Pop music in 2013 is, undoubtedly, dominated by women. With huge albums from the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Jessie J and now the return of the infamous Lady Gaga, it’s been a big few months for solo female pop acts.
The male population is represented by the likes of X Factor alumni James Arthur and One Direction, but it’s the women who seem to be dominating both the charts and the press. This, of course, has come with its own set of controversies and discussion topics. Just this week Lily Allen has burst back onto the scene with a damning condemnation of the sexualisation of women, parodying the kinds of images that Cyrus, Thicke et al have been bombarding us with over the last few months.
Lady Gaga always seemed to remove herself from the usual forms of sexualisation. She very often parades around in little to no clothing, but she’s sold it as being for her empowerment, a form of expression that she owned. Perhaps it was her constant bizarreness, but it worked – it does feel like there’s a difference between her in a flesh-coloured bikini with seashells on her breasts on the X Factor and Miley Cyrus in flesh-coloured bikini with a foam finger at the VMAs.
Gaga’s USP has always been her failure to conform. After exploding on to the scene with the relatively tame “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” back in 2009, she’s exploited her fame to bring a weirder, more avant-garde side to pop, and people followed her. Her army of ‘Little Monsters’ lapped up her offerings, her meat dresses, her bizarre performances and all the other weirdness that’s come from her over the years.
Her latest offering, however, lacks the key component that made the bizarre spectacles that accompanied her other albums slightly less irritating – consistently good pop songs. ARTPOP is possibly Gaga’s least poppy album to date.
It’s still pop, but she’s definitely made a bigger show of pointing out the differences between her and her contemporaries. Lead single “Applause” is one of the most standard pop songs on the record – and a good one too. Almost instantly catchy, its accompanying video allowed Gaga to show the other side of her, in a similar way to her “Bad Romance” clip, but “Applause” is a good enough song to carry it. R Kelly collaboration “Do What U Want” is another high point – partly because it’s a classic pop song with a huge chorus and typical sexual themes, but mainly because of R Kelly. Because he’s R Kelly.
“Venus” on the other hand, is almost too difficult to listen to. One of the main questions asked on twitter when Gaga performed the song on the X Factor recently was, “Is she making this up as she goes along?” It’s disjointed and uncomfortable, and feels a bit like Gaga is just trying to see what she can get away with. “Jewels N’ Drugs” is loud and brash, with very little in it to appeal or capture the attention, while lyrically “G.U.Y.” is just completely ridiculous, with lines like “Touch me, touch me, don’t be sweet, Love me, love me, please retweet”. Reactions around the album’s announcement and build up have seemed distinctly lukewarm, and with something this hit and miss, it’s not surprising that people are tiring of Gaga constantly prioritising style over substance.