Lady Gaga’s style has always been whatever she wants it to be.
Her early 2010s success started with a pure-pop master class in Born This Way (2011). She stayed along that road — or at least on the outskirts of it — in ARTPOP (2013), then, a year later, drifted off into jazz in Cheek To Cheek.
Joanne (2016) explored soft rock. A Star is Born (2018) crossed lines between country and pop, highlighted by one of the most successful movie soundtrack hits of all time in “Shallow.”
After a delay, Gaga’s latest album, Chromatica, was released on May 29.
I was curious about what direction the album would take. Gaga’s forays away from pop never reached the level of success or had the staying power of her early work. “Shallow” felt to many like a revival of her career, giving her lasting chart-topping success that hasn’t been seen since “Born This Way”. If the goal with this album was to top the charts, sticking on the traditional pop route would’ve been the safe way to do that.
Clearly, I should’ve known that Gaga wouldn’t take the safe route. Chromatica is the closest thing to traditional pop that she’s released since ARTPOP, but it still sounds different than anything you’ll hear from another major artist.
Her last two radio successes — “Million Reasons” and “Shallow” — are slow, heartfelt works that lend themselves well to a karaoke party. There’s nothing close to that on Chromatica. Every song on the album is meant to dance to, teetering between EDM and pop elements.
If you dive deeper, you’ll find that the lyrics read much closer to a ballad than a club anthem. The album is split into three sections, with orchestral interludes leading into high-energy instrumentals. The contrasts are interesting, but it’s a lot of fun to listen to.
“Rain On Me”, Gaga’s collaboration with Ariana Grande, has the makings of a song that can stay in radio rotations for the rest of 2020. The other singles from the album, “Stupid Love” and “Sour Candy”, also capture that energy.
“Enigma”, my personal favorite, showcases Gaga’s incredible vocal talent with a powerful hook. “911”, “Fun Tonight”, “Replay”, and “Free Woman” have all received praise and appeared on high-profile streaming playlists.
If you listen to any pop-based radio on Spotify for an hour, you could hear three or four of these songs. None may reach the heights of her biggest hits, but, considering her past three albums (including A Star Is Born) have produced only a handful of successes, Chromatica is a win for Gaga.
The beauty of Chromatica is that it works at all levels. You don’t have to dig deep for the contrasts and caveats in order to have fun listening to it. If you decide to immerse yourself in it, you’ll find plenty of messages that speak to you.
It’s weird, it’s new, it’s anything but relaxing; lots of words can be used to describe Chromatica, but it’s Lady Gaga at her best, and that’s enough to make it worth a listen.