Long are gone the days where Lady Gaga’s rambunctious image and glitter-bedazzled pop hits dominated the charts like a new-age Madonna. Gaga’s new release entitled ‘Joanne’ (referencing her middle name and late aunt) is a true insight into a more authentic side to the singer and marks a profound reinvention for the singer-songwriter.
Gaga’s third album ‘Artpop’ was released in 2013 to a mixed reception following her colossal debut and sophomore albums ‘The Fame’ and ‘Born This Way’. Following the release of ‘Artpop’, Gaga discussed heavily in the media her depression in regards to the music scene and further expressed a desire to quit the business altogether. Despite this setback, Gaga chose to release a new record entitled ‘Cheek to Cheek’ – a jazz side-project with Tony Bennett, which was released in late 2014. The album marked a wild deviation from Gaga’s typical quirky pop style, and focused more on emphasising her vocal ability and her fondness for jazz and other genres that had remain untouched by the singer. Lady Gaga was showing the world something they had never seen before, and ‘Joanne’, her fifth album to date, is a continuation of this artistic innovation.
‘Joanne’ begins with the track ‘Diamond Heart’ – a triumphant return for the singer which begins with a gentle piano introduction before exploding into an electrifying chorus that only leaves the listener wanting more. Well, luckily for them there is a whole album of surprises ahead. Immediately, one can identify the country influence in Gaga’s new style as she sings confidently “I might not be flawless, but you know I got a diamond heart.” The same tone resonates on ‘A-Yo’ which one could imagine the likes of Dolly Parton preaching before bursting into a square dance routine. ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ takes the crown for the archetypal country track of the album though, boasting the swagger of an artist who has completely rediscovered herself, as Gaga proclaims, “Hear my sinner’s prayer, I am what I am and I don’t wanna break the heart of any other man…” Gaga is back, and frankly she knows the world has missed her.
Diversity is the ethos coursing through ‘Joanne’, with the title track embodying a beautiful folk ballad which almost brings a tear to the eye upon first listen. ‘John Wayne’ too brings a new formula to the table, acting as a collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. The crunchy backing guitar throughout is reminiscent of the desert rock band’s typical hard rock sound and only adds extra flare to Gaga’s new Western-tinted style. The album is dotted with more musicians alongside Homme, including Florence Welch (‘Hey Girl’), Kevin Parker (‘Perfect Illusion’) and Mark Ronson featuring as the record’s main producer. It is clear Gaga wants to reinvigorate her artistic ability individually, but simultaneously branch out and experiment, dabbling with foreign artists and sounds unfamiliar to her.
The refreshing experience that is listening to this album is that what made Lady Gaga such a musical revelation in the late 00’s is still present (as can be heard specifically on the lead single ‘Perfect Illusion’), but what makes her new and relevant now in 2016 is overwhelmingly apparent on every other track. Listeners may deliberate over whether Gaga’s rebirth is ill-founded and or misguided, obscuring the classic eccentric image that defined her rise to fame, however, her ‘little monsters’ (the hardcore fans) will understand that Gaga’s choice to negate her identity and strip back her traditional style in favour of channelling this energy solely into her music, is what makes it more real and relatable than ever before. As the album reaches its end, ‘Angel Down’ closes the show beautifully as the artist born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta sings, “I confess I am lost, in the age of the social. On our knees take a test to be lovin’ and grateful.” Lady Gaga has finally forgiven herself after the muddled and burnt-out release that was ‘Artpop’ in 2013. She has come to terms with the fact music means more than just a one track, streamlined approach. What an artist’s music really means to an audience is the faith to trust one’s self and to be true to who you are deep down, and this philosophy is exactly that of Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’.