The combination of R&B with house music feels a bit schmaltzy, but that’s the only complaint to be found with this album. The high octane drive of the hard-hitting EDM tracks make Home a wild ride.
Listen to: “Feel the Love”, “Hell Could Freeze”, “Baby”
49. Trouble by Natalia Kills
Her sophomore album is a step-up from her debut with Kills really delving into a more personal element. Though a few songs may skew her honesty, there’s a lot of ingenuity to be found in her newest album.
Listen to: “Problem”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Controversy”, “Rabbit Hole”
48. This Is… Icona Pop by Icona Pop
This Is… Icona Pop may be a bit exhausting just because of the sheer amount of energy on display. But, their personas are so charismatic and punchy that it’s hard not to be swept in.
Listen to: “I Love It”, “We Got the World”, “Ready for the Weekend”
47. Music to Make Boys Cry by Diana Vickers
Music to Make Boys Cry was not nearly as ambitious as its predecessor. A blend of electropop, disco and elements of funk meant that the production wasn’t the most inventive, but Vickers talent lies in her ability to weave good pop songs together, regardless.
Listen to: “Boy in Paris”, “Smoke”, “Better in French”
46. The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2 by Justin Timberlake
2 of 2's problem wasn't that the songs weren't well-crafted, it was that the songs truly felt like leftovers Timberlake couldn't stop ruminating on. But, even then, Timberlake is able to craft sophisticated, funky pop songs that far exceed his peers' talents.
Listen to: “True Blood”, “Take Back the Night”
45. Sing to the Moon by Laura Mvula
Sing to the Moon's emotional weight is beautifully rendered by Mvula's fantastic voice. While sometimes the lyrics do become a bit too pedestrian, the contrast between folk, R&B, soul and pop is quite adeptly utilized.
Listen to: “Like the Morning Dew”, “Father, Father”
44. True Romance by Charli XCX
Charli’s grungy pastiche of 80’s dream pop and 90’s R&B isn’t as daring as she would like us to think. Luckily, she’s an incredibly talented performer accentuated by her forays into light rave-pop that suggest a more intuitive direction for the future.
Listen to: “You (Ha Ha Ha)”, “Take Me Away”, “Cloud Aura”, “Black Roses”
43. The Great Gatsby (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture) by Various Artists
Gatsby features a charming mix of oldies jazz, power pop, EDM and alternative rock. It may be an unusually jarring and obnoxious mix for some, but for others there are more than enough pop gems to be found.
Listen to: “Young & Beautiful”, “Crazy in Love”, “Over the Love”
42. Cosmos by Slow Knights
Cosmos may sound like a Prince tribute, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it does mean there’s a bit too much 80’s synth-funk cheese and he still needs to develop a distinct personality, pop lovers will relish the retro-futurist soul of Knights’ work.
Listen to: “Caught Up in the Rhythm”, “Signs of Life”, “Under Attack”, “Sweet Harmony”
41. Feel Good by The Internet
A funky fusion of contemporary jazz and soul music, Feel Good is a refreshing change of pace from EDM-heavy pop scene. While the lyrics become a bit too vague to grab the listener, the suave beats more than make up for it.
Listen to: “Sunset”, “Dontcha”, “Runnin’”,” Partners in Crime, Pt. Two”
Marred by its grab-bag production elements and shallow lyricism, Lovato’s latest effort is by far her worst. “Nightingale” and “Neon Lights” are fleeting moments of pop brilliance that show that Lovato still has time to come into her own.
Listen to: “Nightingale”, “Neon Lights”
59. Bangerz by Miley Cyrus
What makes Bangerz so much more disappointing is that Cyrus spends a majority of the album showcasing her skill with balladry. But, it is dragged down by the relentless hip-hop clichés and cheap, kitchy production.
Listen to: “SMS (Bangerz)”, “Wrecking Ball”, “Drive”
58. Stars Dance by Selena Gomez
While Selena’s foray into EDM produced some exciting results, it doesn’t make up for her lack of charisma. It’s well-produced, faceless and indifferent pop music. Luckily, there are a few tracks here and there that will definitely find their way to the club at some point.
Listen to: “Birthday”, “Slow Down”, “Nobody Does It Like You”
57. London with the Lights On by Stooshe
Singles like “Love Me” and “Black Heart” proved that this sassy, sixties-inspired pop/soul trio had something up their sleeve. Unfortunately, their biggest detriment may have been their unfortunate timing, because the album was killed more by its dated sound than lack of genuine talent.
