“My name is not Alice,” Lady Gaga sings, with glamorous and theatrical fervor, in the opening track of her new album, Chromatica. “But I’m going to keep looking for Wonderland. “
The sentiment sums up Gaga’s career so far: an endless quest for fantasy pop as she delves into poses and characters. All along Chromatica, Gaga tells us that she is a free woman, not your plastic doll; it will be your enigma; she is like a sour candy.
She has always been, in everyday parlance, something of a queen of the concept. Gaga has produced some of the best top 40 bops, such as “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance”. Pop author, she has been a lush visual designer and songwriter with a message (sometimes cliché) – about fame, quirkiness and being yourself.
And it worked for a long time, from Fame era, lying down Fame Monster moment, across the Born like that period. But it’s a difficult way to live for a long time. After all, even Madonna and Beyoncé worked until their great message epochs. Rather than creating a slow build, Gaga broke out by being too much – genre rumors, the meat dress, the layered videos. She almost had to start defusing her celebrity.
Gaga emerges from the top 40 hamsters with the Tony Bennett duo project Cheek to cheek, and with 2016 Joanne, she attempted to make a stripped personal best with a Gaga touch. Joanne was a kind of rock record from the 60s and 70s saying, “It’s me.” But it was somewhat disappointing that the queen of the Gaga concept couldn’t find a more original way to achieve the personal turn that pop music had taken. And came A star is born, who revitalized the celebrity of Gaga; she made room for serious retro rock from Joanne, but managed to bring the pop audience with her.
It’s been four years since Joanne, and what looks like forever since 2013 Artpop. “Stupid Love”, the first single and video of Chromatica era, released last month, announced the return of the great queen of pop concept Gaga. Shamelessly sung choirs were a return to form, and the video – starring Gaga dancing in the midst of a postapocalyptic Mad Max desert backdrop – provided another world context for its sounds.
With Chromatica, it’s like the new Gaga has learned the lessons and the confidence to build its own world A star is born, and she Enigma Residing in Vegas, and ready to shamelessly return to Gaga, filtering his first electropop through the house in the 90s. The album could use more of Gaga’s originality, but it’s a testament to the unique path that she carved out that she looked like such a big event to find her.
“Stupid Love” succeeded as the main single in setting the tone and the world of Chromatica. But the song, Gaga’s first collaboration with famed producer Max Martin, also looked too much like an attempt to reintroduce Gaga to the old fashioned way. It was as if they were trying to take up the idea of ”Bad Romance” ‘s thirst for toxicity, but in an optimistic “Born This Way” mode. It’s good, but it’s never quite something unique.
Chromatica himself begins strongly with “Alice”. The song captures the sound inspired by the record company, its themes escaped from feeling detached from the world (“Where is my body? I’m stuck in my mind”), all complemented by vocal plays by Gaga, delivered with a touch of opera. As she sings “Take Me Home”, you want to follow her into the rabbit hole.
“Rain on Me”, the Ariana Grande duo released as second single, follows “Stupid Love”, and it’s a better song. It’s always exciting – not to say rare – when two undeniable pop titans meet. While this could easily be wrong – or worse yet, end up groaning – Gaga has an incredible talent for diva collaborations, from “Telephone”, with Beyoncé, to Christina Aguilera’s duo for “Do What U Want”. The song highlights Ariana’s delicate vocal melodies, punctuated by Gaga’s distorted voices as a demanding butcher goddess “Rain.” Sure. Me “, he has enough intentional appeal to stand proudly in the pop house / dance rain cannon alongside” It’s Raining Men “.
Rather than creating a slow build, Gaga broke out by being too much – genre rumors, the meat dress, the layered videos. She almost had to start defusing her celebrity.
The collaborative know-how is also evident in the Blackpink duo, “Sour Candy”. On Twitter, Gaga credited its producers with the transformation of the song into a K-pop banger. But it comes back to the same adolescent pop insolence that she channeled so effectively to “Boys Boys Boys”. From slinky verses (“So sweet, then I get a little anry”) by Jennie & Lisa from Blackpink, to Gaga’s chorus on being hard outside, the song is fresh and a perfect pop mix.
A big problem with the album as a whole is that there is a lot of stuff, with songs with tired lyrics and metaphors. From “1000 doves” (“I am human, invisible bleeding”, “every time / your love seems to save the day”) to the random and uninspired duo of Elton John “Sine From Above” (“When I was young, I felt immortal / And not a day went by without a struggle ”), too many words are generic and don’t get the kind of distinctiveness that we know Gaga can provide. “Free Woman”, for example, adds nothing to the endless theme of going wild on the dance floor. “Replay” is a somewhat generic breaking melody.
Gaga’s talent for performance, fantasy and big choirs saves some of the songs, like “Enigma” and “Plastic Doll”, the latter of which has enough lyrical intelligence and drama (“Who is this girl, Malibu Gaga ? / Seems so sad, what is this saga “) to stand out.
Chromatica also gives us a taste of new aspects of Gaga songwriting. In “911”, she sings about taking medication, or popping 911, in a sort of hypnotic monotonous, and asks, “Come and see me cry”. Mental health has become a more important theme in pop music, but only Gaga could write a dancing bop about taking antipsychotic drugs.
“Fun Tonight”, a song about a relationship with an ambivalent narrator, feels moody and intimate in a different way from the rest of the album. The echoing synths evoke Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” when the song invites you to calm down, but Gaga’s “Shallow” volcanic vocal eruption captures a distinct sort of sad euphoria. The album ends with “Babylon”, a house ode to decadence and gossip, a bit like Artpop“Donatella”, who will probably revive the Madonna comparisons thanks to her Vogue-the spoken style. But, more than a decade in his career, Gaga is beyond comparison.
A Gaga Stan account on Twitter recently asked what was his best single before “Rain on Me”. Personally, my favorite was the last single from Artpop: “G.U.Y. It was fanciful, big, random and ridiculous. The clip contains cameos from Andy Cohen and Real Housewives and Michael Jackson and Gandhi; it features pop dance moves for teens from the 90s. Gaga said the 11-minute video spoke of his struggles in the capitalist music industry. (In one scene, the Real Housewives rob a bank.)
But after this album and this single, you had the feeling that she felt that she had to go up more to break through. And maybe she was right. It was ultimately a piano ballad by Joanne, “Million Reasons”, which became his great streaming success. But I missed this other Gaga, the ambition and the pretension on pop. Whatever you think of her, Lady Gaga makes pop music exciting, as if something is at stake. Chromatica is a step forward for this Gaga, even thinking about it. ●