Ludwig von Beethoven composed the sweeping, highly technical Symphony No. 3 in 1802 at an important moment in his career, one might say his ARTPOP phase. He dedicated it to Napoleon Bonaparte, a leader he admired as anti-monarchy and all that. Two years later, Bonaparte declared himself emperor of France. Well, Beethoven was all, “Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition. Now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven said, “I don’t know her,” stripping Bonaparte’s name from the work. Eventually, the symphony was called the noncommittal Sinfonia Eroica, which is how we know it today. Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man. Okay!
Geniuses are finicky and have been known to cancel their work before anyone else can. They reserve the right to change their minds about their babies, of course, and I can only hope Lady Gaga comes to some sort of Eroica middle ground when it comes to — yes, here we go full circle with the anecdote — ARTPOP.
This week, the Mother of Monsters tweeted, “i don’t remember ARTPOP."
Fans, including this one, were aghast. When Gaga made the album in 2013, she declared it pretty much the greatest thing ever, Napoleon but the cool version.
When ARTPOP came out, Gaga was firmly soldered to the cultural escutcheon as an over-the-top character with a lot to say. Her third studio album was on the heels of the career-defining Born this Way, which meant a lot to a lot of people. Everyone wondered what she might say next, and perhaps they were bummed when it turned out to be, “You’re just a pig inside a human body.” Swine is not a great song. I will give everyone that.
The album was a flop by Gaga standards, except for a select corner of the internet dedicated to defending ARTPOP to anyone who happens to be tied to a chair with jumper cables. And if that conversation goes well, that fan might then launch into how the next solo release Joanne actually sounds like ’70s sitcom theme songs.
Anyway. What did she mean with this tweet? Was it the shadiest sense or did she mean it literally? There are several songs about drugs on the album, so one must not rule out the possibility. Was this a publicity thing to get people writing essays while desk-eating in the middle of their Wednesdays (ahem)?
How could our hero simply toss this work to the side?
There are some problems with ARTPOP, namely R. Kelly, who is currently in jail on federal charges over alleged sexual abuse of women and girls. She removed their duet Do What U Want from streaming services after the Surviving R. Kelly series brought out new allegations. There’s also a song with rapper and Current Problematic Male™ T.I., who said this month that he polices his grown daughter’s sex life. And the art world is violently mixed about Jeff Koons, who created the sculpture on the cover and is name-checked on the album: “One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me.”
Napoleons aside, that leaves us with the music. It’s a disco ball party. It’s produced within an inch of its life by DJ White Shadow, RedOne, Zedd and Madeon, the musical equivalent of a full contour and lashes at the MAC counter. And it has bangers.
Venus, G.U.Y., Mary Jane Holland and Sexxx Dreams, all super fun! Donatella is a hilarious satire on Capital F Fashion. Is there a better song than MANiCURE to slap on while you’re getting ready to go out, souvenir tumbler from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights filled with Bota Box wine?
And lest we forget this cornerstone of the zeitgeist: Gaga performed songs from ARTPOP during a Muppets holiday special on Thanksgiving 2013. She sang with Kermit, and if we’re just going to act like that didn’t happen, stop the world, I want to get off.
Here’s where I also tell you that it’s not all party bops. We had a dollar dance at my wedding to an acoustic cover of Gypsy in honor of lost loved ones. The lyrics make me cry! We donated the money to charity, Gaga!
So, fine, abandon parts of the album. But you can’t disown your children. Some are better than others. Some of your children are going to make like Ted Beneke in Season 4 of Breaking Bad and spend their IRS bailout money on a new Benz. They will have flaws, but you must love them anyway.
I am looking forward to whatever comes of this, because as a true believer I know Gaga is always playing a long game. I will be in the ticket line for the “i don’t remember ARTPOP” club tour when she plays stripped-down ARTPOP covers backed by an old-timey washboard jug band. I believe, and I remember ARTPOP.