Saturday, 7 September 2013

Lady Gaga's return at iTunes Festival

So, as you've probably heard by now, Lady Gaga performed at the iTunes Festival in London last Sunday unveiling a bunch of new tracks from her not-that-vaguely-named Artpop. It was also her proper return to the stage (considering the VMA performance only consisted of one song). The big question is, after all the media hype preceding the album release, was it any good? Here's my two cents about it.

Well. The concert is an interesting watch, at least. Opening with the rather catchy "Aura" (whose lyrics the audience, thanks to the convenient leak earlier this autumn, are already familiar with and thus, can sing along to) she really sets the audience on fire. It's clear that she remains celebrated among her fanbase. "Aura" is actually one of the more creative songs out of the seven, and has a great instrumental - although I suppose it's Infected Mushroom, the Israel-based psytrance duo that's to be credited for it. The song has great potential but is ultimately watered down by its terrible chorus and mishmash lyrics.  Second song in the setlist is "Manicure", apparently capitalised as "MANiCURE", which is a handclap-featuring banger that sees Gaga looking for rock credibility. It's not mindblowing, but it's not that bad either.

Then things take a turn for worse: cue the cringeworthy title track "Artpop" (wait, I'm sorry, "ARTPOP") which has the scantily-dressed singer wriggling around while wearing a massive Shakira-styled wig. What the song is actually about I have no idea. I suppose it's about the concept for the album, whatever that might be. But it gets even more awkward with Jewel & Drugs, Gaga's try on creating a gangsta rap tune - yep, it's every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds. She's joined onstage by two featuring rappers (Too $hort and Twista) who, ironically, make Gaga herself sound like the guest vocalist.

"Sex Dreams" has a dreamy intro before turning into a mediocre electropop song with "innovative" lyrics such as "When I lay in bed I touch myself and I think of you". The chorus has potential, again instrumentally-speaking, but the horrible lyrics (repeating of the lines "Making love in my sex dreams") ruin it. "Swine" starts with a Lana Del Rey channelling piano-led intro, before turning into a hard rock power ballad for thirty seconds, before turning into yet-another EDM stomper. The song ends up being a rather messy one, which is a shame since it does have potential. The performance also has Gaga banging a single drum, looking like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum at the candy section. Rumour has it that "Swine" will be rushed as the next single, since her "Applause" wasn't the success she wanted it to be, pitting it against Katy Perry's "Roar" but ultimately losing in the competition. Go figure.

The piano ballad "I Wanna Be With You" is basically just your average piano ballad that she dedicates to her fans. The only thing that makes this of interest is the fact that this is the only time she's seen onstage with no wigs or masks or backing tracks to improve the performance. She leaves the stage only to return a moment later, predictably, with her latest single "Applause".

Some songs were interesting, some just downright awful, but what really annoys me is her stage behaviour - she makes such a huge deal out of herself. For example when introducing the new songs she has a tendency to have endless speeches about two things: self-victimisation and how she loves her fans. First, most artists write songs about difficult issues and personal experiences. Gaga's definitely not the only one. However, most artists let the music do the speaking. She should really take note. So cut down the crocodile tears and get on with the music! Second, like 50% of whatever she seems to say relates to how important fans are to her. Once again, fans are essential to all artists. And I'm sure most artist do appreciate their fans as well. When you just repeat something over and over again it tends to lose its meaning. Furthermore: she seems to view herself as something of a pop messiah with lines like "if we can belong together, maybe my dream will come true and art and pop can belong too". Previously she also claimed to bring art into pop in a 'reverse Warholian expedition'. Um, what? Considering she's aware of Warhol's legacy as a pioneer or pop art surely she knows that he merged pop and art already 50 years ago, bringing it into the mainstream. Reversing this would basically be marginalising it. And surely that's not what she's after?

Musically speaking, the performance has its problems as well. For a singer who once stated she'd never lip sync she does rely quite heavily on the backing track and pre-recorded vocals. No, she's not the only pop star to do that, but isn't the whole point of Gaga to be different from the others? Well clearly she's not. Another problem is how inconsistent the songs seem to be. Take "Aura" for example: the intro has a Pulp Fiction kind of a feel, but then the song turns into a electro basher, and then there's the Mariah Carey sounding chorus. It just doesn't fit together. Same goes for "Swine", it's like she's unable to make up her mind regarding her artistic direction. And the rap number "Jewel & Drugs" proves she's trying just too much to cover all the possible fields and genres. Come on Gaga, it's not about the quantity, it's about the quality. The lyrics are just as inconsistent: "Aura" begins with her confessing she killed a former friend and left her in a car trunk (if "Aura" is indeed the much-talked sequel to 2009's "Telephone", the body in the trunk would be Beyoncé's - too bad, BeyHivers...) but before you notice, she keeps asking a lover whether he'd like to see her naked, and then she sings a bit about pop stardom. Come again? As usual, the songs mostly revolve around Gaga's obsession with fame and sexuality, which does get a bit boring. Her repetitiveness is furthermore evident when she namedrops the album title Artpop in three separate songs. Yeah, we get it already. Then again, subtlety has never been one of Gaga's best assets.

In brief, the songs show she's got potential - she is a talented musician after all. However, she's both trying too hard and sticking too hard to same patterns. Judging by the songs we've heard so far I doubt she'll be able to recreate the success of say, "Bad Romance" or "Poker Face". One thing that is positive though is that at least these songs do not see Lady Gaga shamelessly ripping her own idols off, which is always a plus I guess. Too bad none of the newly unveiled songs just really live up to the hype - none of this is something we wouldn't have heard before.

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