"My artpop could mean anything", GaGa sings on the title track of her third LP. It's a lyric that not only epitomises the album but her career as a whole - a career built upon an enigma of oddball weirdness and unpredictability. This only continues with 'ARTPOP', an album that might be low on art but is still crammed with decent pop.
It's immediately clear that with this album GaGa seeks to offer a glimpse of the woman behind the popstar persona. On opening track Aura, she asks us "do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura?". But is there really anything there? The campaign for 'ARTPOP' may have contained plenty of (semi-)nudity, but on the album her often nonsensical lyrics are still dressed up in overblown production and fanciful ideas.
There are moments of humanity, in particular on Sexxx Dreams where she coyly mentions "I can't believe I'm telling you this, but I've had a couple of drinks and...oh my god". And plenty of the songs are centred on sex: Sexxx Dreams ("when I lay in bed I touch myself and think of you"); the opening of G.U.Y (Girl Underneath You) that references Eros, god of sexual desire; and MANiCURE ("touch me in the dark, put your hands all over my body parts"). It's hardly artistic, but it's certainly relatable.
For the most part, though, 'ARTPOP' (like her previous albums) is fixated with fame. For all its sexual connotations (in R Kelly's verse especially), Do What You Want is actually an empowering message to the press and Gypsy sees GaGa wrestling with fame ("I don't wanna be alone forever but I love the gypsy life"). The album ends, meanwhile, with GaGa literally giving herself a round of Applause.
Other key themes include drugs (on Dope and Mary Jane Holland) and fashion. The latter theme is explicitly depicted on Donatella, featuring the worst lyric of the album ("run down the runway but don't puke, it's ok you just had a salad today - boulangerie"), whilst the otherwise vacuous Fashion! is saved only by it's nod to Daft Punk with the filtered guitar riffs. This emphasis on her celebrity lifestyle ensures her persona is far beyond the comprehension of most of her 'monsters'. She remains, therefore, an attention-seeking popstar utterly dependant on her fans, as she sings on Dope.
Yet where the art element of 'ARTPOP' is muddled, the pop side is often as electrifying as ever with stupendous - sometimes multiple - choruses. Aura's neon, choppy chorus riffs balance out the distorted, belching verses; Sexxx Dreams features an electro chorus full of futuristic bleeps; the elastic bass of G.U.Y leads into multiple hooks; MANiCURE stomps into a guitar solo; and Gypsy is a euphoric slice of anthemic disco-pop.
GaGa also dabbles with other genres, most notably on Do What You Want and Jewels n' Drugs. The former is an R&B slow-jam that's far sexier than most of the more explicit tracks, whilst the latter is a foray into rap (featuring not one but three rappers: T.I., Too Short and Twista) that sounds utterly misplaced.
Jewels n' Drugs is just one example of the many missteps on 'ARTPOP' that stop it being amongst GaGa's best work. The self-produced Venus sounds like a messy demo, the space-aged title track lacks a compelling hook, and Dope sounded far better at her iTunes Festival gig where it was originally entitled I Wanna Be With You. That said, as the only ballad, it offers a rare moment of quiet (accompanied by softly rumbling synths) that proves GaGa is a more than capable singer. Then there's Swine - what could have been a typically nonsensical but enjoyable track with some huge electric hooks descends into an anti-climactic, banal EDM chorus.
So, is GaGa a great artist? No. Despite some moments of genius, 'ARTPOP' is lyrically superficial and musically cluttered, relentless and exhausting. But is she an enigmatic, juggernaut of a popstar who remains an intriguing talking point? Absolutely.
* Sexxx Dreams
* Do What You Want
Listen: 'ARTPOP' is released on 11th November.