Lady Gaga recently released her latest album, Joanne, a dedication to her late aunt. With the biggest gig of her life last weekend, the Super Bowl, she has proved time and time again her relevance in the music industry. Her rise to fame was through pop music, with her first hit “Just Dance” in 2008. Over her entire career, she has racked up an impressive 14 top ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and four number one albums on the American Billboard 200 music chart. More recently, she has changed directions and released Cheek to Cheek, a jazz album with Tony Bennett, and sung classics like “That Lady is a Tramp” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing”. Parting from that music style, Joanne went in an entirely new direction for her: country and rock.
Her lead single from the album was “Perfect Illusion”, a rock-infused anthem about a love interest that hurt her deeply by being deceptive and dishonest. It debuted and peaked at #15 on the American Hot 100, and charted worldwide in the Top 40. The lyrics portray a complicated relationship; Gaga repeatedly states in the chorus “ It wasn’t love/ it was a perfect illusion/ mistaken for love.” She sings this part with extreme passion and feeling, highlighted by an interesting key-change in the chorus at the song’s finale, as the emotion and strength of her her voice results into a powerful track overall. But, that’s not to say that the song doesn’t have its downfalls; the song sounds like an unfinished product, and its repetition of the chorus can get redundant and frustrating. Many critics can agree that this is not Lady Gaga at her best.
Fortunately, the album has a ton to offer, and there are six tracks that particularly stand out and are an improvement from the imperfect lead single.
“Sinners Prayer” is a terrific track; its strong bass line, guitar, piano melodies, and Gaga’s strong, distinctive voice all come together for this diamond in the rough. The lyrics discuss Gaga’s flaws, but wanting her man to love her despite the imperfections: “Hear my sinner’s prayer/I am what I am/And I don’t wanna break the heart of any other man.” The first chorus is simple, yet effective, and the song continues to come together beautifully until a climax at the end when Gaga sings an octave higher. The song may seem ordinary at first, but after a few plays of this country-tinged track, the listener is intrigued and wants more listens.
“Million Reasons” was the album’s second and most successful single; it peaked at #4 on the Hot 100, and charted within the Top 40 in Australia, Canada, the UK, France, Italy, and Spain. The song is a ballad discussing a broken relationship. “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away/But baby, I just need one good one to stay.” It is a simple, yet extremely effective track that emphasizes Gaga’s vocals, an intriguing piano melody, and quiet percussion. The chorus is catchy, the lyrics are genius, and Gaga is raw and honest; it is the best ballad she has ever produced.
“Joanne”, a song mourning her Aunt, explores death and the affect it had on Gaga. “Take my hand, stay Joanne/Heaven’s not/Ready for you.” It starts off with an acoustic guitar, and stays melodically simple. Quiet percussion is added, but unlike “Million Reasons”, it strays away from relying on piano. Lady Gaga’s voice shines here again, and the pain and loss in her voice is apparent. The song may not delve into new territory, or be on the same level as her best work; but is it terrific in its own right, and proves that less can be more.
One of the best collaborations of her career, dedicated to the late singer Prince, “Hey Girl” is unique. Both the voices of her and Florence Welch mix beautifully to recreate a toned down retro sound with some presence of the keyboard in the background. “Lady is it lonely?/ I been callin’ out your name/Tell me that you need me/’Cause I need you just the same.” The ambiguity of the song is evident, which is why many people love is so much, it is easily relatable. Although the song seems like an oddball in the album, it is very easy to get into and to feel the groove; it’s definitely one of Gaga’s best.
“Come To Mama”, deeply influenced by Bruce Springsteen, has a positive message to spread. The goal of Gaga in this song is to promote peace, “people need to come together and stop fighting over the same ideas we’ve been fighting over 100 years.” The added drama comes mostly from the way Gaga chooses to sing the chorus; holding her notes a couple or more seconds at a time, making the tone feel very passionate. “Well, I say the rainbows did more than they’ve ever done/So why do we gotta fight over the same ideas?/ We’re talkin’ the same old stuff we have been all of these years.” The song really showcases Gaga’s voice as an artist; however, it can’t be compared to any of the others in the album because the background voices make it seem more 60’s motown rather than country.
The opening track of the album,“Diamond Heart”, is a tribute to her teenage years. The song is upbeat and feels like a song you could listen to on a roadtrip with your friends. Gaga doesn’t hold back with this song as she even mentions being raped during the time she was a go-go dancer. “Out of school go- go’n for a hundred or two/Some asshole broke me in/Wrecked all my innocence.” Throughout the song, Gaga acknowledges that she isn’t perfect but her heart is pure. The term ‘diamond heart’ is a metaphor to show her audience that she has maintained true to herself all through her life and career. The song is very catchy although, for the most part, the lyrics are repetitive and a little predictable. On the other hand, the beat is not so predictable and gives a good balance to a standout track.
Joanne showcases Lady Gaga in a completely different way, and is much different than what a listener would expect from the over-the-top artist. It appeals to everyone, and continues to sell consistently. It may be a very good influence for the future of mainstream music, and stray away from the tiresome, repetitive pop formula many songs have conformed to lately; this terrific effort shows that sometimes less is more in music. Gaga hit all the marks with the album and will continues to impress keeping us on our toes for her next album.