The fifth studio album of mother monster comes at a conjecture where pop music has been divorced from its instrumentalities; and quite literally so. The major releases in past few years have been dominated by electronically generated music, pitch correction and auto tuned vocals. It’s true that there have been few exceptions, and God they have been good, but the larger idea of pop music in the contemporary era seems to be moving towards this centre of dance music that is alienated not only from the conventional instruments but also from the personal storytelling. So folks, it’s true that pop music is constantly in the flux but what’s also undeniable is the movement of this flux in only one direction – the lyrical booty touche.
So what has this pop apocalypse dawned upon us? Well, the new album Joanne answers just that.
Ackbar Abbas, a renowned cultural theorist, came up with this idea of disappearance while studying the transitionary stage of the city of Hong Kong. He observed that the constant flux of the city under colonialism coupled with its globalised existence, created this identity of disappearance where no identity of Hong Kong claimed to be permanent. It was only when the British chose to hand over Hong Kong to a much obsolete and conservative state of China that the city began to realise the importance of making an identity for itself to resist such unwelcomed change.
Lady Gaga’s Joanne builds upon the same idea of disappearance. The blinding movement of contemporary pop music towards this unrelatable space of art where every display is mere objectification of sleazy sexual fantasies. The songs have been removed from poetical lyrics and are now stuffed with conversational slangs. This flux of pop music only realises its disappearing identity when Gaga’s Joanne dawns upon it.
Joanne not only brings back live recording and acoustic instruments back into foray but also displays a personality that develops through the songs within it. Named after Gaga’s late aunt who died of lupus at a very early stage of her life, the title track exemplifies the lingering grief of her father in the simplest of melodies. In addition to this, songs such as Angel Down which draws inspiration from Trayvon Martin and Diamond Heart that screams wreaking of childhood innocence by the doings of a rapists speak lengths about the character of the album which is not much diverged from Gaga’s own history of assault and rejection.
Apart from being personal, Joanne exemplifies the versatility of a true pop legend. From country to funk to soul, the swinging beat of progression provides every facet of the artist in the purest representation. So, how does Joanne works up with the audience?
The most common criticism that comes to this album is the idea that most of the songs are under produced or poorly recorded. This observation reflects nothing but the gravity of destruction that contemporary pop audience has underwent due to artificially tuned and over produced pop records. The lack of vocal strength and the use of lip syncing in award shows are the biggest signifiers of the cosmetics of contemporary pop music. Therefore, in such circumstances when you have an artist like Gaga or Sia who dare to go the natural way, popzillas find them to be under produced, musically weak or simply ‘weird’.
The second criticism carries the seed of its own bafflement. I’ve noticed many people saying that the vocals were top notch but they didn’t feel the song. So, you are accepting the vocal perfection of a person but still calling her a bad singer? Well, what does a singer supposed to do apart from getting her notes right? I think the lack of rationality here is quite self explanatory.
The third and the most confusing criticism comes from the Little Monsters themselves who say that since they expected another Fame Monster, Gaga’s new album fails to deliver. I believe that this is precisely the conservatism that hinders an artist’s growth to self celebratory legend stature. Artists often give up to this popular expectation and compromises on their creative instincts and artistic aspirations just to pander to the market. That’s precisely what Gaga is moving away from. Joanne is not only her record but also her rebel. It’s a statement she proudly makes about giving a space to an artist to realise her true potential, enjoy the music making process and develop a personal relationship with her fans. And talking about personal relationship, well the dive bar performance at NYC shall be the resting argument of my case.
Well, this entire construction of chaos and confusion that has been built around the new album comes from this restlessness that has been generated in the pop music patrons. They have been shown, quite unexpectedly and unapologetically, all what that has been compromised in creating this identity of disappearance. It’s hard for people to objectively analyse this album and the music that it offers for it becomes hard for them to divorce Lady Gaga from the fluidity she carries. So, even if Joanne stares at contemporary pop music right in the eye, it would be hard to expect any career defining sales for this one. We all know LG lives for the applause, so what if it comes from the people who actually matter.