Justice for ‘ARTPOP’.

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Streamline Records, Interscope Records

The cover of Lady Gaga’s third studio album, ‘ARTPOP’.

Mason Montano, Music Editor

The 2010s have come to an end, and it’s time for us to reflect on all of the great music that we received over the decade and to also pay our respects to all of the amazing albums that the mainstream let flop. I watched a great many flawless records tank over the past 10 years, not because of a lack of quality on behalf of the artist but because of a lack of taste on behalf of the general public.

Now, I could go on forever about albums that I love that the mainstream’s lack of taste let flop, however, there’s no other record that gets me as worked up as the absolutely tragic mistreatment of an iconic masterpiece that deserved way more than it got: American singer-songwriter and actress Lady Gaga’s third studio album, ARTPOP.

Described by Gaga as “a celebration and a poetic musical journey”, ARTPOP is an exploration of the “reverse Warholian” phenomenon in pop culture, flipping the term “Pop art”, which is an art movement that emerged in the mid-1950s that saw creatives making artistic works out of popular images, such as American artist and director Andy Warhol’s 1962 piece Campbell’s Soup Cans, but rather than making art out of pop, ARTPOP’s goal was to make pop from art, combining experimental influences with contemporary sounds to create a whole new kind of hybrid.

ARTPOP was Gaga’s most ambitious project to date, and planning for the record began shortly after the release of her previous effort, Born This Way, in May 2011. The majority of the album was written and recorded during the aforementioned record’s accompanying tour, The Born This Way Ball, throughout 2012 and while Gaga was recovering from a hip injury that she sustained on tour during the first half of 2013.

ARTPOP was nothing like Gaga had ever done before, as the album sported heavy electronic production inspired by EDM and rave culture that was intended to hold an intentional “lack of maturity and responsibility”, juxtaposing the deep lyrical content, which explores themes relating to fame, sex, and self-empowerment through various abstract metaphors, innuendos, and references to Greek and Roman mythology. 

More personal topics like her own sexuality and mental health are also addressed throughout the record, and Gaga explained that the hard sound was meant to portray her “pain exploding through electronic music” in an “orgasmic”-like manner.

During the recording process, she repeatedly expressed her excitement toward ARTPOP, calling it her first “real” effort and that the record emulated a “phoenix rising from the ashes”, reflecting her newfound confidence in her songwriting ability. She also stated that ARTPOP is, and will always be, her favorite album that she’s ever made.

Unfortunately, the general public did not share her enthusiasm, and ARTPOP was very misunderstood upon its release in November 2013, hitting every possible obstacle that you could imagine.

To start, the EDM genre had not yet found its place on the mainstream music scene and was still considered by many to be an underground style of music. Because of this, ARTPOP was viewed as foreign when compared to other albums released around the same time, which held a more contemporary pop sound that the general public was able to more easily digest, such as American singer-songwriter Katy Perry’s third major-label album, PRISM, and American singer-songwriter and actress Ariana Grande’s debut album, Yours Truly.

The artistic goal of ARTPOP was confusing to the average listener, as many people didn’t know what “artpop” was even supposed to mean, and the entire message of the record flew right over their heads. This enigmatic vibe turned a lot of people off from giving it any sort of validity, and as far as they were concerned, ARTPOP was just another “weird” thing that Lady Gaga was doing.

The mixed reaction from the public resulted in Gaga’s label, Interscope Records, losing some of their faith in her and consequently stifling her creative freedom. During the Born This Way era, she was granted total control over its direction due to her massive success following her previous records, The Fame and The Fame Monster, but for ARTPOP, she wasn’t allowed to do nearly as much as she wanted to for the era.

Originally, ARTPOP was going to have an accompanying mobile app where fans could experience the music, make their own “ARTPOP creations”, interact with other fans, and get access to exclusive content; including unreleased songs, like the fan-favorite tracks “Princess Die”, which had been previously performed live at The Born This Way Ball, and “Brooklyn Nights”. Although it was released alongside the album in November 2013, it had very limited features and was later removed from the app store the following year due to poor reception.

ARTPOP was also supposed to be a visual album with a music video for every song. The video for the opening track, “Aura”, was rumored to be the continuation of the infamous “Paparazzi” / “Telephone” series, which to this day remains unfinished, as only two videos were ever released during the ARTPOP era — “Applause” and “G.U.Y.” — neither of which continue the story.

