Welcome to the latest TGJ Roundtable!
Over the years, That Grape Juice has established a distinguished voice that – whether loved or loathed – sparks discussion, debate, and on occasion drama!
Though comprised of seasoned writers who share a similar outlook on Urban Pop culture, the idiosyncrasies of the TGJ team members often lend for quite heated debates “behind the scenes” about the hottest topics.
Now, we give you a front row seat to the show. In a format similar to ‘The View’ or ‘The Real’, TGJ editors – Sam, David, Rashad, and Joe – get real in a very candid way.
Today’s roundtable topic sees us review…
Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’
Just like most things “Gaga,” the ‘Joanne’ album (specifically its roll-out, reception, and forecasted fate) aren’t the easiest to dissect.
A useful way to unpack my stance, however, is for me to first express that I truly see the project as a cornerstone release. One, much like Beyonce’s ‘4’ and Mariah’s ‘Charmbracelet,’ that will go on to serve as an important turning point in Gaga’s discography.
Both of the aforementioned LP’s failed to yield sizeable hits or live up to commercial peaks of prior years. Yet, they allowed their banner artists to add new colors to their respective palettes musically. In doing so, said albums also gifted Bey and Mimi a broader array of hues to use to paint their eventual pictures of emancipation.
Put simply, I feel ‘Joanne’ almost has to happen so as to get the album the masses truly want from Gaga. The upbeat, fun, and eccentric effort that doesn’t sonically repeat what we’ve already heard from her; the latter being a taller task than many understand.
She was dragged like a rag doll over ‘ARTPOP’ (which, in more ways than folk like to admit, is not far removed from the “Gaga” people ironically want back now). And she’s also experienced a lot of change in her personal life – namely her broken engagement. Why is this relevant, you might ask?
Well, in Gaga being a genuine artist rather than a factory produced fatale, it’s her artistic license to express the way she’s feeling in the here and now; which seems to be fragile, minimalist, and refined.
Given the public’s general exhaustion with her theatrics, her stripped back approach with ‘Joanne’ – both musically and aesthetically – is actually really smart for her brand. For, the sharp left she’s taking puts her back in control of the Lady Gaga narrative. Something that hasn’t been the case for a long while.
There are issues, though.
Because, as much as I personally enjoy ‘Joanne,’ I feel it could have done a better job of achieving what it set out to sonically. Particularly given the respected names involved (see: Mark Ronson). Stripped back and artsy has been done many times before and has sounded better. Case in point Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black.’ Can you imagine Gaga churning out an album like “that?” It would have slayed.
Thematically, the project feels a bit confused too. Less so on record, but more Gaga’s definitions during interviews. Like even as I type, I’m none-the-wiser as to whether ‘Joanne’ is about her, her aunt, healing, women’s rights, or her father. Her explanations change depending on the day and it’s grating as hell. Sometimes, just sometimes, shush-up and let the music speak for itself.
Also, honing in again on the Beyonce and Mariah examples; Mother Monster has never had the ubiquitous appeal of Mrs Carter nor is she releasing ‘Joanne’ in the same climate as ‘Charmbracelet’ (2002). Audiences today aren’t as forgiving nor are their attention spans as willingly long. People are all about the now, hence Gaga may not have the privilege of letting her latest reinvention play out. There’s the entirely plausible chance of the masses simply moving on to pastures new midway through.
Still, she has what so many Pop girls in her predicament don’t: the Super Bowl. And not just the enormity of the platform, but also the fact that it’s several months away. It means it’s incredibly likely that she’ll continue plugging the album in the run-up to Halftime and the show itself will almost certainly serve as a bolt of new life come next February.
Whatever happens, it’ll be fascinating to see how this all plays out.
It hurts to say that ‘Joanne’ is a miss for me.
Recognising that the general public had become bored of her pantomime, Gaga made the right move by steering towards more human and soulful territory.
Alas, ‘Joanne’ sees the star make a foray into Country which, at some points, feels forced and disingenuous.