Listen to: “Slip”, “Love Me”, “Black Heart”
56. Dynamics! by Holy Ghost
Dynamics doesn’t see Holy Ghost making too much of a sonic leap from their debut and it feels like too much of a repeat of previous material. Luckily, their indie-disco sound is fresh enough to get you moving on the dancefloor.
Listen to: “Bridge and Tunnel”, “Dumb Disco Ideas”
55. Girl Talk by Kate Nash
Brash, irreverent and screechy, Girl Talk is Kate Nash’s roughest album by far. But, the new riot grrrl theme, glorious pop hooks and homemade noise-punk aesthetic fits her personality so well, that it’s hard to not be absorbed into her latest work.
Listen to: “Fri-End?”, “Death Proof”, “All Talk”, “3 AM”, “Lullaby for an Insomniatic”
54. RockaByeBaby by Cassie
Cassie’s crisp, glacial tone will certainly divide critics, but RockaByeBaby puts Cassie right into the newfound R&B elite. Though a bit derivative, the voracious hip-hoptronica rhythms are a breath of fresh air and combined with Cassie’s newfound persona, it’s quite an exciting listen.
Listen to: “Paradise”, “Take Care of Me”, “Bad Bitches”
53. Secondhand Rapture by MS MR
Secondhand Rapture may be a bit weak lyrically, but MS MR’s debut is far more of a hit than a miss. A unique blend of alternative, pop, doo-wop and electronica frame the haunting scape of their musical work.
Listen to: “Bones”, “Dark Fantasy”, “Twenty Seven”
52. Talk a Good Game by Kelly Rowland
A nice step-up from her previous album, Here I Am, Talk a Good Game is a grab-bag of musical elements (for better or worse). Tackling the topics of sex (“Kisses Down Low” & “Freak”), personal struggles (“Dirty Laundry”), and even socio-political strife (“Street Life”), Rowland’s album is surprisingly sharper than expected.
Listen to: “Freak”, “Kisses Down Low”, “Dirty Laundry”
51. The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
Sara Bareilles has always floundered a bit on the edge between more indie-inspired works and more pop chart-friendly songs. The Blessed Unrest finds her making even less commitment to either sound, but the (mostly) broody piano pop of her latest album is, nonetheless, a great direction for her to take.
ARTPOP or ARTFLOP? Lady Gaga and The Intersection of High Art and Pop Culture
Here you go! And forgive the title, it’s just that so many journalists used that weak pun and I couldn’t resist using it. It’s also a read more because it’s fairly lengthy.
Also! It mind sound weird because it’s in past tense, but the assignment was for my Modern Pop Music class and we had to look back on pop history between 1997 and 2013 as though it were the year 2035 and writing an article for Rolling Stone. We had to look back on an album that had some sort of impact on pop history. So there.
ARTPOP or ARTFLOP?
Lady Gaga and The Intersection of High Art and Pop Culture
Did Lady Gaga shoot herself in the foot when she said, “she was putting art back into pop music” with ARTPOP? Any discussion about ARTPOP has to start with this question because between the Miley Cyrus and twerking appropriation accusations and the supposed rape-innuendos of “Blurred Lines”, Lady Gaga’s supposed fall from grace became, single-handedly, one of the most important pop music discussions in the blogosphere during 2013. Questions of her artistic integrity and utter arrogance were the result of this one singular question: did Lady Gaga shoot herself in the foot when she said, “she was putting art back into pop music?” The truth is that she did, but only because journalists completely missed the entire message of the ARTPOP era. Before even attempting to deconstruct it, ARTPOP had already become the victim of pop critique vitriol. So, before discussing ARTPOP’s impact on modern pop, let’s discuss how it quickly became a pop fiasco and who’s fault it was.
