equality factor: lyrically empowering mental health-anthems
artistic collaborations: Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK, Elton John
based in: New York City, NY
label: Interscope Records
On Friday, the reigning queen of pop music, Lady Gaga, finally released the long-awaited sixth studio album: Chromatica. The album, previously nicknamed #LG6 by impatient fans comes with highly- concepted gaga- esque visuals, a-list features of Elton John and Ariana Grande, and feminist frank lyrics on mental health and overcoming struggles. What it is missing are the surprise elements, a deeper sense of empowerment, and musical risks we know and love Gaga for.
Chromatica was to be reminiscing of the crazy, married-to-pop music, drag-ish Gaga days of the early 2010s.
As the 6th studio album of Lady Gaga, following the sophisticated and stripped-down 2016 release of Joanne, and the chart-topping, Oscar-winning success of the A Star Is Born-soundtrack, we all knew that Chromatica was going to be reminiscing of the crazy, married-to-pop music, drag-ish Gaga days of the early 2010s. And the build-up to its release on May 29th (originally April 22nd, but delayed due to the global pandemic) was promising. Chromatica's first single came with a colorful music video, high-belting lyrics about love, and an LGBTQ-club-friendly EDM hook. The second single, as well as the "Rain On Me" music video, and the album's cover art invited us into the pink and purple-hued world of gore, love, tears, and 80s Sci-Fi that was to be Chromatica.
With high-pitched violins accompanying the Grammy-winning vocals of two of the most successful women of today's pop music, "Rain On Me" gave us a taste of the retro-inspired pop anthems we expected Chromatica to be. Much like Dua Lipa's 2020 release of Future Nostalgia, we thought we were in for a record full of dancefloor-fillers with empowering lyrics, carried by melodic lightness - think Whitney Houston's peak 80s dance songs. Now that Chromatica is here, we know: yes, it is carried by dance-able beats (courtesy of BloodPop, known for his work on Kim Petras glitzy pop hits). Yes, the lyrics reflect the process of a strong woman overcoming heartache and mistreatment. Yes, Stefani Joanne Germanotta is rocking yet another crazy-genius outfit, alongside Edward Scissorhands-esque gloves. Yes, she is Gaga again. But does she deliver the musical effortlessness, creativity, and inventiveness that we know and love her for, as demonstrated on "The Fame", "The Fame Monster", "Born This Way" - and even the controversial Artpop? Unfortunately, she does not.
Chromatica kicks off promisingly. A one-minute-long orchestral intro invites us into the world of 2020 Gaga, dramatically building up to a set of 13 new songs and a total of 3 instrumental interludes. The first full-length song "Alice", Gaga takes on the role of a woman searching for Wonderland - a fun song with a hopeful message. The song's steady beat effortlessly carries us through the next two tracks, the album's only pre-release singles. On "Rain On Me", Grande and Gaga sing about overcoming pain, smiling through the tears, and dancing through the rain. Then follows "Free Woman", lyrically one of the most powerful tracks of the album. Here, Gaga addresses overcoming abusive (professional) relationships. "This is my dance-floor I fought for", she sings. This song points to the overall theme of the album.
It seems as though Chromatica is the soundtrack to the hard-won ecstasy and self-celebration Lady Gaga has been dreaming of for so long. So far, so empowering!
While the first third of the album has nice moments - lyrics that make you throw your fist up in the air and make your freedom heard, beats that you cannot help but nod to, and nostalgic "Born This Way" synthesizers - it keeps you wishing for more. On the edge of your seat, Chromatica builds up anticipation for something surprising. An acoustic piano track breaking up the EDM pattern, like "Dope" did on Artpop, maybe? Or what about a soulful saxophone moment? Hell, even a strange "Mah-mah-mah-mah" like on "Pokerface" would be appreciated. Unfortunately, none of these things happen. Until the 16th song, Chromatica pretty much stays on one note, only broken up by the refreshingly lighthearted "Sour Candy" and the bittersweet voices of BLACKPINK. Yes, "Sine From Above", the Elton John collaboration serves a memorable moment, too - but not necessarily a good one. While their voices harmonize, the track, crediting 13 (!) writers are incredibly overproduced and simply trying too hard to be both uplifting and melancholic, both Elton and Gaga, both classic and new-age.
Perhaps the most refreshing moment of Chromatica comes with its final tune: "Babylon" is a vogue-fest à la "Black Jesus Amen Fashion", a sonic outsider in a one-note compilation of songs. With its witty lyrics, oddly combined elements, and playful attitude, "Babylon" tries the least of all songs of "Chromatica" - and scores. It ends the album on a high note, a "YAAAS QUEEN" that reminds us that the weird, crazy, and surprising Gaga is still in the Lady.
What might have contributed to the heavy, one-note feel of Chromatica could also be linked to its production process. Heartfelt lyrics of pain and suffering, freedom, and empowerment lose their authenticity over a repetitive EDM beat. And a record produced primarily by white males does not exactly embody female empowerment. Surely, Gaga did team up with some of the most skilled beat-makers of today's music scene - but as a woman on in control, at the top of her game and with perhaps the most extensive resources, we at music is her passion believe that she could have added a certain female factor or a hint of color to this record.
A record produced primarily by white males does not exactly scream female empowerment.
Among the album's long list of producers, only one female (that is not Gaga herself) is found: Morgan Kibby, an American singer, and songwriter based in Los Angeles, California. Among the songwriting credits, we find slightly more diversity, 5 of 25 are women, one of them a person of color. Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Nija Charles, Morgan Kibby, and Madison Love - those are the only women credited for an album that among other topics revolves around female empowerment.
Overall, Chromatica is a fun compilation of songs to vogue, dance, and drink to in quarantine, but it is not one the kind of album we would have expected from an empowered woman of Gaga's caliber. Perhaps there was too much pressure to bring the gaga inside a sophisticated artist back after she had accomplished just about anything by toning it down for a while. Bringing your sorrows to the dance floor and shaking them off is a noble concept - but not without the edge, sense of humor, and lightheartedness that Gaga often proved she can deliver.
Lady Gaga is back - not at her strongest, but we are curious to see what comes next.
To summarize: can we dance, vogue, scream our lungs out to Chromatica? Hell, yes! Nevertheless, this sixth studio album leaves room for more empowering productions, more inventive melodies, and lightheartedness. Lady Gaga is back - not at her strongest, but we are curious to see what comes next.