Ever since her musical debut in 2008 with The Fame, Lady Gaga has wanted to soar as a legitimate art pop musician, but with her latest release, Joanne, she’s fallen flat on her face.
As one of the biggest pop stars in music today, Gaga certainly isn’t lacking in pizazz. Her career began unlike most pop stars, when she dropped out of NYU’s CAP21 program, a training conservatory for professional musical theater, at 19 to pursue her own career. Ever since then, she’s found nothing but success, selling more than 27 million albums and touring around the world in the most bombastic of fashions. She may be known for her ridiculous outfits and bold statements, but with her latest LP, Gaga has toned down her image and sound, trying to bring attention to her impressive old school vocals for a sort of rebranding of her music and career.
Gaga has opted to completely change her aesthetic and pivot to country music. Some might call this bold and spontaneous, but it’s actually quite calculated. Her more subdued appearance and previous album Cheek to Cheek, which featured vocal performances with traditional American pop singer Tony Bennett, lead to Gaga toning down her image and focusing on the content of an album rather than the appearance. In reality, Gaga is still her flashy self, taking on a more subdued and fashionable version of her past eccentrics.
Joining Lady Gaga for this endeavor is Mark Ronson, a man who produces cookie-cutter pop hits with ease. For Joanne, he took on the role as executive producer, attempting to craft an organic album by mashing together a massive list of collaborators. Everyone from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker to Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Florence Welch finds their name on this list. Taken alone, each of these names bring hope for the album to blossom, but together it’s confusing why Ronson chose such an eclectic list of musicians when he was clearly targeting an old school Americana sound.
This beefy list of collaborators helps Joanne in certain spots, but hinders it in others. “Hey Girl” shines with Gaga and Welch’s voices meshing well, and the backing
instrumentation plays into their subtleties nearly perfectly. The album’s first single, “Perfect Illusion,” benefits from Parker’s synthesizers, giving it an atmosphere no other track on the album has. Others fall flat, specifically Homme’s guitar work on “Diamond Heart,” which failed to find a comfortable place in the mix.
Beyond the occasional shining moment from another artist, Joanne fails to show off Gaga’s artistic talents. For a woman with such a powerful voice, Gaga made some poor decisions by including weak earthy and ethereal instrumentals on every single track, failing to match the intensity of her vocals. Synthesizers are used far too often in background roles, creating strange churning and bubbling noises that have nothing to do with the main instruments. In a way, this new style is forced down your throat, and it’s hard to stomach.
It’s obvious Gaga’s changed appearance is just a facade. With Artpop, it was clear Gaga wanted to be recognized as a true artist rather than just a singer. She may have failed in that instance, but Joanne was her chance to come back and find an identity beyond the edgy pop songwriter she’s known as. Yet looking past the guise of her pink hat, Gaga’s supposedly deep and poetic lyrics mirror those of her previous releases.
Her music is still incessantly pandering, and she contributes almost nothing to the modern pop formula to make this album worth listening to.