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    One Year On, How Does ARTPOP Rank?

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    Earlier this week, Lady Gaga officially farewelled the ARTPOP era with the last show of her 'artRAVE' tour in an emotionally charged, high energy performance which many believe bested even her highly acclaimed 'The Monster Ball'. Love it or hate it, Gaga's latest era has certainly been a bumpy ride, even more marred by controversy than her first couple of projects. From early song leaks by Gaga herself, to emotional onstage breakdowns over the loss of her manager, to confessions of both drug and sexual abuse, to scrapped duets and music videos, and some of the whackiest outfits that have ever been rocked, the one thing that can be said for the era was that it was never dull. And yet, ARTPOP was always marked - even pre-emptively - as the first time in Gaga's career that she'd truly "flopped". Despite the fact that the album hit #1, featured an early hit in the form of 'Applause' as well as two moderate successes in 'Do What U Want' and 'Dope', and emitted more "YASSS"'s than had ever been heard in pop music before, critics were quick to bash the album as underwhelming, criticizing the "bizarre album of squelchy disco" and describing it as "sexual but not sexy".

    And they may have had a point. We couldn't help but feel slightly let down when, after promising a third part to the trilogy established with 'Paparazzi' and 'Telephone', Gaga delivered a pretty basic music video in the form of 'Applause'; when, after the amazing, energetic new sound she debuted with a remix of Zedd's 'Stache', she returned to safer electro-pop with her lead single; and when the ARTPOP app, which had always been promised as a key part of the album experience, turned out to have about ten minutes of excitement in the whole thing. But how does ARTPOP live up to the hype a year later on? Detached from the excessive fan anticipation, the ridiculous bandwagon of negative criticism, and the endless publicity stunts, what is ARTPOP?

    A pretty good album, if you look at it as a whole. With ARTPOP, Gaga traded in the fresh-faced enthusiasm of The Fame, the dark industrialism of The Fame Monster and the synth-pop cheesiness of Born This Way for a sound which, if not revolutionary, was new and exciting for her. There may be a few sprouts of genericism in songs like 'Donatella' (which, if it fails at everything else, always managed to get an audience on their feet at artRAVE) and 'G.U.Y.' (whose rather interesting lyrics and a fantastic headbanging section at the end was overshadowed by a somewhat lacklustre chorus), but the majority of the album does a pretty good job of offering something fresh yet still mainstream. 'Applause', our first taste of the album, was an electro-pop stomper, but the synths and effects used were different to anything else on the radio at the time; and 'Do What U Want' (which we maintain is probably the best song of the year) offered a throwback vibe that no one had heard in a Gaga album, or on pop music charts, before. Then there's the relentless experimentation in one of the album's highlights 'Aura', whose absolute flawlessness was dulled somewhat by an early leak and some last minute vocal changes; and the rousing, yet creepily detached screams of 'Swine', an angry rejection of rape culture. 'Dope' provided us with a twist on the classic Gaga ballad, with a haunting, raw production and intensely personal lyrics; while it's counterpart 'Mary Jane Holland' worked as a nevertheless somewhat uncomfortable ode to marijuana given Gaga's current circumstances. There's an absolute plethora of experiments with genre and sounds on the album, which explains in part why everyone's favourite song is completely different.

