Make us your home page

Review: Hold your applause for Lady Gaga's 'Artpop'

Getty Images

Hard candy shell, chewy gooey center: That's always been the Lady Gaga recipe. She named her new album Artpop — the title is a mission statement — but Tootsie Pop is her M.O., too. What you see on the outside (flighty prankster in a meat dress, super awkward nekkidness, a star poking fun at stardom) is often not what's tucked lovingly inside (affable hooks, wordplay a la the larynx-aerobics of Bad Romance, a satirist who still really, really likes to dance).

When the blend works, as on 2008's winking debut The Fame and 2009 EP The Fame Monster, Gaga is unstoppable, eccentric enough to stand out, musically playful enough to be devoured by everyone.

Madonna 2.0 is not far off the mark.

But a constant need to reinvent herself has taken its toll, a creative tightrope starting to wobble. Gaga has become a lot of work leading up to Artpop. No longer puckish or whimsical, her performance-art side has become obtuse, tedious. (Ever see that promo vid where she was clothes-averse and making weird noises?) The pop has lost a certain pep. Neither side of Gaga, 27, is all that charming these days.

The new album is an identity crisis. Playful ideas give way to rote dance beats; invited guests (R. Kelly, T.I.) aren't as inspired compared to past cameos, such as having Brian May play on the Queen-like stomp of You and I (awesome) or Beyonce call in on Telephone (awesomer).

Album opener Aura has headphone-cool vocal effects and chilly 'tude — Gaga chuckling from the pits of Hades — but then turns into a dull synthy disco spin. Venus ("Take me to your leader") and Manicure ("Manicure! Manicure!") settle for rote beats, "this could be love" lyrics; neither could crack the lineup of The Fame Monster.

G.U.Y. is inexplicably cookie-cutter, almost too chaste. But when she gets randy — on Sexxx Dreams — it's not that sexxxy at all. Hip-hop banger Jewels N' Drugs wants to journey into the 'hood; instead, it sounds like Gaga lost a bet.

You have to dig through a lot of so-so stuff (Swine might be the worst thing she's ever done; sooey, is that bad) to find something shimmering. Buried deep on the second side is the ballad Dope. The words are still clunky ("I need you more than dope"), but her caterwauling like Stevie Nicks feels honest, perhaps the first time on the album where she's relaxing and just letting it fly.

Not too long ago, Lady Gaga was in control of her creative schizophrenia. Now she seems dizzied by it. The album is arduous, forced. Where are the smiles, the laughs? Where's the besotted hijinks of Just Dance?

When Artpop's first single Applause came out a few months ago, I didn't love the track, although I appreciated the layering of the chorus, the jetstream production. Her tweaking of celebrity wasn't as cutting; where once she was mocking the quest for fame, now she was dealing with the repercussions of fame, a far less universal stance. I figured Applause was just a taste, that a smart pop star had bigger things in store.

But let it be known that Applause is the best thing on the album, and the catchiest single. Lady Gaga, once a refreshing tasty Tootsie Pop, is now dusty old Halloween candy. Let's hope she finds that recipe again soon.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter and Instagram.

Lady Gaga, Artpop (Interscope) GRADE: C

Review: Hold your applause for Lady Gaga's 'Artpop' 11/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 6:20am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ticket window: Shania Twain, Chicago, George Benson

    Music & Concerts

    Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:

    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 01:  Singer Shania Twain performs during the debut of her residency show "Shania: Still the One" at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on December 1, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
  2. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  3. Pasco Events for Aug. 25-31


    25 Friday

    Feeding Pasco's Elderly hosts inaugural Leadership Breakfast: The Pasco County Elderly Nutrition Division/Feeding Pasco's Elderly will host this east Pasco event to mirror the Ambassador's Breakfast fundraising event that has been held the past two years on the county's west side. County …

  4. Local craft beer of the week: Cherry Pastelitos, Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    On Saturday, Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. will celebrate its third anniversary with a Florida weisse festival, showcasing densely fruited tart wheat beers from more than a dozen Tampa Bay area breweries including, of course, many of its own brews in this summer-friendly style.

    Center: Coppertail Brewing’s Cherry Pastelitos. Flanking it are Coppertail’s BOMP (blood orange, mango, passionfruit), left, and Pinky Swear (pink lemonade-flavored).
  5. 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' opens run at Show Palace Dinner Theatre


    The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson takes a nostalgic swing through the 1950s and '60s with its production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which opens Aug. 26. The local offering of the longest-running rock 'n' roll revue in Broadway history features the legendary pop tunes of hit makers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. …

    A local production of the 1950s and '60s musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.