The most anticipated scrapped ARTPOP concept and one that Gaga’s fans, the Little Monsters, still mourn to this day was the possibility of ARTPOP being a double album. A sequel titled ARTPOP: ACT II was rumored to have been scheduled for release sometime in 2014, and while Gaga even stated that there was “a strong possibility [she would] release another volume of ARTPOP, no such album ever surfaced. R.I.P. ARTPOP: ACT II.

The overall inconsistency of the ARTPOP era came off as “messy” to many fans, who were fed up with Gaga’s broken promises, and if that wasn’t enough, the era was also plagued by controversy, mostly stemming from the fact that the second single, “Do What U Want”, was a collaboration with American singer-songwriter and musician R. Kelly, who has been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct over and over again for the past 20 years, paired with the lyrical content of “Aura”, which uses a burqa — a traditional Islamic garment worn by women that covers their entire bodies except for their eyes — as a metaphor for hiding one’s true self in conjunction with sexual innuendos.

Released as a single in October 2013, “Do What U Want” is an R&B and electro pop-inspired bop that on the surface appears to be about nothing more than sex, but it’s actually a self-empowerment anthem, as the track is Gaga’s response to the critics, who have done nothing but negatively critique her, her artistry, her body, and everything else about her since the beginning of her career.

Long story short, “Do What U Want” is not really about sex, and Kelly’s verse always felt out of place since it’s purely sexual. His presence on the track caused many people to question Gaga’s character as well. Why would she work with an alleged sexual predator? In January 2019, we finally got an answer:

Following renewed concern over the song in response to Lifetime’s docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, Gaga released a statement explaining that she “deeply” regretted working with Kelly and that her thinking was “explicitly twisted” by management at the time that the song was recorded before announcing that “Do What U Want” would be removed from all online and streaming platforms as well as new CD and vinyl pressings of ARTPOP starting in November 2019.

Thankfully, a remix featuring an alternate verse from American singer-songwriter and actress Christina Aguilera was released in January 2014 and is still available for streaming, thus preserving the track and not letting its message be tainted by the abhorrent actions of a man.

Moving on to “Aura”, the track leaked in late 2012 as “Burqa”, and Gaga was criticized for seemingly sexualizing burqas for the sake of shock value, however, if you actually pay attention to the lyrics, you would see that “Aura” is an empowering feminist statement that uses satire to criticize oppressive patriarchies, such as those in the Middle East. It’s a reclamation of one’s self-worth as a woman, and they hate to see it.

Due to the misunderstanding of ARTPOP’s concept and purpose, its general underperformance, the stifling of her creative freedom, and the many controversies that surrounded the record, Gaga felt discouraged, defeated, and as though her artistic vision was no longer appreciated.

This led to the ARTPOP era ending almost immediately after the conclusion of its accompanying tour, artRAVE: the ARTPOP ball, in November 2014, and Gaga quickly abandoned ARTPOP to promote her collaborative jazz record with American singer Tony Bennett, Cheek to Cheek, completely changing the direction of her career and taking on a much softer sound and image that she would continue with her succeeding projects, Joanne and A Star Is Born, to great mainstream success.

In November 2019, she infamously tweeted, “I don’t remember ARTPOP”, seemingly expressing a lack of association with the record entirely to the dismay of many fans, and what made it worse was the crocodile tears from mainstream music outlets — the same people who shredded her for the record in the first place, calling it “incoherent” and “half-finished”.

In a perfect world, the mainstream would have taste and Lady Gaga would remember ARTPOP, but unfortunately, the general public is a tasteless mass of sheep who push mediocre artists that put the bare minimum amount of effort into their work to the top of the charts while letting talented, creative, hard-working artists flop.

ARTPOP deserved better.

Stream ARTPOP on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2eRJUtI7nXrQ5uYQ7tzTo9?si=tPUD8LFyTgqbFNWi-OCyzQ 

Watch the ARTPOP short film: https://youtu.be/d1jHhJavMik 

Gaga in the promotional short film for ‘ARTPOP’.

This article was originally published in January 2020 and later revised in May 2020.