Lady Gagas Chromatica Is the Pop Album for the Lost Summer of 2020 – The Ringer

Posted: June 1, 2020 at 6:42 am


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The savvy Lady Gaga fan in 2020, when confronted with a new song called Fun Tonight, knows enough to flinch. Because it is a latter-day Lady Gaga song; because it is 2020. Im not having fun tonight, goes the chorus to Fun Tonight. Right. Thought so.

The vibe is downbeat electro-pop. (If youre still obsessed with Ally, her A Star Is Born characterand why wouldnt you beits caught halfway between the bubbly frivolity of Why Did You Do That? and the stern grandeur of Shallow.) The lyrics range from Wish I could be what I know I am to I feel like Im in a prison hell. The songs intended target, according to savvy Lady Gaga gossip hounds, is her ex-fianc Christian Carino. (She is now reportedly dating a New York Times editors ex-boyfriend.) You love the paparazzi, love the fame / Even though you know it causes me pain, Gaga laments, evoking past glories, now drained of their glory, or at least their frivolity. Even her idea of a prison hell has changed dramatically since she recruited Beyonc for the Telephone video.

Gaga launches the chorus of Fun Tonight with a lovely, anguished falsetto swoop, the words borderline nonsensicalIm feelin the way that Im feelin, Im feelin with youthe anguish nonetheless palpable. The end result is neither the best nor the saddest song on Gagas sixth album, Chromatica, out Friday. The best songand Shallow excepted, her best and hopefully biggest pop hit in nearly a decadeactually is the saddest. But dip anywhere into this record, even the fussy orchestral interludes somehow, and the bawling-on-the-dance-floor pathos will bowl you over the same way it bowled her over.

In touting Gagas glorious return to full-blown dance pop after the meta rockist provocations of 2018s A Star Is Born and the minivan-ad turbo-Americana of 2016s actually quite beguiling Joanne, the Chromatica rollout had a soothingly chaotic throwback quality to it. The goofy tweets. The wanton messiness. (The leak-plagued emergence of bombastic lead single Stupid Love was a saga unto itself.) The gaudy Grimes-before-Grimes sci-fi flamboyance of the early visuals, like the cutscenes in a Japanese RPG whose battle system you could never hope to understand. The COVID-borne release delay (which also nixed a planned Coachella sneak attack) was a disquieting new wrinkle, certainly, but it felt great, in a nostalgic future-shock sorta way, to be once again bewildered.

With reliably brash production from BloodPop, Burns, Skrillex, and other proud maximalists, the resulting record, which spreads 16 tracks across a relatively restrained 43 minutes, has a surface outrageousness youll certainly recognize, but a relatable bone-deep melancholy too. Unlike, say, Dua Lipas Future Nostalgiaa superior pop album but a far more discordant self-quarantine listen, given its raw yearning for communal dance-party releaseChromatica is the perfect summer album for the Lost Summer of 2020. Im completely lonely / Please dont judge me, she entreats us amid the trance-adjacent freedom-via-isolation jam 1000 Doves; her idea of typical pop-star self-empowerment this time out is bellowing, Im still something if I dont got a man / Im a free woman, on Free Woman. Its unsettling that she even felt it necessary to point that out.

The flamboyance and the desolationEven when you feel 6 feet under, you can still fire on all cylinders, Gaga told Zane Lowe in February, describing her studio mind-set as Im miserable, Im sad, Im depressedare productively at odds from the start. Im tired of screaming at the top of my lungs, she announces on Alice, her voice ever-so-slightly robotic, the uptempo house chug evoking a Wonderland with little wonder in it. At times this restraint, this hint of steely resignation undercuts the wackiness, which is a shame: The blaring neo-disco of Replay could serve to be, lets say, 50 percent wilder, and the understated Sour Candy, costarring the disruptive K-pop girl group Blackpink, could be, lets say, 200 percent more disruptive. But when she gets the uppers vs. downers balance just right, look out.

The one-two punch of 911 (her monotone extra robotic, her mentality extra self-defeating) and Plastic Doll (her falsetto swoops extra anguished) is especially bruising. The self-medicating lyrics to 911 range from Turnin up emotional faders / Keep repeating self-hating phrases to Wish I laughed and kept the good friendships; the hushed bridge to Plastic Doll begins with her chanting, Tell me, who dressed you? / Whered you get that hat? / Why is she cryin? / Whats the price tag? There is a hint heremore than a hint, reallyof the dehumanization that pop stardom demands, the disastrous private life that a boldface-celebrity lifestyle inevitably leaves in its wake. She sounds more sympathetic on this topic than Drake does, anyway.

But Rain on Me, a triumphant pop-star summit with Ariana Grande, is the peak that expertly doubles as a valley: Its coming down on me / Water like misery, Gaga wails, before the monster hook kicks in. Its anthemic but frightfully vulnerable, an instant pool-party classic with the troubled soul of a drained pool. Its her best pop song since, what? The Edge of Glory? The hug she and Grande share at the end of the video is awkward in an awfully endearing way. Your first hug with someone youre not currently living with, however many months from now that transpires, will look a lot like it.

Very little of this has that Gaga-specific WTF quality youre likely craving: Its the difference between chain-smoking and fashioning all your cigarettes into a pair of rad sunglasses. But Sine From Above, a late-album collaboration with Sir Elton John, gets closest to liftoff, emotional and otherwise. The theme is musical inspiration as the balm for personal devastation: Then the signal split in two / The sound created stars like me and you, the two divas sing to each other, consolingly. Before there was love, there was silence. Its egotistical in an awfully unguarded way.

But the most jarring and empowering and weirdly thrilling moment in the song belongs to John alone: He thunders, When I was young / I felt immortal! with more ferocious catharsis than youll find in all of Rocketman. It would simply sound ridiculous if you didnt totally believe him. Sine From Above wraps up with an abrupt, colossal breakbeat, and the disorientation is pleasurable indeed. There are lightning flashes of the classic, heedless, fearless Lady Gaga throughout Chromatica, and all the more thrilling for how brief they are, and all the sadder for their brevity.

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Lady Gagas Chromatica Is the Pop Album for the Lost Summer of 2020 - The Ringer

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June 1st, 2020 at 6:42 am