What is Artpop?
Lady Gaga would have you believe it’s anything you want it to be. Which is to say, in her native language: the dysfunctional, passionate, improbable marriage between expressionism and commercialism. The Artpop philosophy lies somewhere between the consumer and the consumed, the marketer and the marketed to, the dominator and the dominated – paradoxes Gaga knows and manipulates all too well. She made an album about it. It’s sold more than 2.5 million copies.
The Artpop Ball, code-named artRave, which came through the First Niagara Center Monday night for a mostly sold-out show, might have been the best clue as to what exactly the Queen Monster is up to these days. Her popularity with the “Artpop” album has waned, despite many critical and consumer accolades, and her ability to remain relevant to the easily shocked is no longer her biggest asset.
A public feud with assumed mentor and pop royalty Madonna; an artistic controversy over a Doritos-sponsored and influenced festival appearance; and a popular duet with rapper and infamously alleged rapist R. Kelly (on a song called “Do What U Want (With My Body)” have not helped boost her otherwise popular, well-received appeal to the juvenile underdog.
Her last appearance at the arena, in 2011, was months before Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide, which would later spawn a personal and philanthropic relationship with the Amherst boy’s family and their advocacy in the name of gay rights and anti-bullying. Reports from Twitter would indicate that the Rodemeyer family was in attendance at last night’s concert, receiving a welcome by microphone from Gaga herself.
Individuality and community, respectfully entwined. Well done.
So how, then, has the art in this pop held up? What about the music, the costumes, the spectacle?
It’s hard to say. By song four, of an expected 25, this reviewer’s deadline was looming. But from the explosive first act, the artRave stage, ever-winding through the arena floor, things were off to a solid start.
The album’s title song, which has received many a repeat in my earbuds, opened with muscled men, robotic women, buzzing laser strobes and a jumping crowd. “We could belong together,” she cheekily sings about the blending of her own artistic sensibility – she being the former NYU art student who would don a different wig seemingly every night of the year while playing village clubs – and the commercial powerhouse that is known as Haus of Gaga. She knows of what she sings, as vague as the message often is.
Balloon trees and confetti would soon bedazzle the room with all the brazenness of a rave. The responsibleness of which, considering that experience’s ravishing recreational-drug usage, is perplexing, considering her comfortable role as humanitarian. But I digress; this is Lady Gaga, who wore a dress of raw meat to an awards show. That plenty of dancing fans looked plenty consumed with some substance or another is not a huge surprise. It’s a rave, so the tour’s marketing would have us believe. Free yourself, it would suggest, but buy my ticket first, she would insist.
“G.U.Y.,” an ironically empowering anthem of sexual politics that bends feminism in wild ways, is wholly entertaining, once you give up the fact that it confused your own constitution for the first five listens. “Fashion!” and “Donatella” would stomp their way around the interconnected catwalks and remind that there’s fun in looking good, almost as much as there is in feeling good.
A speech somewhere near the beginning of a second segment gave Gaga the floor with a most Evita-like self-awareness. A moment for reflection about an album that came out just last year.
“This album is not conventional,” said Gaga, slowly, hearing her own echo. “This album is not for the artistically faint of heart. This album is for the rager.” Rage, the crowd did. This was for them, as everything their mother has made has always been, elusive and incoherent as it tends to be.
What is ArtPop, you ask? Beats me. But it sure was fun.