ARTPOP: Ten Years of Underrated Excellence
I love Lady Gaga. Anyone who knows me knows that. While my reasons for appreciating her are endless, one album, no, one work of art stands above them all: ARTPOP.
Its release date, November 11th, 2013, caused a shift in the very fabric of the universe. Never before had these levels of slayage ever been reached.
You may think I’m exaggerating, however, one listen to the album makes one forget that it is actually 10 years old. Everything from the production, to the vocals (and especially the visuals) could have been released today to critical acclaim, something that the project lacked with its original release.
ARTPOP was truly before its time. The fusion of different genres that was originally dismayed as a weakness now has revealed itself as the album’s greatest strength. ARTPOP attempted to be anything and everything, and, to an extent, it succeeded.
Right off the heels of one of the most successful albums of all time, Born This Way, Gaga expressed how she wanted to do something more with the art that she creates, saying “I really wanted to innovate from the inside, I had to do something that was almost impossible for me”.
And achieve the impossible she did.
Before I go any further, I advise you to not just listen to the whole album, but also watch the short film that accompanies it. ARTPOP is not just a collection of songs; it is a piece of multimedia art.
Let’s first start with the cover, the most notable feature of which being a naked Lady Gaga herself on the cover and the blue sphere she has. However, that is not Gaga, rather it’s actually a sculpture by American artist Jeff Koons, known for his balloon dog sculptures.
This blur between the art of Gaga and Stefani Germanotta (Gaga’s real name) is intentional, referencing the lyrics from the album’s song Applause: “One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me.” In addition, Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus” is seen on the background, along with Bernini’s sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, falling in line with the album’s general themes of art and Greek mythology.
As the name suggests, this album is about art and how pop culture interacts with it, and just how the pop art movement sought to break away from the norms of the medium, ARTPOP is Lady Gaga’s most experimental album.
The album starts with the track Aura. Fun fact: Gaga’s label originally wanted to release Applause, ARTPOP’s lead single, before the album’s official premier in order to drum up hype. However, because she intended for the album to be listened to front to back, with Aura being the opening track, Lady Gaga herself leaked Aura on the internet.
Small tangent aside, the song first opens with Gaga saying in a creepy tone, “I killed my former and left her in the trunk on Highway 10.” This “former” that she is referring to is her former persona. Long gone is the mainstream Born This Way, Lady Gaga. Instead, she has violently disposed of her and has transformed into something else.
The song continues, with Gaga beaconing the reader to look behind the aura that she has put on and into who she truly is. This concept of “seeing behind the aura” is crucial to understanding ARTPOP.
One of the issues that many critics had with the album was that it was shallow. They said that ARTPOP was nothing more than “squelchy disco,” with one critic saying, “ARTPOP wants to hide that it doesn’t have much to say”.
I find this take utterly idiotic. The idea that catchy club bangers cannot be truly insightful songs is a shallow one.
Aura, a track so essential to the album that Gaga herself leaked it, acknowledges the seemingly simple surface that encases many meaningful treasures.
If these critics took the time to “take a peak underneath the cover,” perhaps they would have a greater appreciation for ARTPOP.
The album continues, and although I won’t be talking about every song, some highlights include Venus, MANiCURE, and Mary Jane Holland.
However, at the center of the ARTPOP universe is the album’s titular song.
In the pre-chorus, Gaga sings “A hybrid can withstand these things. My heart can beat with bricks and strings. My ARTPOP could mean anything”, with that hybrid being a balance between an artist’s wants for their work and what the general public demands of them. As mentioned before, this is Gaga’s most experimental album, and this contemplation over the balance of her wants and commercial success was most likely a conversation she had when creating this very album.
However, not all hope is lost. “We could, we could belong together (ARTPOP),” the chorus repeats, expressing Gaga’s wish for a balance between her art and pop culture.
This is what ARTPOP is about.
What is art for? Is it money? Is it joy? Perhaps some greater message?
Gaga’s answer: Anything. Art is whatever you want it to be. Art, much like beauty, is on the eye of the beholder.
“Come to me, with all your subtext and fantasy,” she sings, acknowledging that consumers of art have their own distinct perspectives and that each person views art differently. However, instead of lamenting this fact, she openly embraces it.
ARTPOP is music about music. It is art about art. And this art is acutely aware of the pop culture that surrounds it.
Gaga knows that this album is kinda crazy, she knows that it might not be the most palatable to everyone. And that’s okay.
During the Born This Way tour, Gaga broke her hip. As she lay in recovery, she began to reflect on what has kept her going. “It was the applause. The applause of my fans kept me going” she says.
You can probably see where this is going.
The lead single for ARTPOP is Applause, a song that may seem vain and self-centered at first, but is really about the thing that kept Gaga going: the fans.
“I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong. To crash the critic saying, ‘Is it right or is it wrong?’” opens the song. ARTPOP was never about appeasing critics. Despite the dream of the two coinciding as described in the song ARTPOP, Gaga knew that her own desires for the album could not also be a commercial success. However, wherever she faces attacks from critics, she knows that her fans will be there to support her.
So here we are, 10 years after the release of ARTPOP.
While support for this album has recently been on the rise, with “Justice for ARTPOP” trending on twitter in 2019, I find it a shame that the true genius of this album has not been realized earlier.
ARTPOP is a unique album in the fact that it is about the album itself. Lady Gaga welcomes those who are willing to listen into her world in order to see where her creativity stems from.
If you come in expecting a mediocre pop album, perhaps that’s what you’ll get. However, if you come in open-minded, you will see the depth of Gaga’s most underrated piece of art.