Lady Gaga returns to dance-pop on new album ‘Chromatica’ (listen)
When it comes to Lady Gaga, you always have to expect the unexpected. She hit the scene in the late 2000s as an anti-pop popstar who was clearly a little "alternative" and referencing things like the electroclash scene in her music (she brought one of her influences Scissor Sisters out on tour in 2010 and 2011), but who was also making very accessible dance-pop that anyone could get behind. That continued through 2013's Artpop (which was only really "art pop" in name), but then just when you thought you might've had Gaga pegged, she released a vocal jazz album with Tony Bennett. If you thought she would return to dance-pop after that, you thought wrong. Her next proper album was 2016's Joanne, which almost entirely abandoned dance-pop and instead found her finding a new co-writing partner in Mark Ronson. Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme played guitar on the fired-up opening track "Diamond Heart." Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, Beck, and Father John Misty all co-wrote songs on it. Florence Welch was the only featured guest vocalist. It was Gaga's "indie" album, sort of, but it also wasn't. As conveyed in the Gaga: Five Foot Two documentary, it was just the album that Gaga really wanted (and needed) to make, outside of the pressures of what major labels and the mainstream expected of her. Two years later she co-starred alongside Bradley Cooper in a remake of A Star Is Born, and her character Ally acted as a near-parallel to Gaga's own career. Like Gaga, Ally was facing constant pressure to fit the music industry's idea of who she should be.
At this point, Joanne and the A Star Is Born soundtrack have firmly established Gaga as an artist who can excel in the stripped-back singer/songwriter format and who doesn't need to return to her dance-pop roots to keep her monstrous fanbase happy. So you might've expected this new album to find Gaga continuing to go in that direction, but again, expect the unexpected. Chromatica is Gaga's first dance-pop album in seven years, and this time she's entirely doing dance-pop on her own terms. Instead of working with RedOne, who produced and co-wrote most of her early hits, she made almost the entire album with BloodPop (who also co-produced most of Joanne with Ronson). At this point, BloodPop is a major pop producer who has worked with Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and Madonna, but we bloggers remember when he was the 4AD-signed, chillwavey Grimes collaborator Blood Diamonds, and he's taken his more "indie" mentality with him even as he became the force behind some of pop's biggest hits. Gaga and BloodPop brought in other electronic/EDM acts like Skrillex, Madeon, Axwell, Tchami, and M83 collaborator White Sea (who co-wrote and produced the album's three M83-ish atmospheric interlude tracks), and together they made an album that's as fun as "Poker Face" and "Just Dance" but feels more freeing and honest.
The album has a little filler, a few generic radio pop moments, and a weirdly misused Elton John guest appearance (there are so many ways a Gaga/Elton John collab could've worked perfectly, and a robotically auto-tuned Elton John over an EDM beat is not one of them), but for the most part Chromatica succeeds at what it set out to do. It's got a handful of cool production turns -- from the clubby house of "Alice" to the Robyn-esque synthpop of lead single "Stupid Love" to some classic '80s Madonna worship on "911" -- and Gaga continues to prove herself as one of this generation's true powerhouse vocalists. She's also proven herself as an artist whose vision is almost always worth trusting. If Chromatica isn't the album you wanted it to be at first, give it some time. Her music always seems to last, even when it's met with initial confusion from fans and critics.
Chromatica is out now via Streamline/Interscope. Stream it and watch the videos for "Stupid Love," "Rain On Me" (ft. Ariana Grande), and "Sour Candy" (ft. BLACKPINK) below.