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Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP’: A Cry For Help From One Of Pop Music’s Greatest Heroines

Lady Gaga performing during the ARTPOP Ball Tour.
Image credit: proacguy1 on Flickr.

Roar writer Joseph Harrison on Lady Gaga’s iconic 2013 album, ARTPOP.

ARTPOP was Lady Gaga’s third studio album, released in November 2013. The album’s lead single, “Applause”, reached number four in the Billboard Hot 100, while the album later peaked at number one. ARTPOP was followed by “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball”, a 79-date world tour.

Right after the release of her magnum opus, Born this Way, Lady Gaga toured the world with the album’s anthemic pop hits, beguiling audiences with screamed-out lyrics of self empowerment, and the true-to-size castle stage design which acted as their backdrop. She was an unstoppable cultural machine, capable of effortlessly blending fashion, politics, sound and technology.

The world was hers — until it wasn’t. Whilst singing the final song of the set on the Montreal date of the tour, clad in an Armani Privé black suit, she sustained a labral tear of the hip. This tear and hip trauma, which required surgery and the immediate cancellation of the final leg of the tour, also tore her world apart. She disappeared from the public eye, and the Gaga tour de force ceased to exist.

Lady Gaga performing during her ARTPOP Ball Tour in Montreal

Image credit: proacguy1 on Flickr.

Her withdrawal from the public eye, unusual and perhaps worrying to her dearest fans, swapped the usually garish Gaga with a subdued and pensive character who was a far cry from the heroine inhabited during previous eras. During this time, she spoke of becoming an ‘art and pop’ hybrid; thus ARTPOP was born. Her fame, notoriety and public perception became toxic amid label and management disputes, separations, injury, and unresolved trauma from a sexual assault at a younger age. Her world changed rapidly and traumatically around her. ARTPOP became an abstract idea existing above the pain of Lady Gaga’s personal life; the character she inhabited could “withstand these things”, as she cries on the album’s title track. ARTPOP aimed to deconstruct the fame she had fabricated for herself, as well as deconstructing the idea of pop music itself.

The sonic direction of this album is described as “an explosion of pain” aimed at making the listener feel “lighter” after listening. A number of the tracks have rave, trance and dance elements embedded within them, but the oxymoronic lyrical themes reveal a deeply wounded and hurting character. The ARTPOP world shocked critics and fans alike as this colourful display of rave and renaissance art, aimed at disguising sadness, strayed heavily from the freeing lyrical themes in Born this Way. Production from some of the largest names in EDM resulted in sometimes confusing musical themes, but the album ultimately had a relentless sense of self-awareness.

The newly-reinvented and self-aware Lady Gaga then re-emerged from the shadows of recording studios with a fifteen-track record destined to disrupt. Her initial burst back onto the pop culture scene was with a promotional video for “Applause”, sardonically titled “LADY GAGA IS OVER”. In this sudden reappearance, Gaga re-established herself as the narrative mistress and used the cruel press tirade she endured to promote her new single. “Applause”, whilst adored by her fans, struggled to establish the chart dominance of previous singles, and quickly fell out of the top 10. The watching press were quick to encourage a feud between Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, who had released her expressive single Roar two days prior. Gaga’s pop crown seemed to be gracefully handed to Perry, who held the higher chart position in airplay charts, as well as the Billboard Hot 100. The tepid response to Applause and its music video (which had allegedly been strung together within ten days), added to the already apprehensive album release. The experimental nature of ARTPOP did not lend itself to chart performance and audience response was predictably deficient.

Striking the wrong tone, ARTPOP struggled and Gaga’s pain compounded, as critics weighed in on her artistic approach, with polarising reviews and a general sense of public confusion. Following a gruelling global press tour and jarring performances, in which she dressed as everything from condoms to Picasso paintings, Gaga’s explosion onto the scene seemed to be fading as quickly as it emerged. Frenzied rumours began to spread about label execs losing upwards of $20 million; although these rumours were quickly debunked, they gave a sense of the waning power of the Haus of Gaga. The grim irony of the Applause lyrics started to become evident, with Gaga proclaiming she wanted to “crash the critic saying, ‘is it right or is it wrong?’’. Thus ARTPOP documented Gaga’s cries for help in a deeply personal melange of dance, art, pop culture and pain.

Image credit: proacguy1 on Flickr.

Following the ArtRave world tour, Gaga quickly shed the art hybrid she had created and became the new protégée of jazz legend, Tony Bennett. Covering songs from the Great American Songbook, the muted jazz record left the seashell bikinis of ARTPOP behind for a more mature and measured Gaga, who seemed to forget about the trauma of ARTPOP as an amnesiac would.

As the years passed and Gaga was more often diverted into acting endeavours, ARTPOP became merely a bad dream for all involved. Her album Joanne told a story of a dying relative in a majorly stripped-back display, and the mega-hit A Star is Born added more
accolades to an exponentially growing list of success. ARTPOP was forgotten.

Or so it seemed. Despite every effort to leave the trauma behind, fans never forgot. ARTPOP rumbled on in chat rooms and forums often to no fanfare, until, in true ARTPOP style, it burst back into the mainstream in 2021, when after a well-timed Instagram post from executive producer DJ White Shadow, fans became ravenous for Gaga to acknowledge her most ground-breaking project to date, even after the commercial success of Grammy-winning Chromatica. ARTPOP quickly rose in the global charts, scoring number-ones in 18 countries, while a petition for an infamous second volume gained strong traction, garnering over 20,000 signatures in 24 hours. DJ White Shadow led the crusade to resurrect a masterpiece, and Lady Gaga, although seemingly oblivious to any online noise for a long time, finally acknowledged its power in a string of emotional tweets: “The petition to #buyARTPOPoniTunes for a volume II has inspired such a tremendous warmth in my heart. Making this album was like heart surgery, I was desperate, in pain, and poured my heart into electronic music that slammed harder than any drug I could find. I fell apart after I released this album. Thank you for celebrating something that once felt like destruction. We always believed it was ahead of its time. Years later turn out, sometimes, artists know. And so do little monsters. Paws up”. As of writing there has been no further comments on ARTPOP from Gaga or anyone else involved, but this sudden resurgence proves that ‘a hybrid can withstand these things’, and that the artistic power of dance music lives on.

ARTPOP was a cry for help the masses didn’t hear. It wanted to be everything, everywhere, all the time, with a raving rhythm — trying to balance pain with mass market appeal in excruciating difficulty. Now, however, in this near-decade since its release, its sudden resurgence is perhaps a sign that audiences and critics alike should look deeper than wigs and make up, and heed the calls from within an artist’s soul. ARTPOP wasn’t the therapy, it was the trauma we should have cared about.

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