Revisiting ‘Joanne’.


Streamline Records, Interscope Records

The cover of Lady Gaga’s fifth studio album, ‘Joanne’.

Mason Montano, Music Editor

On this day, American singer-songwriter and actress Lady Gaga was expected to drop her highly anticipated sixth studio album, Chromatica, however, it was unfortunately delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so as we wait for a new date to be announced, I thought we could take a moment to revisit her previous record, Joanne — an album that won the hearts of critics and the general public while creating a divide within her fanbase.

After the nuclear fallout that was the backlash surrounding her controversial 2013 album, ARTPOP, which was panned for its heavy electronic, EDM-inspired sound and bizarre lyricism, Gaga was left feeling depressed and jaded by the music industry and nearly quit music altogether, but thankfully, she decided to stick around, and under new management, began planning her next move.

The negative reception of ARTPOP resulted in Gaga ditching the avant-garde outfits and flamboyant public persona that she was known for at the time in favor of a new direction that was noticeably toned down both sonically and visually.

In September 2014, she released a collaborative jazz record with American singer and painter Tony Bennett called Cheek to Cheek that consisted of covers of classic songs from the Great American Songbook, and although rather unexpected, the album received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Gaga’s vocals, and it later won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2015.

Throughout the Cheek to Cheek era, Gaga swapped out her usual outlandish costumes for elegant evening gowns and took on a more mature public persona, and the record as a whole showed the world that there was so much more to her than what meets the eye, which would be further confirmed by her incredible performance at the 87th Academy Awards in February 2015 when she paid tribute to English actress and singer Julie Andrews with a medley of songs from American musical drama The Sound of Music.

Additionally, she made her major television acting debut in October 2015 when she starred in the fifth season of American horror anthology television series American Horror Story, American Horror Story: Hotel — a role that won her the award for Best Performance in a Miniseries or Television Film (Actress) at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards in January 2016 — and she wrote an original song called “Til It Happens to You” for The Hunting Ground — an American documentary about sexual assault on college campuses in the United States — that was nominated for Best Original Song at the 88th Academy Awards in February 2016.

Following the immense success of her sophisticated new image, Lady Gaga released her fifth studio album, Joanne, in October 2016 as a stark departure from the dance pop and electro pop sound of her previous work. 

Intended to invoke the 1970s with its simplistic cover art, Joanne is a country and soft rock-driven record that sported stripped-down, guitar and piano-based production; raw, unfiltered vocals; and deeply personal lyrical content and showed a side of Gaga that the world had never seen before.

The album is centered around themes of family, relationships, mental health, and friendship and was largely inspired by her late aunt, Joanne Stefani Germanotta, who passed away in 1974 at the age of 19 due to complications from lupus — an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue throughout the body.

Joanne’s death had a profound effect on Gaga’s family, and although she died over ten years before Gaga was born, Joanne is an extremely important figure in her life. Not only was Gaga named after her, as her birth name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, she has the date that she died tattooed on her left arm, and she dedicated her debut album, The Fame, and its accompanying tour, The Fame Ball Tour, to her.

The title track is a direct tribute to Joanne sung from the perspective of Gaga’s father, Joseph, who was very young at the time of her death and struggled to grapple with the reality that he had just lost his big sister. It’s a highly emotional work of art that Gaga described as the “heart of the record” and showcased her brilliant songwriting skills.

Another notable track is the second single, “Million Reasons” — a country ballad with a double-meaning that, on the surface, appears to be about a strained relationship and wishing to leave a partner, however, the less obvious interpretation is that it’s about Gaga wanting to leave the spotlight after the ARTPOP era but staying upon being reminded of her fans and how much they love and support her.

Other standout tracks include the autobiographical opening track, “Diamond Heart” — a rock banger about Gaga’s career origins that references her old job as a go-go dancer, her sexual assault at the hands of a music producer, and her father being tough on her growing up; “Angel Down” — another country ballad about religion and the Black Lives Matter movement that was inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin; and “Grigio Girls” — a tribute to her friend and former creative consultant Sonja Durham, who later passed away from breast cancer in May 2017.

Joanne was met with positive reviews from critics, who praised Gaga’s vocal abilities and vulnerable songwriting, helping her regain her footing in the mainstream pop world and earning her more respect and appreciation as an artist, but while it was positively received by critics and the general public, the album was polarizing among her fans, the Little Monsters.

The majority of them loved the new direction and accepted Gaga’s artistic growth, while others viewed Joanne as a major disappointment and hated the fact that it wasn’t a pure pop record. They hated that it was different and refused to see past their biases, thus preventing them from being able to appreciate the music at all, and a small sector of them even went as far as declaring Gaga a “flop”, leaving her behind and seeking out other artists to satiate their hunger for pop.

Fast forward to the present, Gaga is returning to her pop roots with Chromatica, and I find it very interesting how the same people who were calling her a “flop” during the Joanne era are suddenly all excited for Chromatica. Honestly, if you’re one of these people, then not only are you ungrateful and fake (nor are you a true Little Monster), you don’t deserve Chromatica, and the fandom is better off without your negative energy.

At the end of the day, Joanne is an incredible body of work and a pivotal moment in Lady Gaga’s career that allowed her to reclaim her crown as the modern-day Queen of Pop that deserves way more respect because without Joanne, there would be no Chromatica.

Stream Joanne on Spotify: 

Gaga as she appears in the press release photos for ‘Joanne’.