The Pop Grumble: ARTFLOP

lady gaga

Teoh Lander-Boyce

Struggling to make it as a musician, Teoh turned to pop journalism to quench his thirst for music. Unfortunately it's reinforced his cynicism, inflated opinions and sense of entitlement. He's recorded at Abbey Road Studios and made heaps of angry YouTube videos. Beware: articles may contain attempts at wit. @mrtinoforever

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I was there too, guys! I was dancing my ass off in Popstarz the first time they played ‘Bad Romance’. And before that in 2008, when I was first getting into electro music like Soulwax and Justice, I remember listening to The Fame and thinking, “Yes! Yes, this is the way I want pop music to go.” I was bored of indie bands and indie-influenced pop music, I craved that electronic edge that she – along with Justin Timberlake, La Roux and Kanye West – was injecting into the charts. I loved ‘Just Dance’ so much I even did a remix of it. I mashed it up with ‘D.A.N.C.E’. by Justice.

Pop music doesn’t need to be, for lack of a better word, ground-breaking, but it does need to be catchy, and while her music was never exactly the former, it was the latter. But Gaga was more than the music, she was about getting in people’s faces. It was amazing to watch Gaga go from strength to strength, pushing boundaries and people’s idea of the norm. In many ways Gaga was a new form of punk: a form even punks would reject. But somewhere along the way, it got tiresome.

The thing about ARTPOP is that it’s good pop music. It’s catchy. But it’s not ground-breaking. And, as I mentioned before, it doesn’t need to be ground-breaking to be good pop music. But oh how Gaga really wants it to be. Now, I know that most of this is a matter of taste and opinion. I’m also aware saying this on Vada is like dousing myself in gasoline and passing a matchbox to Jeremy Joseph.

But before you grab your pitchforks, at least hear me out on five points why ARTPOP is just another alright pop album and not a creative endeavour akin to the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel:

lady gaga

5. We get it, you’re famous, is that all there is? I’m sure Gaga of all people can offer some of the best insights to what fame does to people, but she’s done it over and over. The Fame and The Fame Monster made for great pop music, but also interesting observations. ‘Applause,’ ‘Donatella,’ ‘Fashion!’ and many other tracks from ARTPOP are about fame amongst other issues, but don’t offer anything different from what she’s expressed previously.

lady gaga

4. Obscurity is expected. From turning up to the VMAs in a meat dress to birthing herself out of an egg, we now expect the obscure from Gaga. There is almost no way Gaga could replicate her shock value any more, because we expect it of her, so maybe the most controversial move for her would be to go in the other direction. No over the top outfits, no non-stop dance routines. Maybe a change in genre or a simplistic vocal without belters or ad-libs. If she did half or all of these things her audiences would be shocked, because it wouldn’t be what they expected from her.

Instead of this, Gaga has continued to make a caricature out of herself. Predictable in her unpredictability; akin to a teenage girl who would choose “kooky” “bubbly” and “random” as the best three words to describe herself. Whether it’s getting fully naked at G-A-Y Heaven, or unnecessarily going operatic for ‘Venus’ during her X-Factor performance, it’s all feels like familiar ground. Bursting into tears during her performance of ‘Dope’ at The YouTube Music Awards may have been jarring and raw to many, but even that came across as a fabrication when juxtaposed with a sentiment such as “I love you more than dope.”

lady gaga

3. For something that’s meant to be honest and raw, it lacks poetic integrity. Speaking to The Guardian, Gaga said: “For ARTPOP, I, in the most metaphorical explanation, stood in front of a mirror and I took off the wig and I took off the makeup and I unzipped the outfit and I put a black cap on my head and I covered my body in a black catsuit and I looked in the mirror and I said: ‘OK, now you need to show them you can be brilliant without that.’ And that’s what ARTPOP is all about. Because I knew that if I wanted to grow, if I really wanted to innovate from the inside, I had to do something that was almost impossible for me.”

Inspiring stuff, but none of it sounds like it’s coming straight from your heart. For example, almost all of the choruses centralised on the repetition of one phrase. “I live for the applause,” “do what you want with my body,” “take me to your planet,” and so on. I cannot berate Gaga for being catchy, because goddamnit she can pin down a hook, but I can berate her for lack of sentiment when she claims her music holds so much.

lady gaga

2. If you’re going to get the industry’s best producers together, why produce more of the same? It’s pretty amazing how forward-thinking Gaga was to get Madeon and Zedd to work on this album. Both are producers that were making significant ripples in the music industry, and both were shafted in, just as they were breaking it. Yet, listening to ARTPOP I can barely hear their influence on the music, because sonically it’s like everything else that’s been playing for the last three years. (Probably because she got David Guetta, Will.I.Am, DJ Dark Shadow and RedOne as the other producers…)

Comparatively you have Daft Punk. I am a massive fan of Daft Punk, but unlike most people, I didn’t enjoy their latest album Random Access Memories. Nonetheless, I can appreciate how they took a sound they’re known for and did something completely different with it. That disco sound isn’t new, but it’s new to our generation, and it’s completely against the grain of what frequents radio currently.

Furthermore, you have Kanye West. Just like Gaga, he got together some of the hottest electronic based producers around right now. Hudson Mohawke, Lucine, Brodinski, Gesaffelstein, even Daft Punk, to name a few. But unlike Gaga, he created something definitive; incorporating their sounds into something greater.  And although the producers he’s picked have had some success in their respected fields, their sound is refreshing compared to current mainstream pop. ARTPOP doesn’t feel new or different, it feels like Lady Gaga, yes, but Lady Gaga incomplete, predictable and safe.

lady gaga

1. If you’re going to name your album something egotistical, make sure it’s something to brag about. Taking my Yeezus comparison further, Kanye West is the king of arrogant statements. You could spend days wading through the bullshit Kanye says, but when you play Yeezus, it backs itself up. Whether you like his music or not, he’s created something with fire, that’s thought-provoking, aggressive in sound and unashamedly arrogant.

But to spin an art movement on its head as if to imply you are akin to Andy Warhol. To phrase your album title as if to suggest that this music is in a genre of its own… to allude to the craft behind your music is “art” itself, when it sounds as formulaic as anything else, when its lyrics are lacking and when we’ve seen your tricks before. No. The only thing “art” about ARTPOP is how she’s got you suckers to buy into it.

And I am by no means saying that Kanye West is our modern equivalent to Jesus, even if he thinks he is. But I am saying that he has a stronger claim than Gaga has at calling her basic and conventional sound “art.

All that being said, I still enjoyed ARTPOP. Like I said, it’s good pop music, and thankfully, that’s all I ever really expect from Gaga. The album itself may be wildly paraphrasing the term “art,” and all of Gaga’s appearances and comments about it may contradict its content and paint her out to be a hypocrite, but I’m happy to be the bigger man about this and let it go (I’m a pro at letting things go, or so my therapist says). But if any little monster wants to challenge me on my observations, be warned, I thrive off twitter arguments and trolling. My paws are up, and my nails are sharpened.

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