    So why didn't the album work? Part of it almost definitely has to do with the impossible amount of hype placed on the project - with a lot of it, in all fairness, coming from Gaga herself. Promising a "lack of maturity and responsibility" on the album confirmed, for a lot of fans, a return to the The Fame era, as did the blonde bob Gaga brought back for the album - yet the majority of the album lacked that carefree nature, trading it for a colder, more detached comment on a variety of social issues. The album was also under an insane amount of pressure to sell better than her past masterpiece Born This Way, which controversially shipped a pretty incredible six million copies and set up an almost impossible standard. The majority of the songs were also released, in one way or another, before the album, which destroyed some of the fun of hearing them all on release day; with 'Applause', 'Venus', 'Do What U Want' and 'Dope' understandably released as (promo) singles before the album's release, but other songs, such as 'MANiCURE', 'Jewels 'N' Drugs', 'ARTPOP', 'Sexxx Dreams' and 'Swine' being played live, and 'Aura' leaking way before it should have. Even 'Dope' was precursed by 'I Wanna Be With You', which turned out for a lot of fans to be a better song; and the final version of 'ARTPOP' lacked a few qualities that made the live version truly pop. But the main issue with ARTPOP was it's initial concept: one which, while at first sight appearing to be all-encompassing and broad enough to build a project around, turned out to be a little too simplistically pretentious for the tastes of many fans. Gaga claims that everything she's done in her career has been ARTPOP, and it's probably true; but the album had a little too much pop, and not quite enough art; and those art projects promised to revolutionize, like Volantis, failed and sank quicker than a Mariah Carey album on the charts. Gaga's personality, too, was a turn-off for much of the general public; with the fun-loving girl of yesteryear replaced by an intensely serious, often stoned, drunk or high musician who waxed lyrical about an album that possibly didn't quite deserve the praise she herself was bestowing on it.

    Luckily, the album seems to have had little of a lasting impact on Gaga's career. The majority of her core fanbase appears to have stuck by her, and she's tapped into a new market with her top-selling Cheek To Cheek album with Tony Bennett, which provided a much-needed reiteration of her natural vocal prowess. While some of the general public may have jumped ship, we can tell by past comebacks from artists like Rihanna (post-Rated R) and Britney (post-Femme Fatale) that all they really need is a catchy hook to get them excited again. And if it was good for anything, ARTPOP seems to have pushed Gaga to try harder and strive for more, in a more determined, direct way; the meticulously planned 'artRAVE' album launch party has now been replaced by spontaneous, fun live performances with much less anticipation building up for them. Maybe it's true that ARTPOP was a disappointment, as it could never have been the album that Gaga promised; but maybe, just maybe, it was the one she needed.

    Here's hoping for that long-promised Act 2.

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    • By Skinny Legend
      Watch the video version of this article here:

      Unkept promises are hardly a new trend in Lady Gaga's fanbase of Little Monsters. Between cancelled tours such as the co-headlining Fame Kills with Kanye West, scrapped documentaries such as the one promised for ARTPOP, failed collaborations with Britney Spears, Elton John, Cher and Kendrick Lamar, and a variety of random merchandises such as Polaroid photo printers, dog accessories and perfumes, fans have gotten quite used to taking everything Gaga says with a grain of salt and waiting for concrete release dates before they get excited.
      But it hasn't always been this way. Back in 2012, when Gaga's third studio album ARTPOP was first announced, she confirmed that the album would have two parts to it, with each having a staggered release. ARTPOP was released, but it's sequel, the long-awaited Act II, was nowhere to be found. And every time fans were prepared to give up on their dreams of a sequel, Gaga would string them along for another few months with the vague promise of "soon" in an obscure radio interview.
      So on the eve of what will surely be a career-defining Super Bowl performance, we've decided to look back at one of Gaga's biggest unkept promises, ARTPOP: Act II, and revel in the little concrete information we know about it.
      What was ARTPOP: Act II?
      When Gaga initially envisioned the concept for ARTPOP, it was always as a double album. Originally, side A was to be filled with the more commercial pop sounds she was known for, while side B was intended to feature the songs designated as "experimental". As time went on, however, this seemed less feasible as Gaga realised that separating the album into these two dichotomies was contradicting the very concept of the project which was meant to bring them together.
      Despite this, there was a huge amount of material that had been recorded during Gaga's fifth album sessions for the public to consume. Writing had started right after the release of Born This Way in May 2011, and by the time the Born This Way Ball tour had come to an unexpectedly early end due to a hip injury, up to fifty songs had been considered for inclusion. Even more songs were written during Gaga's six month recovery time, which meant that by the time ARTPOP was released in November 2013, over ninety tracks in various stages of development had been written for the album. Some of these were to be released on the ill-fated ARTPOP app that accompanied the projects release, but others were special enough to have their own place on a physical album.
      By the album release date, Gaga had teased that she had plans to release another volume of ARTPOP before its accompanying tour, saying "it could be nice to play both acts on the tour". And ARTPOP: Act II was still a possibility back in March of 2014, when Gaga discussed it in a post-show keynote at the SXSW Festival. "There's many volumes of work over a long period of time that have just not been released to the public because I've chosen to not put it into the system," she said. "Sometimes it's just fun to have records that me and my friends listen to. We love it. We don't care what everybody else thinks. Maybe one day I'll release them. And I have a whole second act of ARTPOP."
      In April of that year, Gaga stated "there's a strong possibility I will release another volume of ARTPOP".
      And then: nothing. Radio silence on the subject. Gaga has never spoken about ARTPOP: Act II publicly again.
      Why did ARTPOP: Act II go unreleased?
      While we don't know what officially dealt the final blow to ARTPOP: Act II, it's a strong possibility that a mixed reception to the albums predecessor and the perception of it as a "flop" brought an end to any plans Gaga or her label had for a follow up: especially with the low chart positions of the albums last single 'G.U.Y.', which despite a big budget music video hit only #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Ironically, ARTPOP as an album did relatively well, hitting #1 and going on to become the ninth best-selling album of the year, despite only having two properly marketed singles. In August of 2014, Gaga confirmed that we would never receive any music through the ARTPOP app following months of waiting. Her statement that she had "moved" on from anything to do with her old management bore an ill omen for the album release, too. Gaga went on to reinvent her image with 2014's collaborative jazz album Cheek To Cheek with Tony Bennett, before becoming a country chanteuse with last years Joanne, and ARTPOP: Act II became just another project to add to the list of Gaga's unkept promises.

