Lady Gaga has always worn her influences on her sleeve. From the Bowie inspired lightning bolt in the Just Dance video to thanking Madonna in the liner notes to her album The Fame, she has always professed to be an amalgamation of what came before. At first glance, it may seem the singer has shrugged these influences off her once implanted spiky shoulders, yet much like these icons, Joanne is just another reinvention for this zany star.
The reinvention of Gaga over the course of her eight year career is an intriguing affair. Suddenly catapulted to stardom in 2008, her eclectic fashion and EDM influenced pop soon seeped into pop consciousness as stars such as: Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry suddenly made bolder fashion choices and EDM hits. Scrutinised through the lens of the internet age, Gaga’s reinventions came thick and fast aesthetically yet the music couldn’t match the progressive attire. This inevitably led to a waning interest of the public.
2013 was a tough year for the superstar, her sonically boldest album to date ARTPOP missed the mark both commercially and critically. Camp Gaga had some serious rebranding to do. A classic jazz album with Tony Bennett and a few headline grabbing performances, reminded us of the powerful theatric voice and perhaps prepared us for the ‘tame’ Gaga that we are greeted by on this new LP.
Joanne is a dedication to Lady Gaga’s aunt who died at 19 of lupus. You’d be forgiven for assuming this album is her most personal to date and there are flashes of this within the album. Country influenced ballads, Million Reasons and Angel Down appear hugely personal and the most compelling tracks on the album. “Lord show me the way, to cut through all this worn out leather/ I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away/ But I just need one good one to stay“, Gaga sings, alluding to both her relationship with the music industry and her recent failed relationship. The country ballad really allows for her words to stand out, pushing what could be considered contrived lyrics into something far more impactful and meaningful.
The personal moments are short-lived however.The monotonous mix of country and pop never seems to mesh cohesively together. The country inspired lyrics feel inauthentic. “I just love a cowboy/ I know it’s bad/ but can I just hang off the back of your horse?” Gaga speaks at the beginning of John Wayne. References to cowboys, horses and Bible belt religion are thrown together but Gaga sounds more Clint Eastwood than Loretta Lynn.
The pop stylings fall flat as well. What often pushed the singer into pop excellence, was a shimmering cascade of hooks within one song.This pushed Bad Romance and Poker Face into two of the most memorable tracks of the decade. With this new LP, Gaga opts instead for a stuttering mixture of lackluster guitar and synths that don’t distinguish themselves from the verses, particularly on Songs A-YO and John Wayne.
The one collaboration on this album comes in the form of R’n’B inspired slow jam Hey Girl. Gaga and Florence Welch trade compliments over a pleasant 90s neo soul style beat. The theme is female solidarity, which has the potential to be an interesting direction. However like her previous hit Born This Way, Gaga over simplifies this issue, “Hey girl, hey girl. We could make it easy if we lift each other/ Hey girl, Hey girl. We don’t need to keep one-upping each other“. It’s like Calpol, so densely sweetened that any benefits are completely negated.
The light at the end of this proverbial tunnel? That Lady Gaga has had many incarnations and hopefully that means more to come. There are glistening moments of story-telling, but this is overshadowed by inoffensive country-pop on every page. Joanne isn’t the cool aunt we had hoped she’d be.
Words by Jordan Emery