Disclaimer: I love Lady Gaga. I have done, ever since she debuted actually. But I am not completely catching the #JoanneVibes.
Like night and day, black and white, or a Beyoncé and Britney live performance, Joanne is the exact opposite of any previous efforts as Lady Gaga. With a glaring lack of obvious radio hits, this record is a genuine “music not the bling” experience. Akin to ANTi, Joanne is Gaga’s figurative middle finger to what made her famous in the first place – catchy dancepop. This was inevitably bound to happen, after the humiliating commercial failure of 2013’s ARTPOP and 2014’s lauded jazz album with Tony Bennett, Cheek to Cheek. And so it was out with the EDM synths, artRAVEs, and reverse Warholian expeditions, and in with the stripped back country sounds, dive bar shows, and authenticity – Joanne.
Little Monsters will instantly recognize that Joanne is a rather quintessential Lady Gaga record – unforgettable melodies encompassing personal revelations (“Some asshole broke me in / Wrecked all my innocence“) coated in witty metaphors (“Her love for him ain’t cheap / But it breaks just like a knockoff piece from Fulton Street“) and wordplay (“I can’t wait to rev you up / Faster than you can say ‘Ferrari'”). There are flickers of the pop weirdo her fans have found solace in for so long, such as “Perfect Illusion”‘s eccentric vocal performance and confessions like “Feels good to be lonely” and the quite blunt “I am lost“. There’s even a connection to “Bad Kids” (“I’m a nerd, I chew gum and smoke in your face“) from Joanne’s older sister Born This Way, in the “Whole pack like Marlboro / Blow it in your face” imagery from “A-Yo”.
But is this album finally revealing the real Lady Gaga? No, not really.
While the obvious theatrics and outlandishly wacky outfits have departed, welcoming the rebooted ‘authentic’ Lady Gaga persona is tough because it is exactly that – a persona.
“Angel Down” is a palpably raw moment of truthfulness from the singer, but what about the pastel pink fedora, the nonchalant clothing, the Southern twang in her vocals? It’s all just another meticulously calculated costume, no different to wearing a dress made of meat or hatching herself from an egg. Joanne, despite its artistic strengths, feels just as hollow as ARTPOP in that sense. This is (ironically) where Joanne falls flat, despite its tremendous efforts to painstakingly prevent that very thing from occurring.
Joanne is yet another ‘perfect illusion’ of Lady Gaga. Another image. Another facet of a phenomenally talented musician named Stefani Germanotta.
Listen to Joanne on Spotify and see if you agree: