music

Anachronisms, Madonna Comparisons and Gaga’s Chromatica

July 15, 2020

Mark Yin

You know that feeling you get when there’s something you thought you really wanted but then the minute you get it, you’re just kinda like “oh” and you’re not really sure if it’s actually what you wanted after all even if it technically ticks all the boxes of what you were looking for but at the same time you don’t know if you’d have it any other way? Yeah, this album was that for me.

To be clear, I liked Chromatica. It definitely ticked a lot of my boxes. My mate and I talked about this on our podcast a while back (shameless self-promo) but after Gaga’s slow departure from dance music and the whole Cheek to CheekJoanneA Star is Born trajectory, we wanted something electrifying again. We wanted The Fame Monster 2.0. We asked for it, and, honestly, we got it. 

In this sense, many tracks feel a little anachronistic-in-a-good-way. The lead single ‘Stupid Love’ sheds away some of Fame Monster’s thematic grittiness (“I want your stupid love” contrasting ‘Bad Romance’’s ever-iconic “I want your love, and I want your revenge”). But it also recalls the slappy, headbanging bassline and bold, exuberant vocals that haven’t seen the top of the charts much since then. When I hear ‘Replay’ I can’t help but think how it would fit so perfectly somewhere between tracks 10 and 15 on Born This Way, and ‘Alice’ is so strangely beautiful in the same way that ‘Aura’ was (gotta shout out Artpop, my personal favourite Gaga album). 

But Gaga has not only returned to her roots; some of the best tracks are actually buoyed by vocals that sonically resemble her later albums as much as the earlier ones. On ‘Enigma’ for example, I hear Artpop’s ‘Mary Jane Holland’ as much as Joanne’s ‘Perfect Illusion’. ‘1000 Doves’, with only a slightly more balladic production, could’ve legitimately been in A Star is Born

I’d even go one step further and argue that the album is so quintessentially Gaga that it might even draw the same old criticisms—it’s not quite as concise as it could be (a lot of the songs are similar enough that there isn’t really a break, and the interludes don’t help much) and it sounds so much like Madonna sometimes it’s not even funny (there’s no way ‘Babylon’ doesn’t sound like ‘Vogue’ to you). 

And all that, on the whole, makes it a solid ‘LG6’. It’s the Gaga album we asked for—nostalgia, anachronistic dance tracks, and career-high production quality—and part of me wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe cut the interludes and, like, two tracks). 

Yet another part of me remains unsated. Maybe we overhyped it, but I don’t think it’s that. It’s a good offering that lives up to the hype exactly because the hype promised nostalgic Gaga, which is exactly what we got. 

But I ultimately think it’s because of this resounding delivery on the promise of nostalgia that there’s just something missing. Chromatica is good because it’s Gaga we’ve seen before, but because we’ve seen it before, it can’t be legendary. Not in the same way.

Think about the zeitgeist of the late 2000s/early 2010s and the role Gaga played in shaping it. She isn’t legendary today just because her music was good then—she’s legendary because, with it, she shocked and she reinvented. She took dance music and put it in a blender, shat on it, vomited on it, ate it, gave birth to it, and that is why she’s beloved. Is Chromatica good music? Undoubtedly. But did it have this effect? Unfortunately not…because it’s already been done before…about a decade ago. By her. 

So maybe it wasn’t that era’s genre or image that we needed after all. Maybe we just needed Mother Monster at her provocative, glorious, taboo-breaking best. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that must put on her. But such is the way of the fanbase that heard her, really heard her, from the beginning.