It was a good weekend for lovers of pop divas. The new Lady Gaga album, Artpop, leaked in full. And the next Britney Spears single, "Perfume" was released last night.
They're complete opposites: one surprisingly restrained, the other throwing at your eardrums everything but the kitchen sink. Any guess which is which? Here's a quick look at both.
Lady Gaga's leaked Artpop.
The wait is over for all the Little Monsters who already decided three months ago anyway that Lady Gaga's new album, Artpop, is the most legendary work ever committed to
record digital media, and slays all your faves and YASSSSS KWEEN and blah-blah-Internet-enthusiasm-blah. The album leaked over the weekend, over a week ahead of its intended November 11 release date. Though reviews are still rolling in, it seems to be achieving a certain love-it/hate-it polarization. Some fans are calling it her "best ever," some critics are calling it messy and muddled. (And occasionally receiving racist death threats for it. Because Stop Bullying, like, or something.) For what it's worth, I'd say both camps right: Artpop is Gaga at both her best and worst.
Gaga performed Artpop songs "Venus" and latest single "Do What U Want" on The X-Factor UK last week. Watch it with the sound off, because and it looks like a Charlie Chaplin movie on crack. FUNN-EE.
My opinion of Lady Gaga has, like a lot of people, veered wildly over the last couple years. With her debut album The Fame, I thought she was really cool, refreshing and talented. (Though uncomfortably "reminiscent" of early Madonna, her most obvious inspiration and yet one of the few she suspiciously didn't namecheck in our interview together. Which I'm pleased to say I pointed out well before the word "reductive" ever came into play.) With her padded-out reload The Fame Monster, the ratio of "artistic individuality" to "artistic derivation being passed off to unawares young fans as individuality" was becoming imbalanced. And by the time we were presented with Born This Way , Lady Gaga's pandering valentine to
precious outcasts and gay people herself, she had become lazy and insulting: milking dry the successfully marketed idea that she was an interesting, challenging artist, rather than acting like one. I was done.
I like a great burger. I don't like when you sell me ground beef and tell me it's filet mignon.
Gaga seems aware that she has over-saturated the general public (and kinda turned it off) with recent testimonies to her messianic awesomeness. Which is probably why the rollout to Artpop has seemed uncharacteristically subdued. But if you were hoping your reaction to Artpop would offer itself as a tiebreaker between warring views of Gaga as Cool, Edgy Pop Star and Overrated, Insufferable Art Student, no dice. The album is, like Gaga, moments of fleeting pop music brilliance frequently obfuscated by busyness. For someone who loves fashion so much, you'd think she'd heed the famous words attributed to Coco Chanel: "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off." That suggestion could easily apply to sonic accessories overloaded in the recording studio, too.
Pros: Great vocals; she sings for her supper. Musically inventive; there's some truly original production here, and though there are clear homages to 80s, 90s and modern dance music, Gaga seems like she was simply inspired by influences (as all artists are) rather than specifically riffing off any of them. (Okay, save the Bowie airs of "Applause.") The album is also home to some of the best tracks she's made: "Aura" is an impressive opener. "Venus" strikes a great balance between innovation and ear candy. "Sexxx Dreams" is delicious. "Swine" thumps hard. And "Gypsy" deserves to be a hit. It's a goosebumps-inducing, epic uptempo love song about two wandering souls deciding to wander alone, together.
Cons: The hooks aren't as immediately gratifying as hits like "Just Dance" and "Bad Romance." The songs are over-stuffed and crammed, leap-frogging between so many different melodies that big choruses get buried and songs flirt with blending into a single hour-long jumble of sound. The album is also home to some of the worst tracks she's made: "Jewels n' Drugs" featuring T.I., Too Short and Twista is a failed experiment with trap. "Donatella" grates. "Mary Jane Holland," an ode to her weed-loving alter ego, induces as much eye rolling as listening to your 18 year-old cousin extol pot brownies as a philosophical movement. And "Dope" could be great if she didn't push the glam rock-inspired vocal delivery into (definitely unintentional) Rocky Horror Gaga Show self-parody.
Britney Spears "Perfume."
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum of bombast, Britney Spears released her new single "Perfume," to roll out the iTunes pre-order of the album Britney Jean, due in December. It's an understated, mid-tempo electro-pop ballad penned by Sia. Britney actually sings, harking back to her her late-90s debut when she was supported by a minimal arsenal of vocal effects. It's rather lovely. Listen here.
Because frankly, that's about all there is to say about it. Art? No. Pop? Heck yes.
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