On Lady Gaga’s iTunes #SWINEFEST, ARTPOP and Haters

by Bradley Stern


I’ll be the first to admit it: I really wasn’t rooting for Lady Gaga — from Born This Way up until now. I wasn’t a “hater,” per se (I was never so childish as to call her “Lady CaCa” or anything), and my shade wasn’t always undeserved: “Born This Way” sounded like “Express Yourself” (as an overly defensive Madonna fan, I was not having it), the hype heaped onto the record (“the album of our generation!”) was over-the-top, her psuedo-intellectual speeches about fame and money and hating money yet wearing expensive designer clothes and Reverse Warholian Experiences were (and still are) a major turn-off, and the music failed to spark the revolution it seemingly promised. (I also don’t take kindly to being told “you have to like it, she wrote it for us!” re: “Born This Way” — shout out to my ex-boyfriend!)

That being said, I’ve turned the corner with the ARTPOP era, especially after tonight.

Gaga’s iTunes Festival performance was a major pop moment. It was a real event! She pulled off onstage costume changes, premiered exciting new music, surprised everyone with a live reveal of not one, not two but three rappers on “Jewels and Drugs” and put on some of the weirdest, most thrilling and off-kilter performances that you didn’t see at this year’s VMAs, which only seem to become more conservative with each passing year. (Twerking causing a global controversy? Girl, please.)

UPDATE: You can watch the showcase in full HQ at the bottom of the post.

“Aura,” as it turns out, doesn’t actually sound different from the demo version that leaked. The performance was appropriately insane and weird — some sort of torture porn-meets-Kill Bill samurai fuckery that only Gaga could pull off. The chorus alone remains a heaven-sent pop dream.

The Fame was marked by excess, glamour and superficial fun. “MANiCURE” is a stomper that returns to that place lyrically (sort of), like “I Like It Rough” thrown into a massive Born This Way glam-rock blender. The overdriven vocals. The handclaps. Perfume. Necklaces. Dresses and curls. It’s relentless and cheesy and sick all at the same time. SO catchy, too. I wanna be man-i-cured!

“Jewels and Drugs” was the night’s biggest surprise, as Gaga dove into the trap scene — bringing three rappers along with her (TI, Too $hort & Twista.) Clearly someone’s hopping on the “something more urban” train with Britney, and I’m not really mad about it. The big beat breakdowns are pretty sickening and I always appreciate a good foray into hip-hop-infused fun, but it was perhaps the night’s weakest moment musically — it felt a bit like what I imagine a lesser serving from Mileybird‘s Bangerz would sound like. A bit try-hard, although it may sound better on the record.

“ARTPOP,” the album’s title track, which sort of sounds like a more melodic version of Selena Gomez‘s “Love You Like A Love Song,” sort of explains what ARTPOP is — anything! There are some sweet Michael Jacksonhee-hees!” thrown in above the heavenly strings and stomping electronic sound. “We could, we could belong together…ARTPOP!” It’s thoroughly “album track” status, but it’s solid and the beats are delicious and lush nonetheless.

“Swine.” The big moment. The “honest” moment, when Gaga ripped off the wig and revealed her real hair (as free as her hair, etc.), and got fucking messy. Now, I’m not going to get into Gaga’s authenticity — that’ll lead down a long, rambling train of thought involving blogs and “I’m from New York!” and Lana Del Rey — but I will say this: It doesn’t matter to me how “real” Gaga is anymore. From her spoken intro, it sounds like she genuinely went through some shit when she was younger, which sparked the creation of “Swine.” (And no, I don’t think it’s inspired by Perez.) I loved when she said (or acknowledged, really) that the hair and make-up and funky outfits were a part of masking the pain. This was Gaga, raw — and it’s fucking epic.

The pig masks. The hiccuping electro-rock crunch. The screaming. The crashing drums-turned-almighty EDM breakdowns. The song is probably Gaga’s most “punk” moment ever by her own standards. It’s unhinged. The performance was some weird Resident Evil-meets-Cirque du Soleil-meets-Yeah Yeah Yeahs-meets-flower child protest insanity. It feels like a scream, shout and let-it-all-out moment that will go down big in concert. I loved every minute of it.

“I Wanna Be With You,” sadly, is not a Mandy Moore cover. However, it’s still very good! This is the album’s “Speechless,” a piano-led ballad dedicated to a special someone who knows how to make Gagaloo’s #HEARTPOP. “I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and alone.” It’s a ride-or-die anthem. She’s got this performance style locked down to a fine art(pop) — everyone loves ’em a good PianoGa number.

Of all the new songs, “Sex Dreams” is my immediate favorite — obviously. After that one-minute preview alone, I was totally sold. It’s a filthy sex romp that conjures Janet Jackson and Vanity 6 in all its ’80’s R&B glory, with a little bit of Madonna‘s “Erotica” thrown in with the spoken verses. (Not in the “Born This Way” debacle way, but rather in a “Oh cool, it reminds me of this song that I love!” sort of way.) It’s the perfect anthem when thirsting for that unattainable D.