      A selection of fan-made covers for the fabled ARTPOP: Act II.
      What songs could have made the ARTPOP: Act II tracklist?
      In an interview with KISS 92.5, Gaga stated that she had recorded around ninety songs for the original album, with only fifteen of them making the final cut. This leaves around seventy-five unreleased tracks that we haven't heard, out of which we have concrete titles for thirteen - a full albums worth. The tracks that were considered for Act II include:
      'Brooklyn Nights': Co-written by the team of DJ White Shadow, Nick Monson and Dino Zisis that made 'Applause' happen, 'Brooklyn Nights' is a nostalgic ode the love of Gaga's life, most likely Lüc Carl. 'Brooklyn Nights' was a contender for the original ARTPOP album until late in the game, with Gaga teasing it in September of 2013 via a Twitter post and rumours swirling that the track was competing with 'Mary Jane Holland' for a place on the album. Legal documents that leaked in 2020 show that the song was still scheduled to be on the album in early October. Later that month, when asked why the song didn't make the cut, Gaga replied, "I wanted to spend more time on it. It will come out [via] the app sometime during the album cycle". While we were eventually left high and dry with the app, which had no exclusive songs on it, the song was leaked in early 2014. 'Maren': This is a title registered onto Gaga's BMI in November of 2012. It's produced by Gaga newcomers Dreamlab (famous for their work with Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato) and John Nation, and possibly references the picturesque coastal county north of San Francisco. 'Nothin' On But The Radio': 'Nothin' On But The Radio' leaked in 2010, but there was doubt over whether it was really Gaga singing until she was spotted blasting the track out of her car in 2012. While fans were initially unsure which era the song belonged to, legal documents that leaked in 2020 show that the song was at one point in consideration for ARTPOP, further confirming the writers as Gaga, Billy Steinberg, Josh Alexander and Paul Blair. 'Onion Girl': Gaga revealed this title in an interview with KISS 92.5 in November of 2013. Produced by Zedd, this song could possibly a reference to Charles De Lint's 2001 novel The Onion Girl, which is named so for the peeling back of layers that occurs to the main character over the course of the book. 'PARTYNAUSEOUS': 'PARTYNAUSEOUS' was originally conceived as a song by Kendrick Lamar featuring Gaga back in 2012. It was planned to be released as a single from Lamar's album but was cut due to creative differences on which direction the song should take. This slow R&B version of the song leaked in 2015. Later, Gaga reworked the track as an EDM-styled interlude for the ARTPOP Ball tour. The song, from Gaga's perspective, details her efforts to make peace with the country of Indonesia, which banned her from performing during The Born This Way Ball Tour in 2012. 'Princess Die': One of the earliest titles written for ARTPOP, 'Princess Die' was first performed on an Australian date of the Born This Way Ball tour in June of 2012, and later became a mainstay of the show. Writing in January of that year, Vanity Fair had described Gaga playing the song for them during their interview: "Gaga went to the piano to play us [...] a song about fame and celebrity death. Even in its rough stages, it has her trademark catchy chorus, and she sang the sad slightly bitter lyrics in full voice." Gaga later teased that the song would be released through the ARTPOP app, but this did not come to be. 'Ratchet': This was a collaboration recorded with Azealia Banks, but was cut from the original record because Gaga found Banks to have a "bad attitude"; it's possible that it could have been rerecorded as a solo venture. We have a small snippet of Gaga performing it live and an official instrumental released by producer DJ White Shadow. 