Lady Gaga’s just-released new material sounds like a pastiche from the past
Lady Gaga suitably attired for a pandemic-era music video. Screengrab: Lady Gaga/YouTube
Lady Gaga does move fast. She has gone from Bad Romance to, now, Stupid Love. She’s switched from dueting with Tony Bennett to, now, Elton John (both consistently still older—much older—men). She’s pushed from dance-pop to lounge jazz and, now, back to dance-pop. She has electrified from blond to, now, pink. One thing is certain, though: Lady Gaga is always there with you in your darkest hour, when you’re down, rejected, prejudiced against, and with the kind of clothes that, as usual, threaten to overshadow her message, if not her music. In addition, now, there are the “kindness punks”!
Watching her newest music video, Stupid Love, is like viewing a sci-fi B-movie, complete with schlock-y story line, fake planetary sets, vinyl-plasticky costumes, but without an Attack of the 50ft Woman. Lady Gaga looked like Ariana Grande doing Lady Gaga doing Ariana Grande. (Incidentally, Ms Grande duets with the former in the track Rain on Me.) The Born This Way chart-topper dances with the same energy that she always projects, but now with a cheerfulness and bounce once associated with Debbie Gibson.
Soaked during inclement weather, Lady Gaga in Rain on Me. Screen grab: Lady Gaga/YouTube
A Lady Gaga performance is enjoyed for both songs and costumes, and in Stupid Love, fans won’t be disappointed. Chromatica is not a about colour nor, in the case of the singer’s profession, about modifications of normal musical scales. The title of her sixth studio album is apparently the name of a planet that “rots on conflict”. And on it, inhabitants, formed by “many tribes”, dress and dance fabulously, “while the Spiritual ones pray and sleep for peace” and the Kindess Punks fight for Chromatica”. It is not clear who Lady Gaga is in this motley population, but she does dress to look like some futuro-chieftain. Her dancers—fellow Chromaticans?—surprisingly nearly threatened to outdo her. Accessorised to the hilt, they are in Victoria’s Secrets fabulousness, Mad Max madness, eco-warrior juggle greens, and, incongruently, a few shower-curtain caftans Andre Leon Talley would definitely approve.
Lady Gaga’s albums are not known for their conceptual heft. Visually, perhaps, but not musically. The Fame is indeterminate reputation than solid output, Artpop is more pop than art, just to name two. All along it’s her image (as before, conceived and styled by partner-in-crime Nicola Formichetti) and the danceability of her songs that conduce to her success. Chromatica is a clear extension of what she has been doing, save the rather protracted jazz interlude (with the Sound of Music thrown in for good measure). For those seeking the moderately experimental from an artiste that’s musically straight-forward, this album is the vanilla among tubs of cookie dough/cherry/chocolate snap-studded.
Perhaps we were hoping for a tad more. With repeated listening, the album sounds uneven, as if begging for a remix. A nod to disco—between 1980 to 1995?—is clear enough, but the sonic imagery swings from the droning beat/base of Lipps Inc.’s Funky Town in 911 to the faint Shibuya groove of Sour Candy (with Blackpink guesting and its vogue-able chorus). Lady Gaga, as critics have constantly reminded us, can sing. Yet, most of the tracks depend, again, on what sounds like vocoder-tweaked vocals to ventriloquially transmute her singing into some robo-high expression. Repeatedly heard too are bass lines and electro-riffs that we have come to associate with a certain anthemic, hip-swaying, head-bobbing pop that the tribe of Bengs and Lians enjoy.
Albums drenched in dance beats could be an antidote to the present climate. “This is my dance floor I fought for,” Lady Gaga sings on Free Woman (with a chorus that reminds us of Ultra Naté’s 1997 hit Free). At a time still a lock down for many, listeners may share her dance floor too. Chromatica is, for a generation of quarantined party-goers, the soundtrack of Zoom happy hours.