September 1, 2013
On Lady Gaga’s iTunes #SWINEFEST, ARTPOP and Haters
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 Jackson “hee-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.
Thank you, Gaga — that made my night.