This article was originally published on Popjuice.
To say that Lady Gaga has been a cultural juggernaut would be a grand understatement. The now 34-year-old first had her big break in 2008 with her debut album The Fame, which still retains its legacy to this day. With her theatrical sound and over the top looks, Gaga became an instant pop culture icon.
In the 12 years since then, Gaga has found herself in a much different landscape. She’s done everything from activism to ARTPOP. She’s shown that she can sit with the greats of jazz. Channel her freak flag in a Ryan Murphy fantasy. More recently, the world embraced her renaissance with her role in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born — one that saw her nominated for an Oscar, no less.
And on Chromatica, her 16-track, sixth studio album which drops today, Gaga finds solace on the dance floor once again. Just like all those years ago where she sang “Just dance, gonna be okay”, Gaga’s new rally cry to bring on the rain, a shtick as it is for some, could not have come at a more appropriate time.
Our first introduction into the world of Chromatica is through the strings of opener Chromatica I. Lush and epic like a movie soundtrack, it transitions seamlessly into Alice, which is Gaga’s proclamation to “keep looking for wonderland” despite the struggles in her way. It’s a strong track, replete with French House influences.
Stupid Love, our first taste of the album in February, follows suit. Criticised by some upon its release for being uninventive, the song makes greater sense on the album’s first arc as Gaga goes from looking for the light to embracing love. Then on Rain On Me, she’s ready for the storm. The album’s second single, released a week ago, is already one of 2020′s finest pop offerings, and it feels right as rain.
The dance floor empowerment continues with Free Woman. “This is my dancefloor I fought for / A heart, that’s what I’m livin’ for” — the lyrics, teased by Gaga in her interview with Zane Lowe, see her reclaiming her individuality over a summer-ready beat. It’s a tad reductive, but her commanding vocals save the day here. Fun Tonight, the last song of the first arc, is reminiscent of Born This Way stand-out The Edge of Glory. Though upbeat on first listen, it’s really a heartbreaking reflection of Gaga’s struggles with her mental health.
Next comes the “moment” that has gotten fans talking — the shift from the strings of Chromatica II to the throbbing beats of 911 is truly something else. And where Chromatica I was an introduction to the modern Gaga, Chromatica II is a return to the Mother Monster of old. 911 sounds like a mix of Monster and Starstruck, while Plastic Doll’s stuttering immediately calls to mind Poker Face. Where the album falters slightly is with Sour Candy, a much-hyped collaboration with Blackpink that simmers without quite getting the chance to take off like some other songs on the record.
The next two songs, Enigma and Replay, are definitive album highlights. Enigma is signature Gaga: a rousing three minutes of submission that sees her throw caution to the wind. Replay is that disco anthem we all came here looking for. Switching between different styles of dance pop, producer Bloodpop’s versatility is a true delight on this album.
The final arc of Chromatica features less of a commonality between its constituents than the earlier ones. Sine From Above is an epic piece of electronica featuring Elton John on vocals. 1000 Doves is less effective, and without a doubt the least characteristically Gaga song on the album. But with album closer Babylon following it’s almost as if the singer is declaring: she can do whatever she wants. “Strut it out, walk a mile / Serve it, ancient-city style / Talk it out, babble on / Battle for your life, Babylon” — it’s goofy, unabashed Gaga at her very best, unaffected by leaks and naysayers alike.
Chromatica is a triumphant return to form for Gaga, managing to sound current while incorporating odes to the old Gaga that we first fell in love with. Having flirted with a range of genres over the years, Chromatica is proof that she can still do dance-pop, and do it well. The album comes at a strange time where raves and concerts no longer exist, but if she can somehow turn her pain into a party, what’s stopping Mother Monster from turning the tide in her favour?
Feature image by Kevin Tachman