As Lady Gaga returns with the release of her third studio album “ARTPOP,” the musician who is famous for her antics delivers simultaneously what was expected from her while also exploring new territory. In many ways, “ARTPOP” seems like the next logical step in the development of Lady Gaga’s work. On the album, she still wrestles with her feelings about fame, men and her own self-image.
With most artists, there is pressure with the release of new work to bring something fresh to the table, which is something Gaga seems to understand. Her response? Disco beats and electronic dance music influences on tracks like “G.U.Y.” and “Venus,” rap and pop infusions on “Jewels N’ Drugs” and, oftentimes, theatrics exceeding even her previous albums.
In a word, “ARTPOP” is exhausting. It’s often devoid of real instruments aside from the single ballad near the end of the track list, “Dope,” which in its simplicity doesn’t make up for the lack of depth apparent throughout the rest of the album.
An unrelenting electronic beat underlies the entire album, so the last hour of “ARTPOP” mostly sounds like noise. Memorable moments of Gaga’s past — such as the sing-along choruses of older songs like “Born This Way” and “Just Dance” — are few and far between.
Whereas in past releases Gaga’s wit was sharp, something about “ARTPOP” feels too on the nose. Perhaps the biggest problem is, with all the theatrics, Gaga is unable to be subtle in parodying herself, such as with the love-it-or-hate-it first verse in “Applause,” “I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong.”
The avant-garde moments just feel too calculated. “Aura” is a desperate scream for controversy in its sexualization of Muslim women, as Gaga sings, “My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face” and “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? … behind the burqa.”
Her ode to marijuana “Mary Jane Holland” and fame-obsessed anthems like “Applause” and “Donatella” (which opens with “I am so fab, check it out/I’m blonde, I’m skinny/I’m rich, and I’m a bit of a bitch”) feel less like explorations of unique ideas and more like what Gaga’s management expects to succeed.
Despite these issues, the album isn’t career-ending, especially considering highlights like “Do What U Want” and “Gypsy.” If you’re a diehard Little Monster, “ARTPOP” has descended from heaven as your saving grace, but that would be true no matter the album’s quality. If you aren’t amused by Gaga’s antics — what this album fixates on these above all else — then you aren’t going to be converted by “ARTPOP.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 12 print edition. Addy Baird is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]