And the performance — oh! The cheeky magnifying glass! The ridiculous Barbarella hair! Just everything.

And then there was “Applause” — the only song the crowd really knew was coming — which was given a completely silly, gentlemanly pipe-and-top hat makeover. (Also, is that an alligator skin coat?) The choreography was even tighter than the VMAs performance without all the wig swaps, and she looked really gorgeous too. A solid way to wrap up a big, big night.

I can’t think of too many artists who would premiere nearly half their new album months early during a live showcase, but Gaga did it: It was raw, unhinged and spectacularly insane. The songs sounded amazing live and the performances were all powerful and electric. I’m still absorbing.

As someone who was definitively not rooting for her, I almost feel like I need to apologize for becoming so earnest. Maybe it’s because I tend to root for the underdog, but she doesn’t deserve the backlash. At least, not now. Not during this current era. Basically, what you have here is a very good pop star making really, really exciting pop music, singing live and dancing well. As a fan of pop music, why wouldn’t I be on board?

If you want, you can continue to pick her apart. (Hi, Azealia Banks!) However, in my opinion, that’s a boring hobby best left to Twitter trolls, and it’s really no longer relevant. Genuine criticism is one thing (if a song’s no good or a performance sucks, then by all means, let’s hear the argument), but in my eyes (and ears), she’s doing no wrong musically.

Of course, I am A LOWLY BLOGGER and not a TRUE MUSIC SCHOLAR, but still.

Thank you, Gaga — that made my night.

  • thenewnormal

    What you heard is clearly different then what I heard but that’s okay. Nothing out of the ordinary or extraordinary. Glad you (and many others) enjoyed it. I’m hopeful the rest of the album delivers what I didn’t get tonight. Then again, I’ve never considered myself anything other than a casual fan of hers. I do appreciate her music though and will forever give props where props are deserved. However, tonight was def. not one of those nights (other than this being a cool way to showcase new music, maj props!)

  • thenewnormal

    Oh, and Azealia Banks is a joke. I would suggest her taking several seats but judging by her career, or lack thereof, she’s already sitting down.

  • Samuel

    You lost me here. I only loved 1 song: Swine, not enjoying the try hard mess.

  • Marco

    your worst review ever

  • theonewithkatie

    This is how you write a review!!! Constructive, none of that completely bashing bullshit. You didn’t love everything, but you said it in a professional and respectful way. Thank you!

  • Tristan

    im gonna be honest. i usually like to lay down and listen to an album carefully. listening to half an album like this… well, it’s not my thing apparently. The (weird) performances are too damn distracting, her boring speeches killed the hype before each song and the LQ does not help AT ALL. But, oh well. I do like the songs overall. J&D was indeed her weakest moment imho. It’s pretty obvious that the album will give us different musical moments (the melodic ARTPOP, the agressive Swine, the hysterical MANiCURE…) and it appears to be more down to earth compared to BTW. Aura / Sex Dreams are my faves so far.

  • Alex Goldschmidt

    Nailed it except I found the title track and the hip-hop stuff was a little too much. Swine, Sex Dreams and I Wanna Be With You were incredible.

  • Michael Košut

    I’m like a firecracker I make it hot….

  • Eric

    This. I want to return to my love of Gaga ala Fame Monster. I just don’t get it anymore.

  • Alex Bell

    As a Gaga fan who has followed you since The Fame Monster, trust me when I say it’s your objectiveness that makes your articles on her interesting. You never bash her but you are willing to tell her off when you think she’s doing wrong. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see you love something she does, because being a fan isn’t involved, it’s just because she did something great!

    I loved the performances and the songs attached to them. ARTPOP’s my personal favourite in both categories, but Swine, MANiCURE and Sex Dreams were also fantastic (I did find J&D awful though). One thing you’ve got to give Gaga though, she’s consistently a fabulous live performer and her music rarely looses quality. Can’t wait for the album now, bring it on Gaga!

    I will add that I think it’s sad to see people expecting you to bash her or drag her down though. Some fans are too firmly stuck in the idea that other artists can’t doo well, as if suceeding is a threat to their own favourite. It’s their own loss, really.

  • http://www.muumuse.com Bradley Stern

    Thanks, Alex. I sincerely appreciate this! x

  • http://www.vertigoshtick.com Vertigo Shtick

    While inside I’m judging you and doing a smug “told you so” dance, I do admire your willingness to keep an open mind and admit when you’re wrong :)

  • dominic halsey

    amazing review MuuMuse i’m so glad i found ur blog it’s amazing:)

  • José Reyes Cortés


  • Michael Speights

    Spot on and SEXDREAMS will be a hit

  • werkdreams

    I’m not surprised. Lady Gaga always has been a great pop star. Was anyone really doubting that? She has proved herself many times with the songs and videos she releases.

    However her little intro before swine made me roll my eyes. Like most of the things she says. Which is why as usual, I really take her great songs and videos and performances and leave the rest.