This isn’t because the songs aren’t enjoyable, because they are. But because they simply aren’t interesting enough to be touted as “artsy” or catchy enough melodically to be considered smash hits.
Quite interestingly, the responses to Adult Contemporary-leaning releases launched by Solange (and dare we say Britney Spears) prove Pop music lovers can enjoy and support material which digs deeper than drinking, smoking and “turning up.”
Gaga’s problem now is that she looks and feels like a Pop artist going through the motions playing dress up in another genre’s clothes. That being said, her vision and talent (which sees her fly above and beyond most of her contemporaries) will undoubtedly see her add more to her new material with visuals and performances that will be groundbreaking.
I look forward to seeing them.
Not trying to reignite the Madonna vs Gaga debate, but the latter makes it hard to analyze her sometimes without acknowledging the former. Honestly, even in the most “reaching way possible,” when I think of ‘ARTPOP,’ I think ‘Ray of Light.’
Not comparing them in terms of content, reception, or impact, but more so the purposes they served for each artist at that point in their respective careers, as they were designed by both to help create distance from being “pop stars” and, instead, be perceived as “real artists.” Also, they wanted to conceptually add depth to their offerings while still inviting fans to the dancefloor.
The follow-up to ‘Ray of Light’ was ‘Music,’ an era of Madge’s career categorized by cowgirl hats and boots, country-pop delving songs (i.e. ‘Don’t Tell Me,’ ‘I Deserve It’), and more “stripped,” acoustic-bred material (see: ‘Nobody’s Perfect,’ ‘I Deserve It,’ and ‘Gone’). I’ll be damned if I don’t look up at ‘Joanne,’ the follow-up to ‘ARTPOP,’ and see cowgirl hats and boots, Country-Pop delving songs, and more raw, acoustic-bred material.
The similarity may have not been intentional, but the contrast between ‘Music’ and ‘Joanne,’ however, couldn’t be more noticeable. That “contrast” is balance. Where Madonna used elements of ‘Ray of Light’ and wove them into ‘Music’, Gaga went completely left at a time where fans needed a taste of ‘Poker Face’ most. Granted, my analysis here is primarily from an imaging and branding perspective, but that’s what Madge and Gags are to the public – images and gimmicks (Madonna’s – sex, Gaga – eccentricity).
Now, purely judging the album on its own merit separate from its creator, ‘Joanne’ is a masterfully done collection of Pop-tunes that, contrary to the belief of those damning it, will age very well. Songs like ‘Perfect Illusion,’ ‘Million Reasons,’ and ‘Diamond Heart’ are absolute gems. The real problem? The album is a good body of work, but it’s not a good “GAGA” album.
Alas, I think years from now people will look back on ‘Joanne’ and see it for its worth. Right now, however, it seems all amiss.
The past few years have seen the biggest stars skew all the way left both from a sonic and promotional point of view.
With ‘Joanne,’ Gaga seems to have veered further than any other artist of her caliber… for better or for worse.
Obviously, the most noticeable difference in direction is the abolition of the many gimmicks which made Lady GaGa… well LADY GAGA.
Then, most paramount is switch is the music. Ms. Germanota delivers here a body of work which may be superior in quality to what’s hot at the minute sadly isn’t strong enough to coexist on the charts with what’s hot at the minute.
For instance, though great songs, ‘A-YO’ and ‘Dancin’ In Circles’ are a bit non-eventful and never fully go “there”. I enjoy the Supertramp and Elton John influences which can be found on songs like ‘Come To Mama’ and ‘Hey Girl.’ but can these tracks really sell this LP? Doubtful.
Stefani’s safest bet single-wise is beautiful ballad ‘Million Reasons’ and even that is going to take a lucky strike.
I seriously hope Team GaGa have a lot of promo lined up because it’s going to take some effort to make people literally buy into the new incarnation of Lady Gaga.
Will it pay off in the long term? Lets hope so, if not the artist will be reduced to a one-trick-pony only capable of moving the masses through her ostentatious antics.
All in all, a good album.
Do you agree with our points? Who was spot on? Let us know your thoughts on the latest TGJ Roundtable and Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’!