We first saw a glimpse of Chromatica – the fictional planet Lady Gaga has created with her sixth album of the same name – in the music video for lead single ‘Stupid Love’. The video opens with text that explains that while the world “rots in conflict”, many tribes are fighting for dominance, including “the Kindness punks”, a tribe Gaga leads, who fight for peace. Gaga and her gang – a group dancers clad in hot-pink Mad Max costumes – break up fights between with other factions of warriors in an extra-terrestrial desert, eventually restoring order.
Chromatica, she’s since explained, can be thought of both as an inclusive place where all sounds and colours mix. But it’s also an inclusive frame of mind, she told Zane Lowe in a recent interview: “I don’t know that I’ve ever made an album that wasn’t on Chromatica in some type of way, meaning like my frame of mind is always a part of my music, and this is just my way of kind of expressing, even in a both literal and abstract way.”
It’s high concept – albeit a slightly confusing one – but what else would we expect from Lady Gaga? This is the artist who’s consistently reinvented herself over the course of the past decade. Take a genre 180 and drop an album of jazz standards (2014’s ‘Cheek to Cheek’ with Tony Bennett) or country tunes (2016’s ‘Joanne’)? Sure! Become an Oscar-nominated actress in a smash-hit remake of A Star Is Born? Why not!
For ‘Chromatica’, though, Gaga has returned to the effervescent dance-pop she first broke the charts with back in 2009 (who could forget her world-changing debut single ‘Just Dance’?). As she explained in an Apple Music interview: “I’m making a dance record again, and this dancefloor it’s mine and I earned it, and all that stuff that I went through… I don’t have to feel pain about it anymore. It can just be a part of me and I can keep going.” Writing the album helped Gaga heal her personal pain – and this perseverance permeates ‘Chromatica’.
Take smash hit Ariana Grande collaboration ‘Rain on Me’, which may just be Gaga’s best song since 2011’s ‘Born This Way’. Over euphoric synth-pop instrumentals and strutting disco beats, Gaga purrs “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive” in a fist-pumping moment of pure jubilation. There can be 100 songs you’ve written, and 99 don’t leave an impact, but all it takes is one as good as ‘Rain On Me’ to remain a pop icon.
House-tinted thumper ‘Enigma’ is a celebration of lust (“We could be lovers, even just tonight”), while electro-pop lead single ‘Stupid Love’ is concerned with the joy of being head-over-heels in love (“You’re the one that I’ve been waiting for / Gotta quit this cryin’”). That isn’t to say that there aren’t heavier moments – the Daft Punk-inspired ‘911’, which is about antipsychotic medication, sees Gaga admit “My biggest enemy is me / pop a 911″ via robotic vocals. But each song is wrapped up in healing and kindness, accompanied by empowering lyrics and triumphant melodies. The shimmering ‘Free Woman’ sees Gaga victoriously move forward after being sexually assaulted by a music producer, preaching: “This is my dancefloor I fought for / A heart, that’s what I’m livin’ for”.
The album is best listened to in full, with the cinematic orchestral passages linking the songs together and acting as a respite between each of the break-neck pop bangers. Occasionally it threatens to become a cliché – ‘Fun Tonight’ threatens to turn into Jess Glynne-radio fodder and inoffensive penultimate tune ‘1000 Doves’ fails to live up to the ecstasy of its predecessors. But for the most part ‘Chromatica’ is pure joy.
There are unexpected moments, though – particularly Gaga’s collaboration with Elton John. The two have been pals for over a decade – she’s even godmother two Elton John’s two sons – and previously teamed up for dramatic, piano-led awards ceremony performances and the soft-rock Gnomeo & Juliet soundtrack song ‘Hello Hello’. Given their past works, would it have been save to assume the two artists would work on a ballad together?
Absolutely not: ‘Sine From Above’ is basically what a heady night out at Glastonbury’s Shangri La with Elton and Gagz would sound like. With PC Music-tinted vocals and wild club production that fuses drum-and-bass and Eurodisco with ear-worm hooks, it’s brilliantly bizarre.
If collaborating with Elton John was her way of embracing the pop music’s past, Gaga also looks to the present and future, teaming up with K-pop group BLACKPINK on ‘Sour Candy – a ‘90s house smasher filled with slithering vocals (which flit between English and Korean) and a throbbing bassline.
On ‘Chromatica’ Gaga has fully embraced creating a pure pop album. The record is littered with catchy choruses and glossy production – but it goes deeper than that. ‘Chromatica’ is “about healing and it’s about bravery”, she explained before the album came out, adding: “sound is what healed me in my life period, and it healed me again making this record”. You can certainly hear that. From the exhilarating melodies to the positive, hope-filled lyrics, ‘Chromatica’ is a celebration – and a well-deserved one at that.