Lady Gaga’s career has always been a bit tough to predict. While she may have started as a disco-glam, retro-futuristic diva with The Fame, once she hung herself onstage during the MTV Video Music Awards performance of “Paparazzi”, Gaga revealed her true colors. While one of the main criticisms of her later career concerned how “strange” she had become, the fact of the matter was that Lady Gaga has always been unorthodox. Unfortunately for her, her next album Born This Way would manage to alienate the public even further. Charts-wise, the album was a complete success. According to Pitchfork, she “famously sold 1.1 million copies of her 2011 album Born This Way” and the “title track debuted at No. 1” (Molanphy). But, according to Pitchfork, the problem with the subsequent album, ARTPOP,wasn’t the album itself, but what Molanphy dubbed the AC/DC rule. According to Molanphy this rule basically stated, “initial sales of an album are a referendum on the public’s feelings about the acts prior album, not the current one.” Essentially, Molanphy blamed the album’s backlash on the alienation created by Born This Way. A synthesis of 80’s glam rock, disco, techno, rock ‘n’ roll and even heavy metal and opera, Born This Way saw Gaga playing up her anthemic songs by theatricalizing her image and fusing it with inspiration from avant-garde fashion and 80’s aesthetic style. While Gaga’s intent for Born This Way was upheld rigorously, it managed to alienate her from the pop world and subsequent singles failed to perform to expectations and backlash started to build.
In his article for Gawker, “Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP Could Never Live Up to Its Name”, Rich Juzwiak stated ARTPOP’s place in pop history. “Pop music is increasingly fascinated by the contemporary art world, and with being included in it” (Juzwiak). He went on to state modern examples of this fascination with high art referencing Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. But, he made a distinction between the two stating that the former lived up to the promise of fusing high art with pop music through its use of performance art and art references. With Teenage Dream, he went on to say that “said entitlement reads as self-deluded bullshit” (Juzwiak). Juzwiak argued that ARTPOP stood in the middle of the spectrum, presenting a genuine interest in mixing high art with pop music while also being extremely presumptuous in its importance. While Gaga was praised for most of her experiments in visual art such as “getting superstar artist Jeff Koons to make the album cover, getting naked in a video for the Marina Abramović Institute [and] creating an app to accompany the album…” (Molanphy), Gaga’s musical content was not as heavily appreciated. Juzwiak criticized lead single “Applause”; “Applause is just dumb – a superstar informing us, ‘I live for the applause’ is slightly less obvious than a singer singing, ‘I sing’, or an artist describing her art as ‘art.’” In that quote, Juzwiak managed to get to the heart of the critics main problem with ARTPOP. By stating that ARTPOP would bring art back into pop, she held herself up to a higher standard as though disregarding all other pop music as “artless” though music, in it of itself, is an artistic expression.
The idea that Lady Gaga was pretentious for declaring that her music was art was the prevailing train of thought amongst most pop journalists. But, I think that when journalists said calling her album as such was a misstep (“when it doesn’t even ‘contain art’”) means they missed the entire point of her message. ARTPOP is a pop album influenced by EDM, house, trap, rock ‘n’ roll and R&B. The most important aspect to keep in mind is stated in the title track itself when Gaga sings “my ARTPOP could mean anything.” Though simple in its declaration, I think this phrase fully embodies how ARTPOP was supposed to function: by declaring any form of musical expression is artistic. This idea was a response to the criticism faced by Gaga during the Born This Way era. Other ideas present in the album are the intersection of pop and art culture, the dissection of pop stardom, an introspective peek at Gaga herself and the general idea of senselessness pervasive in pop music.
The album starts with the intro “Aura”, in which Lady Gaga describes her pop persona in the verses chanting “enigma pop star is fun / she wear burqa for fashion”. She contrasts this with the chorus, belting “do you wanna see me naked lover? / do you want a peek underneath the cover?” as though to imply her pop persona doesn’t properly depict her true personality. The song is influenced by both EDM and techno. The following song, “Venus” finds Gaga making vague references to Roman mythology as the main thematic motif for the song. It samples the song “Rocket Number Nine” by Sun-Ra and the cover by Zombie Zombie. It is influenced by disco and house, and is a guilty pop pleasure exercise in over-the-top lyric theatricality featuring four hooks. “G.U.Y.” features similar Greco-Roman references (“Greetings Himeros, god of sexual desire”) and astrology and finds Gaga bending the lines of sexuality and gender as she sings, “I wanna be the G.U.Y, girl under you.” It’s deliriously simple and silly, but the driving EDM beat (produced by Zedd) along with Gaga’s ability to weave a great hook makes the song a highlight. The next song “Sexxx Dreams” follows up on the prominent sexual overload of the past tracks with Gaga moaning “damn, you were in my sex dreams.” It weaves in EDM and disco into an entirely pleasurable dance track that absolutely makes the best of the pop in ARTPOP.
