It’s official: Lady Gaga has returned to her club kid roots in her long-awaited sixth studio album, Chromatica.
The record is Back To The Future-meets-Mad Max-meets-Barbarella, creating an interesting dichotomy of sounds that’s both futuristic and retro. Filled with infectious dance tracks, disco and sci-fi elements, brought together against a pumping bassline, Gaga has restored our faith in pop music and has us wishing we could live on the fictional planet of Chromatica. It’s been a while since we’ve seen “classic Gaga” — eccentric, bold, and daring. The very woman who dared to wear a meat dress and produced feel-good anthems like ‘Born This Way.’ Thankfully, she’s created a record filled with electro-pop deliciousness.
Gaga needs no introduction, but in case you need a simple crash course in her discography: after the success of 2008’s debut, The Fame, Gaga has slowly been distancing herself from overly-autotuned and electro-pop tracks. There was 80’s inspired Born This Way, campy and experimental ARTPOP, jazzy duet record Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett, and 2016’s refined and stripped-back Joanne. And if you need a reminder, she starred in the musical A Star Is Born and graced the world with ‘Shallow.’ But twelve years later, the mother monster has returned to her electro-dance music throne with her blissful and energetic sixth studio album.
The newest record is more cinematic than Gaga fans are used to. Splitting the album into three distinctive sections, with each introduced by an instrumental sci-fi interlude, Chromatica tells a narrative about mental illness, fame, objectification, and self-love. Although the album is distinctly split into sections, these themes are fluid and run throughout the different arcs.
The album’s opener, ‘Chromatica I’ is a galactic cinematic interlude that transports you to another planet. Violins and strings swirl together against ambient sounds that introduce you to Gaga’s futuristic fantasy. Tensions run high as the strings are amplified and you’re left wondering how the rest of the three-fold album will unravel.
The instrumental introduction swiftly switches to back-to-back pop bangers. Gaga’s falsetto introduces the next track, ‘Alice,’ a bouncy club track filled with hooks against pumping bass and heavy synths. Gaga tries her hand at some distorted robotic rap, begging for someone to “take me home / take me to wonderland,” as she touches on dealing with mental illness. When everything seems dark and unnerving, finding your own wonderland is a saving grace.
The upbeat joyful rhythms continue with the infectious pre-released single, ‘Stupid Love.’ The disco track brings amplified synths against techno glitches as Gaga tries to “break out” from the walls she’s built around herself, attempting to be more vulnerable and foolish in love. It’s reminiscent of the Gaga the world fell in love with from Born This Way, weaving introspective lyrics with whirling electro-pop melodies.
Gaga is no stranger to collaboration, and she makes to include some major players on the album. From the cathartic, French House-inspired ‘Rain On Me’ with pop superstar Ariana Grande, to even the rocketman himself, Sir Elton John, who lent his vocals to explore the healing power of music on ‘Sine From Above,’ there’s no shortage of star power on Chromatica. Gaga even dares to venture into some sugar-coated K-Pop with the help of BLACKPINK on the previously released ‘Sour Candy,’ a clubby bubblegum-pop track. Collaboration can sometimes feel forced, but here it’s well-fitted and a welcomed addition to the record.
Although Chromatica has an easy vibe thanks to its rich bass and synthesizers, Gaga makes sure to show a deeper, emotive side. ‘Fun Tonight’ has her reflecting on fame and the feeling of being in a “prison hell,” and has a slight nod to 2008’s ‘Paparazzi.’ When speaking about ‘Free Woman,’ Gaga said it came from dark moments when she thought she was going to die and explores what it means to be a woman in today’s society. Gaga has always brought up important issues in her music, like LGBTQ+ rights and gun violence, and ‘Free Woman’ is no different.
Gaga’s return to club and house influences is definitely triumphant, but at times, the record sounds a bit one-note, with the same thumping bassline acting as the backbone of the album. Chromatica is cohesive and polished, but monochromatic, as it lacks a jazzy and heartfelt piano ballad like ‘You & I’ to diversity the album’s sound and break up the 90’s house and EDM tracks.
That’s not to say the album is lacklustre — there are plenty of standouts on the album. ‘911’ is cookie-cutter autotuned electro-pop perfection, reminiscent of her hit ‘Telephone,’ but this time Gaga discusses her mental health and self-loathing, singing, “My biggest enemy is me, ever since day one.” 70’s disco track and slight ego-booster ‘Enigma’ display’s Gaga’s powerhouse vocals against distorted, bubbly synths and jazz undertones. The song is a nod to Gaga’s critically-divided ARTPOP. The 2013 album’s track ‘Aura,’ used the iconic lyric,“Enigma pop star is fun, she wear burqa for fashion,” while the newer track has Gaga admitting, “I’ll be your enigma, even just tonight.” She’s not wrong, though — Gaga really is a modern-day enigma.
At the start of her career, Gaga was constantly compared to pop legend Madonna. Sure, there’s still some of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ influence on the record, especially on ‘Babylon,’ but Gaga gives a middle finger to all the gossip and comparisons on the closing track. There are elements of RuPaul’s iconic ‘Supermodel (You Better Work)’ and it will have you wanting to sashay down a runway to the vibrant and buoyant tune against the catchy rhyme-scheme, “Strut it out, walk a mile / Serve it, ancient-city style / Talk it out, babble on / Battle for your life, Babylon.”
Chromatica is luminous and thunderous and perfect for any club night, with Gaga serving disco sci-fi realness. The slight problem with it is that it relies on EDM and house influences as a crunch. There’s no doubt about Gaga’s talent — all of her eras have shown a different side to her artistry and singer-songwriter ability. The club and dance influence is definitely a welcomed and infectious return, but felt too autotuned and bass-heavy. But hey, a new Gaga record is better than no Gaga record, and Chromatica is a collection of infectious and joyful dance tracks that’ll have you grooving all night long (alone in your bedroom, but still).