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If prospective listeners want to know what to expect from Lady Gaga’s fourth studio album, ARTPOP, they need not look further than the cover. The pop artist commissioned New York architect Jeff Koons to design the eclectic display, which features Gaga sitting naked in her signature blonde wig behind a shiny blue ball. Like the album itself, ARTPOP’s cover projects modernity, nebulousness and ambition.
Gaga has frequently used her music as a platform for social activism and cultural provocation, which is as true of ARTPOP as it was with her former release, Born this Way. But with such high aspirations, the new album may have provoked the wrong audience. Many critics feel weary about the musician’s 15-track feat, questioning the vivacity and intention of ARTPOP, out Nov. 11.
In her latest attempt to redefine or otherwise revitalize the genre, the musician has met a divided body of critics in this week’s What the Critics are Saying.
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“Gaga is grasping more cultural trinkets than ever before,” Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz writes. And while her more intricate tracks, “sputter out before Gaga can carry her vision through,” the critic contends that “even the weakest moments” are deserving of listeners’ appreciation. “ARTPOP is imperfect,” Lipshutz allows, “but so is its creator.”
Other critics like Time’s Chris Bosman are less accepting of those imperfections. “Gaga has attempted to remain on the vanguard with only perfunctory musical evolution,” he notes, “giving less and less reason not to fall back on her earlier, more vibrant work.” The personal undertone of her new album, coupled with the artist’s “refusal to experiment as wildly as she once did,” leaves an impression of ARTPOP as lamentably “normal and boring.”
ARTPOP finds Gaga outside of her element, the New York Times’ Jon Pareles comments, mingling “with the kind of performance and gallery artists more likely to be seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music than at an arena concert.” Its elaborate makeup serves as a musical stronghold, “pumping so insistently it sometimes forgets to breathe.” Moreover, Pareles points to the absence of “Lady Gaga’s old conviction that pop … could tell every story she wanted to tell, all at once, trashy and transcendent,” as a main source of the album’s shortcomings.
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“On her fourth album, a great many elements are thrown at the wall — a splatter effect of ideas, acrylic digitals and a few rappers — in an effort to re-establish brand Gaga as some luridly necessary cultural force,” the Guardian’s Kitty Empire resolves. Despite its efforts, however, “there’s no killer blow in on ARTPOP,” leaving Gaga teetering on her pop pedestal. As other critics have noted, Gaga seems to have bitten off more than she could chew, juggling multiple ideas without “really settling on a preference.”
With “lofty goals” of artistic inventiveness, ARTPOP “comes off as vapid artifice, with Gaga relying on familiar dance grooves and nonsensical lyrics that may be provocative but convey very little,” says the Associated Press’ Nekesa Moody. While the moments are far and few between, the new album resonates most powerfully “when it seems like we’re hearing something that gives us true emotion from Gaga, or Stefani Germanotta.” And Moody speaks for many critics, branding ARTPOP as “a piece of pop art that ultimately fails in its mission.”
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