“Jewels & Drugs” is the most divisive track on the album. Sampling trap and dubstep, the track features rappers Twista, Too $hort and T.I. What makes the track so problematic is the fact that it attempts to embody stereotypical traits of hip-hop music. While it could be viewed as a lampoon of traditional hip-hop, it’s a bit offensive and off-putting. “MANiCURE” features heavy glam-rock and trap inspiration and finds Gaga furiously screaming out a feminist anthem, yelling “I’m gon’ be manicured!” while also critiquing passive femininity by stating “salon’s enough for her / not to feel so insecure.” “Do What U Want” is the most pop-leaning track, sampling disco and R&B as she calls out her detractors for their harsh criticisms. The song manages to not only give insight on how Gaga views the criticisms personally, but it also examines the voyeurist aspect of pop stardom. In a mode of seeming performance art, Gaga even promoted the song by tweeting out verbal attacks she’s faced during Born This Way (“she’s fat!”; “she’s pretentious!”) and attacking the journalists right back. “ARTPOP”, the title track, samples house music and, as stated earlier, she contemplates the intersection of pop culture and art. “Swine” continues this theme by comparing fame to pig-farming, calling someone a “swine” for the questionable things they do to be famous. It is inspired by EDM, dubstep, glam rock and disco.
The last segment is a bit more of a free-for-all compared to the front half of the album. “Donatella” and “Fashion!” both take cues from high-octane disco. “Donatella” satirizes the vapidity of pop culture and fashion, while “Fashion!” discusses the positivity of the fashion world. These two songs seem contradictory, but they just depict two different modes of thinking. “Mary Jane Holland” is an exercise in EDM excess and heavy metal where Gaga praises marijuana. “Dope”, one of the more interesting tracks on the album, is a piano rock ballad in which Gaga uses drug dependency as a metaphor for adoration. But, the metaphor also functions literally as she languishes in her struggles with drugs. The penultimate song, “Gypsy”, was produced by her frequent collaborator RedOne and borrows from house and pop music elements. In it, Gaga discusses her love for music making and how it crosses over into personal life by keeping her from falling in love. It’s a bit more emotionally complex, but the chorus is completely euphoric. The last song, “Applause”, functions perfectly as the closer to the album because it returns to the juxtaposition of her pop persona against her actual person presented in the opening track. With the final track, Gaga admits outright that her personal life revolves around performing. It functions as an extension of her examination of the pop idol’s relation with their audience.
I think ARTPOP’s cultural impact could be found in the fusion of the multiple elements present in the work. A post-modern pastiche of different art and pop cultures, ARTPOP’s “art” and cultural impact could be find in one of its several modes of function. Firstly, it functioned as a marriage between the visual art world and pop culture. This was shown through the use of her music with the various art projects she’s taken on, including her collaborations with Jeff Koons and Marina Abramović, the app and the creation of installations, statues and galleries that acted as promo for ARTPOP. Secondly, its critique of pop culture through the examination of fandom and pop idolism also embodied her goal to bring “art” into “pop” because it elevated the music past its seemingly vapid lyricism. Lastly, it could function how she stated in the title track, that music in it of itself is artistic, so regardless of what “art” may be missing, just the simple fact that it is music means that the album embodied art.
ARTPOP was completely derided at its release for its seeming lack of meaning yet overwhelming pretension. But, in bandwagoning on the harsh criticisms all the publications started to spew, the very same music journalists completely missed the point of the album. Not taking the time to truly deconstruct the album in their reviews, the journalists found good questions to raise about the album, but no answers. Post-modernist work always had a multiplicity of meaning and reflects the meaning of pop culture at the time and ARTPOP truly manifests that. I’m not criticizing music journalists for recording their thoughts because I truly respect reviewers for the job they take on. But, I think in calling ARTPOP a complete flop, we missed the culture impact the album inevitably had.
although they’re completely different i feel like stripped is to christina as bangerz is to miley, now that i’m thinking about it, they seem very comparable
Nah, I think that’s a great comparison because they’re both pop stars who, at the apex of their career, turned to complete sexualization to make their image more accessible. But, I hope Miley doesn’t end up following up on Christina’s success rate then aha
so true on the christina thing and britney did it without trying so hard, like christina tries SO hard in dirrty (and probably cuz she was trying to do outdo brit lets be real)
Yeah, like there was a bit of controversy because they were so similar, but “Slave” was better received. But, “Dirrty” came out almost a whole year after “Slave” so while we credit Christina with the “dirrty” pop star look, let’s remember who actually did it first and invented it.
(Also, I do think she tried too hard with Stripped though aha)