So I just finished listening to Lady Gaga‘s highly anticipated new album Chromatica, and I’m going to say, while it’s great that she returned to her dance/pop roots via The Fame, by the time I boarded my flight back to planet earth, I was left underwhelmed. I was left underwhelmed because as a listener and a fan of dance music I wanted more.
The sonic and lyrical foundation of Chromatica comes exclusively from Gaga and BloodPop® (Madonna, Justin Bieber), but tracks were passed around to a laundry list of hit-making heavyweights, such as Max Martin, Justin Tranter, Ryan Tedder, Skrillex, Rami Yacoub, Madeon, Axwell, BURNS, Ely Rise and Tchami to give the album that extra sense of aural cohesion.
In regards to the production, I felt she played it too safe to appease her hardcore Little Monsters and the overlords of her label and Billboard. People are calling this a house record when in fact it’s a pop album with flourishes of ‘70s disco, house, new wave and electro.
House music builds and molds itself beyond two and a half minutes (sidebar: a lot of the tracks are relatively short, not giving you enough time to appreciate each track), but I get it. major labels are interested in their artists making them a shitload of money, while their veteran artists struggle to stay afloat in a society filled with short attention spans.
I will say this – Chromatica is her most sonically cohesive album to date (you can’t deny that ARTPOP and Joanne featured some of her most uneven body of work), and she’s well aware that her strongest songs stem from “The Fame,” “Fame Monster” and “Born This Way.” Which explains why she’s returned to familiar territory with the new album
Now there are some songs on Chromatica that stood out to me, but personally I felt they could have gone just a bit further to reach legendary status.
This track which opens the track truly surprised me, because it’s playful, sensual, and I love how she experiments with her vocals over this fierce 90s house track.
I loved the double meaning behind Babylon, and production-wise reminded me of Shep Pettibone’s production, which makes perfect sense why it reminded me of Madonna classics Vogue and Like A Prayer. At one point I had to restrain myself from chanting “Greta Garbo, and Monroe Dietrich and DiMaggio. Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean On the cover of a magazine. Grace Kelly; Harlow, Jean Picture of a beauty queen Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers, dance on air. Besides the clear Madonna inspiration, I can definitely see the queens voguing and prancing to this track on the dance floor
What I love about this cyberpunk electro-pop song is that besides the fact that sonically it gives a nod to The Fame era, lyrically it speaks the universal language of our inner-saboteur. We tend to look at others for our downfall, but the only person who stands in the way of accomplishing our goals is ourselves. Oh, and let’s not gloss over the fact that she gives a vocal nod to Lipps Inc.’s 1980 smash “Funky Town.”
I love how she takes risks with her voice on this track, and the chorus is catchy as hell.
You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not see that this song was tailor-made for her Vegas residency. A great dance track that tips it’s hat to 90s house.
Not to be confused with the Zendaya hit of the same name, vocally Gaga serves the melodrama, and the production reminded me of Mousse T’s 90s megahit Horny with a dash of ABBA. Lyrically she got me with the following: The monster inside you is torturing me The scars on my mind are on replay, r-replay. I don’t know if this was what she was implying when she wrote the song, but from what I got from the track is that we tend to stick around too long in toxic relationships and allow the negative energy of our significant others affect our energy.
This song resonated with me, because so many of us deal with some sort of depression and anxiety. Always remember there will be times when you feel broken and there’s no hope, just hold on and weather through the storm because remember pain, hurt and sadness are temporary emotions.
This is truly a track about female empowerment, and I would go as far as saying Free Woman could be an anthem for the #METOO movement, since Gaga stated most recently in an interview with Zane Lowe that it’s about not letting her past rape define her. “I’m not nothing without a steady hand/ I’m not nothing unless I know I can/ I’m still something if I don’t got a man/ I’m a free woman, oh-oh (Be free)”
While production-wise Chromatica brings nothing new or innovative to the table, I feel it’s an album that will help temporarily take our minds off this pandemic. It’s definitely a record that you can listen to while working out at the gym, but if Gaga is looking for some club play, she may need to outsource this album to some club DJ’s.
If you’re looking for Chromatica to save pop music, you’ll be sadly disappointed. What saves the album are it’s deeply personal lyrics about freedom and and self-empowerment. Also this is the first album where I feel Gaga is confident in who she is as an artist, whereas in her previous work she seems uncertain. Being self assure and confidently articulating what you want comes with growth.
In regards to where pop music is heading, there are the artists who are taking risks and breaking the rules on how to construct a memorable pop hit: Caroline Polachek, Christine and the Queens, Tove Lo, Allie X, Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama, Arca, SOPHIE, etc. I could go on, but we’ll be here all day. Chromatica may be a planet we’ll all visit once in our lifetimes, but not a place we’ll want to stay.