Art usually stands on the opposite end of the spectrum to pop, spelling the dichotomy between critical and commercial tastes. So what’s ARTPOP supposed to mean? An offering borders on both art and popular culture, or something that appeals simultaneously to both camps?

In the case of Lady Gaga’s latest album, the answer is decidedly the latter.

The fourth studio album from Gaga has topped the charts in several countries worldwide, including the major markets, the US and the UK, having sold more than half a million copies in the US alone.

Critics were, however, divided as ARTPOP has racked up an average score of 61 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 30 critics’ reviews, with many noting that she has failed to make an impression with this record.

30 months since her Born This Way sophomore album, ARTPOP sees a statue of the nude 5-time Grammy Award-winning singer, a homage to Botticelli’s masterpiece Birth of Venus, snippets of the artwork also appears on the cover.

Of course, it hardly registers as a shocking to anyone familiar with the Mother Monster (an term coined by Lady Gaga fans), coming from someone known for her repertoire of fashion shockers, from the classic meat dress to penile high heels, or the exceptionally controversial music video to worldwide 2009 hit “Telephone”. Not to forget, she also appeared at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) and subsequent performance of “Yoü And I” in drag.

So what does Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga has left in her arsenal that’ll continue to make the world stop and pay attention? ARTPOP of course.

The record features the same producer who helmed Born This Way, DJ White Shadow (aka Paul Blair). Other popular names sharing production credits include, David Guetta and Rick Rubin, as well as newcomers Zedd, the mastermind behind sleeper hit “Clarity”, and 19-year-old French producer Madeon known for “Finale” and “Technicolor”.

In a post on Twitter by the entertainer herself, ARTPOP was described as an album that “trips from ‘genre to genre’ with a soulful electronic narrative”.

She adds in 2 separate tweets from 25 Oct, “I composed ARTPOP to be a full experience … it was designed to be a trip from start to finish.”

Perhaps, by ‘trip’, she is referring to the old adage of creativity having no limits. Picture a painting – it houses so many elements in various parts of the canvas, and all of them, when looked as a whole, comes together and forms a complete picture. This is what ARTPOP seems to be getting at.

However you try to classify it, this album, like its predecessors The Fame Monster and Born This Way, features catchy choruses that eventually become everyone’s earworm, regardless of the content.

Whether the 27-year-old’s chanting about this particular body of work ‘We could/ we could belong together (ARTPOP)’ in the title track, or belting ‘My heart might break without you / Might not awake without you / Been living low from living high for so long’ in “Dope”, but it’s hard to not croon the choruses of the various tracks after a while.

The album’s strength is rooted in just how well the tracks convey their different themes, both visually and sonically. For example, ARTPOP opens with “Aura”, which offers a unique Middle Eastern vibe that was strangely sinister.

Sun Ra-sampled “Venus”, on the other hand, is a space-rock jam laden with space-related words, especially in the bridge where Gaga as the goddess of love, orders Mars to “serve for the stars”, quizzes Uranus on her famous behind, and mentions the other planets of the solar system (even Pluto gets a mention). Even tribute anthem “Donatella” was spot-on in its portrayal of the haute couture experience and the persona of a rich yet rude blonde who is Vice President of the Versace Group effectively.

“Venus” was the singer’s virgin attempt at producing a track by herself. While her inexperience shows, with aurally dissimilar first verse and pre-chorus, imperfectly mastered vocal tracks and awkward sound effects, the effort is commendable and we believe a sign of greater things from the self-proclaimed Goddess of Love.

Though the album definitely has its highlights, its flaws are admittedly blatant, giving the impression that they were deliberate – almost as if to enhance the mood or the theme of the song.

Not only was the grunting on “Swine” almost painful to the ear, the vocals on this track sounded odd, almost as though they were raw takes and little mastering has been done. Intentional or not, it was undeniably a letdown especially since it was one of the more sonically promising tracks when first played at the UK iTunes Festival.

Hip-hop-colored ‘Jewels N’ Drugs’, a 4-way collaboration between Gaga herself and rappers T.I., Too $hort and Twista, sounded disappointingly disjointed, and provocative number “Sexxx Dreams” would’ve been one of UrbanWire’s favorites with the playful-sexual lyrics as well as the grinding chorus, had it not been for its cramming of backing vocals.

ARTPOP may have kept her fans, dubbed affectionately as Little Monsters, waiting for 2 and a half years, but the result is something that shows a lot of thought has gone into it, with plenty of references to art through the centuries, and most importantly, her musical progress.

We admit that this album isn’t groundbreaking or a masterpiece, but it’s confident, very indicative of Lady Gaga, and it stands well on its own. Considering everything that she has done in 5 years, she is arguably the epitome of art in pop culture.

Rating: 4.1/5
Language: English
Genre: Pop
Record Label: Interscope Records / Universal Music
Release Date: Nov 11
Label: NC16

Track List
1. Aura
2. Venus
3. G.U.Y
4. Sexxx Dreams
5. Jewels n’ Drugs (ft T.I., Too $hort and Twista)
6. Manicure
7. Do What U Want (ft. R.Kelly)
8. Artpop
9. Swine
10. Donatella
11. Fashion!
12. Mary Jane Holland
13. Dope
14. Gypsy
15. Applause