Editorial: What every electronic music fan should know about Lady Gaga’s ‘Artpop’
Through the prism of an electronic music fan, the term “crossover” often receives a negative connotation, and in many cases, that pessimism is fair. The Pitbulls of the world haven’t done any favors for EDM’s move into popular culture, and most public figures’ latching onto the trending genre do so with little respect for the music. In fact, these cases are oftentimes being mislabeled as crossovers — there is nothing being crossed-over, only stolen; the mistreatment of the source material normally results in a blatant mess. If anything, I’d call them clashovers. However, there are a select few artists that have integrated electronic elements into their music, making for a natural crossover. Most notably in today’s climate, that artist is Lady Gaga.
Gaga is no stranger to electronica, and she’s followed each of her two previous multi-platinum albums with remix albums in addition to offering dance versions to many of her countless singles. Everyone from Goldfrapp to Sander van Doorn (and too many names in between to list), have worked with the pop star over the course of her still young career. Which brings her to the imminent release of her latest studio album, Artpop.
Over the course of her creative growth between 2011’s Born This Way and the spawn of Artpop, Gaga developed an admiration for new producers to the scene — avante garde talent that could help push her futursitc vision for popular music with her next album. Among those producers are Anton Zaslavski and Hugo Pierre Leclrcq. But let’s just call them Zedd and Madeon. And combined they’re responsible for more than one third of the record’s tracks.
David Guetta and Infected Mushroom receive production credits as well, a major contributor proves to be a force to be reckoned with, and one mega-collaboration gives trap credibility. When said and done, if the album’s sales even come close to the multi-platinum status’ of its predecessors, millions of people around the world will inadvertently become hooked on modern electronic work. And that could certainly add years the genre’s lifespan. From the songs to the inevitable impact, there are some major takeaways that those who appreciate dance music need to know.
Zedd puts Clarity on steroids.
Last October, Zedd released his debut album, Clarity, to widespread acclaim. The 10-track journey proved artistry in electro house, an abundance of all-inclusive talent from a young producer, and a refreshing wind of originality. For any melodic offering such as the Ryan Tedder assisted “Lost at Sea” or commercial success like its “Clarity” title track, there’s a grittier dance effort like “Codec” or signature work like “Stache” to provide balance.
Working on Artpop, Zedd drifted towards the latter, giving Gaga his more personal efforts rather than radio-tailored beats. Ironic when the artist at hand is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, but Gaga’s choruses and hooks match up with Zedd’s unique sound with impressive results. “G.U.Y.” comes as a raw version of “Shave It Up,” as Zedd summons similar synth stylings but leaves the anthemic highs out of the equation. “Donatella” parallels the backbone of “Codec” as an intricate production that has all tools on the table. Then there’s “Aura,” and neither Lady Gaga or Zedd have shied away from the power of this collaboration.
He calls one of those records “one of the most interesting and unique electronic songs ever.”
Artpop’s lead off track, “Aura,” has been one of the hottest topics surrounding the album, from the hype to confusion around its credits. It all started when Zedd was working on an Infected Mushroom demo for what presumably would have been released as a collaboration between both artists. Amidst contributing his part, Lady Gaga walked into the studio, where she “immediately fell in love” with the track.
Opening with thematic strings and a first impression of Gaga’s vocal edge to follow, “Aura” opens the floodgates when the beat finally takes hold. Perhaps the most powerful production effort from Zedd, it is reminiscent of “Stache,” only on a larger scale. A much larger scale. In a recent interview with MTV, Zedd couldn’t quite find the words to describe the sound of “Aura,” but did say he thinks “it’s one of the most interesting and unique electronic songs ever.”
We have yet to see the best from Madeon.
If you’ve followed Madeon’s still youthful tenure, you’re familiar with the rare but high quality productions he’s released thusfar. From “Icarus” to “Finale,” from “The City” to most recently “Technicolor,” each of Madeon’s works come subsequently more well polished and mastered. In doing so, he’s also solidified a particular style that can be instantly recognized as his own brand. At this rate, Madeon is only going to improve and deliver with greater results — that’s no secret. What does come as a surprise, however, is the approach he’s taken in producing for Lady Gaga.
His Artpop contributions appear more advanced than even his strongest efforts — and they’re nothing like the crisp, colorful music that currently fills his repertoire. “Venus” reveals an edgier persona of Madeon with a hard hitting core, an unexpected bite, and grandiose emotion where appropriate. “Mary Jane Holland” is a genre-defiant production lead by electro-rock grunge — with the exception of the French house influence, all elements are foreign to any previous standards he’s set for himself. Contributing to the album’s finale, Madeon helps Gaga take the mood of Artpop from ballad to anthem all with one turn-around song. Producing with both sentimental and inspiriting elements, “Gypsy” sounds like Madeon at his best without sounding like Madeon at all.
His wide ranging execution on Artpop is an impressive feat for any musician. But it’s not that he’s drifted from his comfort zone — it’s that a comfort zone may not even exist for Madeon — magnifying the already great potential and expectations that he’s garnered in his teen years.
DJ White Shadow emerges as a dark horse of production talent.
Responsible for a handful of tracks from Born This Way, Lady Gaga again calls on producer Paul Blair. Also known as DJ White Shadow, Blair takes the reigns on Artpop, personally working up more than half of the album, including lead single “Applause.” Already proven to be a jack-of-all-trades producer behind some of Gaga’s biggest singles, he shows up to the latest product with the same electronic vision as the singer and fellow producers.
Listening straight through, there are critical points in the album that could indicate Zedd, Madeon, or even Guetta influence, when the credit actually belongs to White Shadow. The production of title track “Artpop” takes pages from the books of the Daft Punks and Gesaffelstein, and comes together for a robotic journey that screams French music whiz. The album’s most aggressive dose of electro comes on “Swine” and could easily be mistaken for a Zedd record. Both tracks, however, belong to White Shadow. Among dance-savvy pop offerings and one standout trap collaboration, Blair’s work on Artpop raises the conspicuous notion that he’s been a serious dark horse sleeper among electronic production talents.
Lady Gaga makes one of the best uses of trap on a star-studded collaboration.
Guest spots on Artpop come sparingly, but the only collaboration outside the R. Kelly R&B slot is one of the album’s most interesting takes. Produced by DJ White Shadow, “Jewelz n’ Drugs” starts off with a hard hitting beat, but flirts with trap as it progresses through verses from T.I. to Gaga to Too $hort. As Twista enters with his rapid-fire verse towards the track’s closing, White Shadow goes from flirting with trap to full-on fornicating with trap.
This year, trap has been a subgenre of a subgenre, often referred to as a fad. And it might be. But Gaga, Blair, and the three-headed hip-hop monster utilize the sound like it’s never been utilized before. Swiftly infusing trap into a pop record, “Jewelz n’ Drugs” embeds the frenetic sound into pop culture with powerful results.