  • Pingback: Lady Gaga Debuts "Sex Dreams," "Swine" At iTunes FestivalNewNowNext()

  • Pingback: Front Page » Get The Latest Music News | Upload & Share Your News,Music, Pictures, and Downloads | Sign up now for free » Lady Gaga Premieres Several Amazing New ‘ARTPOP’ Songs At iTunes Festival: Watch()

  • Pingback: Lady Gaga Premieres Several Amazing New ‘ARTPOP’ Songs At iTunes Festival: Watch | Blog Post Directory()

  • matthewrettenmund

    I liked it, too!

  • matthewrettenmund

    Azealia Banks should be worrying about her own messy work.

  • Mierzwiak

    I’m a HUGE Gaga fan, but I can’t say I’m happy with everything she says, especially when it’s some pretentious, artsy fartsy crap. BUT I used to it, and pretentiousness is very important part of her persona. If you hear her speaking, or read interview with her, you know no one else could say these things. Gaga is just being Gaga, and she’s very consistent about it.

    And about #SWINEFEST… She made me even more hungry for the album. I still hate the beginning of “Aura”, but the rest of the song is simply fantastic. (Also I’m really curious about it. She said the leaked demo was very early, raw version, but she performed exactly the same thing, so she’s just playing with us or what?)

    “MANiCURE” sounds extremely catchy and has great potential for being successful single.

    “ARTPOP” is a little bit cheesy, but in a very pleasant, positive way.
    “Jewels and Drugs” – I don’t know what to think about it, probably because I wasn’t expecting it at all, but, for what it is, it’s good.
    “Sex Dreams”. Oh God… it’s like a crossover between Godney’s “Touch of My Hand” and “Heavy Metal Lover”. Fucking amazing.
    “Swine”. Weird. Crazy. Original. Different. Great.
    “I Wanna Be With You” is one of those really beautiful songs I could really live without.

    IF there are better songs on this album… then WOW.

  • Patrick O’Brien

    Im pumped for the album and I am not a “Monster”. I live for Britney, but these were very entertaining performances, so the album should be solid.

  • Patrick O’Brien

    Then dont come back! get bent bitch.

  • mariemagdalene

    I’m diggin MANiCURE and Jewels & Drugs. The rest not so much. Here’s hoping that studio versions will grab my heart ;)

  • Joshua Pingley

    I had lost my love for Gaga during the “Born This Way” era, and thought she would never impress me again. But this era she is blowing me away. From the moment I first heard “Applause” I had a feeling Gaga was going to make me a fan again. Beside “Jewels and Drugs” I was thoroughly impressed with every track she premiered. I’m ready to see what Gaga has in store for the rest of this era!

    P.S. Great review, Bradley!

  • Nouvel610

    Great review

  • Monster

    Thank you so much for posting the full performance and for your insightful review. You’ve made this little monster very happy!

  • Pingback: Lady Gaga Premieres Several Amazing New ‘ARTPOP’ Songs At iTunes Festival: Watch | Clubvisor()

  • Pingback: Lady Gaga Premieres Several Amazing New ‘ARTPOP’ Songs At iTunes Festival: Watch topic | My Blog()

  • Luis Gonzalez

    One of your better posts, this from a devoted reader since ’09. Glad to hear you are on board the ARTPOP era!

  • http://www.muumuse.com Bradley Stern

    Thanks — and thank you for reading!

  • Luis Gonzalez

    No problem. Your complete honesty keeps me coming back. Great writing!

  • FND

    From what Ive heard, as a Gaga nonbeliever, I like this better than her pretentious BTW era. Manicure sounds smashing live & I totally felt Love You Like A Love Song vibe from Artpop (not a copy, just similar pace & mood). I dig Sex Dreams as well..its all 80s in the verses and then u get the Daft Punkish french house style music in the chorus. At least musically, Im feeling this 3 for now. That said, she needs to improve her in between songs chatter….some are funny, some just makes me want to stuff a pair of socks in her mouth…yikes. That said, definitely checking out the album to see how these songs sound as studio versions. Still not a fan of hers in general, but I wont turn off the radio…might head bop even if these 3 tunes came on.

  • Szasz Karol

    I’ve been searching reviews of Gaga’s performance from iTunes festival on the internet,wanted to see what others felt about this. I found a lot, but this is the best from all of them…I just wanna say that I’ve read twice, every word of your article. Great!!!
    Thank you!

  • Ryan Abernathy

    This is an article! Well done. This is true journalism. You stated your opinion, and gave the facts. You never said anything about her being ‘over’, ‘washed-up’, or a ‘flop.’ This is how people should write. You clearly stated your distaste for BTW without calling her names, but made the article uplifting for this new era she is starting. Well done.

  • Pingback: Lady Gaga Premieres Several Amazing New ‘ARTPOP’ Songs At iTunes Festival: Watch « Music News, Reviews, and Gossip on Idolator.com()