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Artpop

Artpop

Lady Gaga - 2013

It is commonly believed that variety is the spice of life. It's a rather mainstream idea and one that few argue with. Lady Gaga has made a short career out of making sure everyone knows that she doesn't do 'mainstream' or 'common'. This might then explain why on her fourth album, Artpop she made the decision to eschew the wonder and importance of variety in her music...which is a shame. Some ideas, popular or not should be taken at value. Let us explore the ways that variety escapes the Gaga on what could have been an excellent album. The número uno, essential no-no of any pop album is to have back to back songs in the same key when the style of each song is essentially the same. A scenario worse than this is to accomplish the pairing of songs in the same key with having them at relatively the same tempo. Being found guilty of these two things can cause the listener to question if a track has found an end or if another began or whether the artist has gone suddenly divergent and is attempting to write epic, long winded pop songs with multiple differing parts and subject matters- which would make for a really crappy POP song. Well, this musical faux pas is how the Gaga chooses to begin her album. The first track, 'Aura' and its neighbor 'Venus' are indeed in the same key (F); the tempo of each track is only separated by about 8-10bpm and both boast a groove that centers around a four to the floor bass drum pattern. It's simply not cricket and is almost an insult to the listener - as though the thought was, 'they won't notice that'. However what's really criminal is that individually, these two tracks that open up the album are really good! I remember my first listen to Aura and being taken in by the initial chromatic chord movement and the use of the tremolo guitar; astounded at the intense rhythmic funk/bounce of the synth bass; the beautiful chorus with fantastically placed rhythmic section hits. It's a great song but it is laid to waste in the context of the overall album. This is the problem with Artpop - it has a lot of good to great songs that are devalued in the lack of variety between them and in the album as a whole. (The same undesirable use of the same key in back to back songs unbelievably happens on three other occasions during the album - Fashion and Mary Jane (key of E); Manicure and Do What You Want (key of f#); Guy and Sexxx Dreams (key of C AND both at the exact same tempo). Another technique of terrible music form in the building of an album is to repeat the use of a distinctive chord progression in different songs. Now, to not begin a progression on the tonic (the key of the song) is one thing. However, to choose to start the progression on the b6 is making the decision to use a highly distinctive and retainable sound as essentially, it can only go one place which is up to the tonic and most nearly always through the b7. It's a sublime progression, especially when used in the pop idiom but what makes it great - it's recognizable qualities - is why you can't get away with using it twice let alone over and over again. On no less than three different songs, (THREE!!!) does Gaga employ this progression for the verse of each of them - Sexxx Dreams, Do What You Want and Fashion. The last of those three, Fashion, has a great throw back R&B groove, a great hook for a chorus and some Daft Punk-esque synth work. Alas, its uniqueness is cramped by the two other songs sharing in its progression. It honestly baffles me how this sort of thing is allowed to happen. Continuing on with Gaga's eschewing of all that is variety it becomes apparent that the form of songs are also to be forced to spurn diversity. 'Form?!', you say. Obviously pop songs are formed by the back and forth of verse and chorus and if an artist is feeling saucy, they'll throw a bridge or breakdown in there for good measure. Here, Gaga can't be blamed for holding true to this formula that we as pop listeners so desire. However, what she does to the detriment of the album is have the same musical characteristics show up at the same time in the form. For example, the first three songs start with the A-B formula. In each of these three songs, at the B section the drums drop out. This neat idea is great on its own but used and abused as it is on Artpop, it just adds to the feeling of sameness on the album. By the way, she also uses the subtraction of drums at the B section on three other songs. It's not all doom and similar gloom as far as variety goes on the album. Gaga does attract the listener with different musical stylistic choices. MANiCURE finds her rocking out and handling it better than well. Do What You Want and Fashion, groove exceptionally well in their R&B ways (although I do find it hard to take anything that R. Kelly guests on these days, as serious). Dope, the lone piano ballad finds Gaga in a more reflective and superficially introspective mood. It's a nice change of pace but comes way too late in the album to have any effect. It also isn't helped by a horribly over acted vocal performance where Gaga tries to sounds doped up as she slurs through the embarrassing line, 'I need you more than dope'. The end of the album is a superbly poor conclusion. Applause, the first single off the album is the wrap up and one has to wonder why this is so. The song itself is a highlight of the album but as the final track, it's an absolute failure. It's the completely wrong way to finish Artpop. It seems as though it was released as a teaser to the album; it then was a big hit so they thought they had to have it on ArtPop so they just stuck it in at the end. To wrap up....overall the album doesn't work. There are some great individual songs, a lot of good songs and only two genuine misses (Dope and Jewels N' Drugs). However, the lack of variety is shocking and in poor taste and absolutely ruins what could have been a great album from the Gaga. For her sake, I hope she finds change and diversity more appealing in her next musical endeavor. Fortunately, some of the songs from ArtPop give hope to her next try.

Posted by Andrew Scott

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Comments

This performance is like an SNL spoof a Lady Gaga. On a positive note, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man has been out of work for some time, so it's nice to see him given another shot.

Posted over 4 years ago by TambegifTambe

Probably could have picked a better video as the song, which is great, is overshadowed by the presence of Stay Puft.

Posted over 4 years ago by MoiAndrew Scott

Totally agree, Andrew. There were a couple of 10s on this album (Aura), but the whole thing didn't sit well with me. Interesting observation about the relationship between the first two tracks, it does sound wrong.

Posted almost 4 years ago by 2394 52174249758 958 nAllison

Posted: 06/22/2014