Chromatica, a perfect neon fantasy


Courtesy of Universal Music Group. 

It’s hard to remember a time when Lady Gaga wasn’t in our cultural presence in some way. 

“The Fame”, her debut album which contained her first hit singles like “Just Dance” and “Paparazzi”, came out 12 years ago in 2008. Ever since then, she’s remade herself countless times and shown her talent in so many forms. Like the smokey jazz chanteuse during her duets with Tony Bennett, the folksy, yet hardened, singer-songwriter period, and her acting role as earnest singer Ally in “A Star is Born” are just a few examples of the role reversals Mother Monster has made. 

One thing she was lauded for when she initially debuted was her mastery and adoration of pop music. She knew her history and could execute it in a detailed and uncommon fashion. But as time went on and she evolved away from that dance-pop circle, many fans of that initial sound were scared she’d never return. But with her most recent release, “Chromatica,” Lady Gaga has not just revisited her pop roots, she’s redefined her pop sound with one of her best albums to date. 

When discussing the album, Gaga described it as exercising her pain into fun, explosive pop music. She goes into further detail in a Paper magazine interview, “… it’s an album Gaga describes as ‘dancing through her pain’… ‘It’s a smack across the face throughout the album’…‘We don’t stop being that happy. You will hear the pain in my voice and in some of the lyrics, but it always celebrates.'” 

Spring of 2020 was the perfect time for “Chromatica” to grace us. It’s the perfect kind of pop music: spaced-out yet overflowing with joyous energy that spills out of the performer to the listener. A building interlude launches us into the album, followed by a ‘90s disco, club banger hinting to Alice in Wonderland called “Alice.” I personally think this song could’ve been moved further down the album, as while it is a bumping club jam that the supermodels of the ‘90s could’ve shown off Calvin Kleins to, it’s a weaker song for opening the record compared to the following tracks on the album. 

Following “Alice,” Gaga jumps right into an updated version of her old pop formula with “Stupid Love,” the first single off the album. Keeping with her legacy, the first videos accompanying the release singles for each new album are eye-catching and memorable. “Stupid Love” was no exception and is probably the most fluorescent video she’s produced. Shot entirely on an iPhone 11, it’s an episode of Buckaroo Banzai set in a desert disco on a Sailor Moon planet. It’s a fantastic video that is only amplified by how fantastic the song is. It’s Gaga spilling her guts into the most simplistic, almost child-like words. It’s a brave feat to say something like: Cause all I ever wanted was love/All I ever wanted was love/I want your stupid love, love.” 

This could make any normal person sound unintelligent. But Gaga owns it, showcases her desire for and sells it perfectly.

Gaga keeps the energy up in the following song, “Rain on Me” with Ariana Grande. This song has that ‘90s club instrumentation, with a slow build up leading into flashy synths, deep bass and piano guided percussion. Gaga also does a nod to Madonna with the spoken-word rendition of the song title before the chorus. It’s like a nightclub itself, bouncing, yet dark and mysterious. That’s the energy that encapsulates “Rain on Me.” Our singers, both of which are vocal heavy-hitters, never seem like they’re boxing each other for the spotlight. They’re equal stars, much like the characters in Sailor Moon they’re dressed like, putting their power together to create something beautiful. 

Later on in the album, Gaga does a duet with the legendary Elton John, entitled “Sine From Above.” It’s a solid cut off the record, however, it’s the anti “Rain on Me” as Gaga often overpowers John’s less booming, yet dynamic voice. It doesn’t help that it seems the majority of the reverb was placed over her voice, making John fall further into the electronic backdrop of the song. It’s probably my least favorite song on the album. 

“Fun Tonight” is more of a slow burner, building up the synths alongside the mountain-climbing vocals. But, once the build-up is at its climax, the release isn’t as steep and is softer than the other tracks on the record. At least until the end, which has a more impactful beat drop. The song isn’t bad. It’s a great dance track, it just fades a little into the luminous background. 

That’s my own issue I found with the album. Once we’re into the world of “Chromatica,” apart from the chaptered interludes, the songs seem to blur into each other as one big bouncy dance floor. Not that they’re bad, they just have similar elements that make them undefinable. The songs also suffer from the “pop drop” technique, where the beat drops make up the chorus rather than actual words a little too heavily. 

After the duet with Elton John, I encountered my favorite song on the album: “1000 Doves.” It’s a perfect combination of the musical aesthetics of the record and Gaga’s prodigious vocal ability. The woman can belt and the flashy synths on “1000 Doves” carry her voice to the stars and above. Her vocals are the star and the rhythm submits and follows the bright light mindlessly. The build-up teases before releasing into a bit of hypnotizing synths, and it’s just fantastic. The lyrics are also some of my favorite off the album: “I’d do anything for you to really see me/I am human invisibly bleeding/When your smile is shaking, I’ll catch you as you fall/I cry more than I ever say/Each time your love seems to save the day.”

It’s Gaga at her most physically vulnerable yet emotionally tough on the album. Despite the constant electronic noise through the record, it is a record of vulnerability. Similar to Gaga’s 2013 album “ARTPOP,” she takes her own emotional and physical pain (she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which takes her mental stress and turns it to physical pain) and channels it into something bright and energetic. While “ARTPOP” was darker in tone, “Chromatica” still has some hope for the future to come. It’s a solid album that has its moments of blurring into pounding dance-pop, losing Gaga into the shuffle. However, when she does let her voice and words shine through, she explodes with emotion and light that could take the listener on a much needed Neo-Tokyo cyberpunk motorcycle ride.

Contact Grace-Marie Burton at [email protected].