people said plauged Born This Way.

Other highlights include “Dope,” which was originally debuted as “I Wanna Be With You,” a schmaltzy ode to her Little Monsters. With an assist from producer Rick Rubin, it has become Gaga’s most affecting ballad to date, easily surpassing “Speechless.” And then there’s “Gypsy,” the new “The Edge of Glory,” which probably should have been the first single and which will definitely become a karaoke staple. (All of the bonus points awarded to the lyric “I don’t speak German, but I try.”)

Gone, for the most part, are the Born This Way-era lyrics about self-empowerment. Instead, we’ve got self-love (the sublime “Sexxx Dreams”) and plain ol’ love and passion (nearly every song on the record). The record drips with sex, which is a really gross sentence, and I’m sorry I wrote it! Still, if ARTPOP is at all a reflection of Gaga’s personal life, it sounds like Taylor Kinney is doing his job.

Despite its low points and rough edges, ARTPOP is perhaps Gaga’s most cohesive album to date. Haters gonna hate, but at this point, it’s clear: Gaga is still the one to beat. The album’s message is best encapsulated in “Do What U Want,” which simultaneously functions as an ode to gettin’ some and a commentary on critical analysis in the digital age. ART and POP, together. Mission accomplished. We did it. *Blasts into space, never to return.*

ARTPOP is very much like Lady Gaga herself: messy, confusing, funny, annoying, ambitious, pretentious, beautiful, flawed, joyful, clumsy, fun, and lightyears ahead of its peers. In other words, it’s very good.

The new Gaga classics: “G.U.Y.,” “MANiCURE,” “Dope” (controversial, I know!), “Do What U Want,” “Gypsy.”

Should have been left off the album in favor of one of the other 100 songs she recorded: “Fashion!”

The “Are These Real Lyrics?” Award goes to: “Donatella”

Grade: 3 ARTS + 5 POPS = 8/10

Now, I am going to shut up, because I want to hear from you. Yes, you! Tell us what you think about ARTPOP by voting below!

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