Label: Interscope Records
Release Date: 29th May 2020
“In an alternate universe where COVID-19 doesn’t exist, these huge tracks are blaring on the dancefloors of LGBTQ+ venues worldwide, from London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern to New York’s Stonewall Inn.”
The sheer anticipation surrounding a Lady Gaga album release is unmatched by other artists. With four years having elapsed since the release of Joanne, a Gaga LP is well overdue. Seatbelts on, hold tight: we have officially entered the age of Chromatica.
I have a great deal of respect for artists who take great time and care over an LP release. The internet has forever changed music consumption: twenty years ago, new releases enjoyed a longer lifespan. Now, the new-found magic of an LP seems to wear off after a few months as music consumption has evolved. Gaga typically releases an LP every three to four years, so each generates a considerable amount of excitement.
It is hard to believe that this same artist birthed Joanne. Chromatica returns to pop for the first time since 2013, referencing Gaga’s roots in The Fame (2008), as well as the controversial ARTPOP (2013). Gaga is very much a musical chameleon, which is a difficult trait to embody. She has the artistic range others can only dream of.
‘Chromatica I’, the first track, serves as a gorgeous introduction, officially announcing the Chromatica era. Transmission from the planet of Chromatica: the days of Joanne are officially over. ‘Alice’ feels distinctly Gaga-esque, referencing Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “My name isn’t Alice / But I’ll keep looking, I’ll keeping looking for Wonderland”. This reference to another time or planet isn’t surprising, considering Gaga’s tendency to root her LPs in another space. ‘Alice’ is the Chromatica equivalent of ARTPOP’s ‘Venus’, which screams “Rocket number nine take off to the planet, to the planet (Venus)” and “I wonder if this could be love, this could be love / Cause you’re out of this world, galaxy, space, and time”. Interestingly, ‘Venus’ is also the second track.
Transitional tracks on an album are often difficult to navigate, and the general rule is that they should be used sparingly. Chromatica has three, which was a risk that paid off. Simply named, ‘Chromatica I’, ‘Chromatica II’, and ‘Chromatica III’ each embody a cinematic feel, mirroring the drama surrounding a Gaga LP release. The transition from ‘Chromatica II’ to ‘911’ was seamless. For anyone who was curious: this is how you do transitional tracks.
‘Free Woman’, though not as instantly lovable as ‘Stupid Love’ and ‘Rain On Me’, overtly establishes Chromatica’s identity as a dance album: “This is my dancefloor I fought for”. Tracks like ‘Enigma’ and ‘Replay’ continue the electropop energy: in an alternate universe where COVID-19 doesn’t exist, these huge tracks are blaring on the dancefloors of LGBTQ+ venues worldwide, from London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern to New York’s Stonewall Inn.
‘Sour Candy’, the collab with South Korean girl group BLACKPINK, was released as a single on the 28th of May, no doubt because it was leaked. I initially wasn’t sure about the themes explored by BLACKPINK’s lyrics as I felt that they contributed to toxic images surrounding femininity and anger: “I’m sour candy / So sweet, then I get a little angry” and “I’m super psycho / Make you crazy when I turn the lights low”. However, the strong dance beat and empowering feminist tone issued by Gaga (“I’m hard on the outside”) revives this potentially problematic discourse present in BLACKPINK’s lyrics.
‘Sine From Above’ wasn’t my favourite track on the album. Then again, I’m not the biggest Elton John fan, so this is to be expected. The image of the ‘sine’ in particular references the meaning of Chromatica as explained by Gaga in an interview with Zane Lowe: “The symbol for Chromatica has a sine wave in it, which is the mathematical symbol for sound…sound is what healed me in my life period…and that is really what Chromatica is all about. It’s about healing and it’s about bravery as well and it’s really like, when we talk about love I think it’s so important to include the fact that it requires a ton of bravery to love someone.”
‘Babylon’, the closing track, is sheer brilliance. The piano arrangement and drumbeat remind me of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, with the spoken vocals on the chorus furthering this juxtaposition: “Strut it out, walk a mile / Serve it, ancient-city style”. This apparent parallel to early 90s Madonna makes for a fitting comparison in a song about gossip, given the overt drama between the two which Gaga references in Five Foot Two.
Overall, Chromatica is a brave release. It has everything we have come to expect of Gaga and more: from the cinematic energy of opening track ‘Chromatica I’ to the high drama of closing track ‘Babylon’. Throughout, Chromatica explores Gaga’s personal experiences with mental illness and fame, with ‘Alice’ screaming “Sick and tired of waking up / Screaming at the top of my lungs” and ‘911’ “Keep repeating self-hating phrases / I have heard enough of these voices” and “My biggest enemy is me ever since day one”. This was a brave release. Welcome, Chromatica.
Words by Eleanor Noyce.
29th May 2020.