'Red Flame': This was a collaboration recorded with Azealia Banks, but was cut from the original record because Gaga found Banks to have a "bad attitude"; it's possible that it could have been rerecorded as a solo venture. A watermarked version of this song leaked in 2016. 'Sire': 'Sire' is a song written in 2012 and produced by DJ White Shadow. Gaga sang it backstage for fans at The Born This Way Ball Tour in February of 2013, and mentioned that it was inspired by Michael Jackson, who is possibly the revered "sire" spoken about in the title. 'Tinnitus': Gaga revealed this title in an interview with KISS 92.5 in November of 2013. Produced by EDM producer Madeon, the songs title refers to a condition where one hears ringing in their airs, particularly after hearing loud noises on repeat. 'TEA': Written in 2012, this song was initially confirmed for ARTPOP but failed to make the cut. Gaga teased some lyrics on Twitter which went, "It's been oolong/Since I've had a sip and/I get this feeling I need a green detox/The truth will be the winner tonight." 'Temple': 'Temple' was announced in 2013 and was apparently about her love for then-boyfriend Taylor Kinney. "It's about feeling safe with someone so beautiful on the inside and out. The song is about him being able to love somebody who has a fast pace life, and is always on the road." The song was written solely by Gaga and Zedd, as legal documents that leaked in 2020 showed. 'In Like With You': Gaga revealed this title in an interview with KISS 92.5 in November of 2013. The song was proudced by frequent Gaga collaborator DJ White Shadow, who also worked on songs such as ARTPOP single 'Do What U Want'.
      There are several other songs recorded during the ARTPOP section which most likely wouldn't make the cut. 'Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe' was another Kendrick Lamar collaboration which Gaga sang the chorus for. After their creative relationship ended, Kendrick released a solo version of the track on his album, while Gaga later leaked her contribution to the song online. 'Cake Like Lady Gaga' is a joking trap track which was produced by DJ White Shadow and released online for fans. 'I Wanna Be With You' was performed once at the iTunes Festival, and is an early version of the ARTPOP track 'Dope' with completely different lyrics. 'Posh Life' was a demo recorded for TLC and produced by Dallas Austin, written for a dancer named Posh! The Prince who played himself during the 2010 dates of Gaga's Monster Ball tour. 'Stache' is a remix of the Zedd instrumental of the same name which Gaga released for free for her fans online.
      Will we ever hear ARTPOP: Act II?
      Sadly, given that four years have passed since the release of the original ARTPOP, it's doubtful that we'll ever hear the album as it was initially intended. Thanks to ongoing leaks, we've had enough choice selections released to form a small EP of demos that might have made the cut; but most of the truly intriguing tracks like 'Onion Girl' and 'TEA' have gone unheard of for the most part.
      Early last year, Gaga mentioned in an interview that she had heard her fans opinions and considered releasing a compilation album of unreleased and rare tracks, but we've heard nothing more about any such project since. All we can hope is that Gaga's team is smart and prepared enough to release anniversary editions of each of her albums, and that we'll receive a special edition of ARTPOP for it's tenth anniversary in 2023. Until then, we'll have to listen to that live 'Ratchet' snippet on repeat and be content with wondering what could have been.
    • By Skinny Legend
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