ARTPOP for the masses

“Everybody asks me—they say, ‘What does ARTPOP even mean?’ What I tell them is, when we come together, me and my beautiful fans, we belong don’t we?” Lady Gaga said at her recent iTunes festival performance.

Amid theatrical tiptoes and maudlin hand gestures, she waffles, “And we belong, because, when we’re in this space together, we make the most beautiful thing in the world. We make love. So, if we can belong together, maybe then my dream will come true, and art and pop can belong too.”

Since this characteristic fan pandering offers no real insight into what Gaga actually means by ARTPOP, her new album title and philosophy, we might go back to the album’s blog announcement for a proper definition. According to this abstract gem, by “altering the human experience with social media, we bring ART culture into POP in a reverse Warholian expedition.”

What ARTPOP entails, then, is an effort to introduce aspects of high art to allegedly art-free pop music – something like pasting Starry Night onto a soup can. I’ll get to the offensive nature of this idea in a second. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around what ARTPOP looks like yet.

Perhaps by ARTPOP she means shocking, yet esoteric, lyrics (“I killed my comrade and left her in the trunk on highway ten/Put the knife under the hood/If you find it send it straight to Hollywood” ). Maybe she means thematically incoherent music videos (think the Gaga-headed goose in “Applause”). It could be political commentary a la “Americano” (which I think has something to do with a lesbian wedding in LA). ARTPOP might describe her dancers, dressed as pigs in gas masks these days, or that wretched shell bikini she’s become fond of.

Whether one or all of these things constitute ARTPOP, the important thing is that all of these bells and whistles in fact distance Gaga’s art from her audience and herself. By appropriating puzzling and external artistic images and ideas, Gaga covers up any authentic expression and hinders earnest communication. Her gimmick replaces her and distracts the audience with whom she hopes to make love.

Maybe the reason Lady Gaga can’t pin down ARTPOP’s meaning is that it has very little to do with Lady Gaga anymore.

It’s definitely time to lay off Gaga for a sec, though. Frankly, I obsess over her flaws because I’m personally disappointed by her new persona. I am a fan and will absolutely purchase ARTPOP despite the inevitable leak. Plus, Gaga’s not the only problem. She’s merely the easiest target among a sprouting ideology among pop artists whose motto reads something like, “plug high art, bump your cred.”

On the opening track of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, the former boasts “See, I observed Escher/ I love Basquiat/ I watched Keith Haring/ You see I studied art.” Well, it’s always enlightening and inspirational to study revered artists, but that doesn’t quite inform Macklemore’s walking “into the club, like ‘What up? I got a big [expletive].’”

My point is that to increase one’s own pop significance by allying oneself with high art obviates its own hypocritical desperation when it’s visibly inconsistent with the rest of the artist’s work.

Also, ARTPOP especially grinds my gears when I consider pop music’s present state. This new art-conscious pop works to invalidate a lot of current artists doing super fresh, well-produced and artistic things within the pop realm. Consider Robyn’s sweet and sincere, but dance-able, electro-pop. Then spend some time on M83’s uplifting synth-pop. Hell, even throw in Britney’s double entendre in “Hold It Against Me.”

The pop stars slinging art these days imply that because expressionist pigs aren’t swimming around my mind’s eye while I weep over Ke$ha’s “Wonderland,” I’m not experiencing anything sublime.

I guess that last horrifying anecdote suggests what really bothers me about ARTPOP: Based on a false novelty that certain artists can marry apparently separate things in a new way and make pop art for the first time, ARTPOP means to tell me what is and isn’t good. Worse than that, it will succeed at dictating to younger, less discerning (and less paranoiac) fans what’s good.

These ARTPOP-ists essentially write their own rave reviews months before their album is released, and some people will buy into it. The fact of the matter is, though, that art is recognizable every day in quality pop music whose fans extrapolate art from the music itself, not the other way around.

So, Gaga, if you feel strongly inspired by high art, I promise any original material you put forth will carry traces of that influence. If it’s quality, audiences may even value your music as art itself.

Have the guts to stand by your own material. This will better allow us all to make love while taking a unicorn tour through the muffin-bluffin’, blood-splattered sublime where you exist. Then maybe you’ll find the truth in your own words – “ARTPOP could mean anything”.