‘JOANNE’ KEEPS LADY GAGA GROUNDED BUT WILL FANS JOIN HER?
Pop superstar Lady Gaga has become quite the chameleonic artist in recent years, exemplified by her latest album, “Joanne.” Soft rock and country now dominate this pool of 14 songs which helps make it sound more cozy.
She named the album after her late aunt, Joanne Stefani Germanotta, who died in 1974 from lupus. Joanne is also Gaga’s real middle name (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) and although she never personally met her, this album proves that looking way into the past can be therapeutic. In the October cover NME interview, she admitted that she considered leaving the music scene after “Artpop.”
“I was just having a really depressed time in my life where I wasn’t able to see my own ability or my own talent,” she said. “And when you lose grasp of those sorts of things, you can just spiral.”
“Joanne” marks her return to music but dedicated fans’ eyebrows would raise at its distinct sound. Many facets of her past music like the nostalgic “Just Dance” (2008), the iconic “Bad Romance” (2009) and the emotional “Born This Way” (2011) seem to be discarded here.
The introductory song, “Diamond Heart,” effectively warns of her altered musical style and it instantly sets an imaginary ticking timer which tests how long listeners will stick around with this album. It’s a very risky move since Gaga’s days of revolutionizing pop culture have unfortunately faded years ago (remember when her meat dress made worldwide headlines?), but there’s a sense of hope that listeners will give her a chance. “A-Yo” feels welcoming as it harks back to her louder, more upbeat music. Longtime fans should enjoy this as Gaga boasts her more exuberant side. The third song, “Joanne,” feels very refreshing as it’s just showcasing her bare vocals and a simplistic accompanying guitar, a rarity as she’s usually supplemented by irresistible production, like from producers Fernando Garibay and RedOne.
Imagine a giddy audience with alcohol at a Nashville bar when hearing “John Wayne,” named after the seminal and eponymous actor who is famed for his many Western films. Gaga ventures closely to country here as she sings about cowboys being somewhat of a guilty pleasure. “Dancin’ in Circles” feels more lowkey, particularly its almost-monotonous chorus, although she surprises with a distinct high note as a treat. The lead single, “Perfect Illusion,” deafeningly switches things up as listeners become familiar again with her raw voice, and while its key changes midway, it can’t help but sound frantic and disoriented in its own vertigo. It sounds like Gaga is cramming so much in this barely three-minute song, although her relevance in the pop industry is still felt since it debuted at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Million Reasons” certainly has a universal appeal because Gaga belts about how she agonizingly questions whether she should leave her lover: “I got a hundred million reasons to walk away/But baby, I just need one good one to stay.” Her voice soars and stands as one of the album’s strengths as it sounds very genuine and heartfelt with a minute tinge of tragedy. No wonder it’s been chosen as the second single. Visualize Gaga trekking along a decrepit dirt road with a guitar case and her pink fedora in “Sinner’s Prayer” and it sounds like a more lighthearted version of “Yoü and I” (2011). “Come to Mama” exudes 1950s and 1960s Americana as listeners can easily sway to the diner-like tune, sounding like musicals “Grease” and “Hairspray.”
Singer Florence Welch’s angelic vocals in “Hey Girl” charmingly complement Gaga’s husky-sounding one, also boosting this to be among the album’s treasures. While it could have easily been a hardcore, female-empowering duet, Gaga once again risks it by keeping it somewhat mid-tempo which is admirable. She allows herself to feel vulnerable with “Angel Down” in which she opens with “I confess I am lost/In the age of the social.” “Grigio Girls” contains the potentially-viral “Spice girl in this bitch” line and notably ends with her singing without any production but a harmonious background of female singers, reminiscent of a feel-good choir. The final original song, “Just Another Day,” sounds chipper and makes for a sweet soundtrack for your morning commute.
“Joanne” feels like a 180 to her long-established fanbase but it’s nonetheless a heartwarming change of sound and style. Gaga seems satisfied in slowing her theatrics to a Southern, country, bar-like atmosphere which definitely will alienate some, but that makes her a genuine artist, unafraid to explore different genres.
The ingredient to Gaga’s creative growth is neither answering to people’s expectations of always churning out pop singles nor developing a much louder, more eccentric wardrobe to grace the red carpet; it’s something far more internal: her love for her family, particularly her aunt, Lady Joanne.