Does anyone know what Lady Gaga is doing? I didn’t before and I certainly don’t now, upon listening to the first song to leak from her upcoming ARTPOP album, supposedly called “Aura” (original reports were that it was called “Burqa,” but really at this point who knows) which surfaced online tonight in some half-finished demo form. It may not be representative of the final song, but still, it’s safe to assume that the bones of the track are here.
And how are those bones? Well, even the fact that I have to continue typing the title ARTPOP out in all caps, feeling stupidly complicit in the ham-fisted neo-Warholian performance art buffoonery that’s become her career, it all just feels demoralizing. As a title, ARTPOP is about as subtle as a falling piano. Or a falling dadaist print of a piano. Whatever.
“Aura” is all of the best and worst things about Lady Gaga amplified. It kicks off with weird filtered vocals, like a terrible Nancy Sinatra affectation, then yields to a Halloween-goofy, dissonant “Ha ha ha” bit, as clownish as “Monster Mash,” before big, brazenly conventional EDM production struts in, tinny and uninspiring. It feels like “Government Hooker,” but messier, less cohesive, and more annoying. Her pronunciation is garbled. Her voice sounds dry. It’s a miss.
And then, just when it feels completely hopeless, she breaks free of all the posturing with a pop hook that’s absolutely transcendent, euphoric and properly enormous, as stupefyingly great a refrain as anyone could desire: ”Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peek underneath the cover? Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?” It’s a magical moment, as terrific as the chorus of “Bad Romance” or any of her other best songs. It proves that she’s still got it, that she’s still capable of creating music that hinges on songcraft over vague political statements and grandstanding — but the finery of that chorus is contaminated by her maddening insistence on being so clumsily artistic in the rest of the song.
Here’s the thing: Lady Gaga will always have her fans who will defend her fiercely, but this is beginning to feel exhausting. Nobody asked for art pop. We just wanted good pop songs. They’re not mutually exclusive; The Fame Monster is one of the best pop releases of the last decade, and its artistic sensibility is cogently drawn and dynamic. This is not. This is weird and frustrating and great and terrible and brilliant and a failure all at once.
Remember when Lady Gaga was just great? Yeah, me too. Maybe “Applause” will be better.
Lady Gaga — Aura
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