Expectations have been stratospherically high for Lady Gaga’s latest studio album Chromatica and thankfully the sixth album from the pop hitmaker is now with us. Arriving with shining neon pink aesthetics and industrial futuristic imagery (as showcased in German photographer and filmmaker Norbert Schoerner’s album cover), Chromatica is a shimmering, pulsating collection of high-energy dance anthems paying tribute to the singer’s many musical influences from nineties house music to throbbing early noughties eurodance. Gaga has created an album centred on pushing through hardships and her chosen battlefield is the dancefloor. Packed with a fully orchestrated concept -like the singer’s best work – Gaga invites us to Chromatica, a euphoric futuristic world where soaring club beats are worshipped and Gaga is our guide through this sweaty, neon-soaked musical paradise.
Morgan Kibby’s sumptuous string set makes the opening musical statement of the album – feeling almost like a space opera – the instrumental manages to conjure up the otherworldly voyage that listeners will take as they proceed on their trip to Chromatica. It’s a beautiful layered piece filled with vibrant, empowering orchestration and near magical cinematic power that would feel perfectly at home in a science fiction epic.
BloodPop and Axwell’s Alice emerges from the flow of the opening Chromatica I instrumental with Gaga’s vocals delivering the soaring line “My name isn’t Alice but I’ll keep lookin’ for Wonderland.” The beats per minute amp up and we are immediately reminded of how well Gaga’s crystal clear vocals ride along the waves of a nineties inspired house beat. Lyrically the track conjures up the concept of Chromatica being a Lewis Carroll-inspired Wonderland free from the confines and perils of contemporary society.
The racking synths and eighties dance flavour of Chromatica’s lead single Stupid Love still slap hard. Gaga’s cries of “All I ever wanted was love” before transcending to the belting chorus of “Higher higher / I want your stupid love,” is near euphoric in its upbeat energy and optimistic joy. In the context of the album, Stupid Love, is an impressive showcase of the different paths that Gaga has taken in regards to the subgenre of dancepop with the elegant nu-disco production from BloodPop, Tchami, Max Martin, and Ely Rise helping this one stand out as an obvious choice for a lead single – as well as a cohesive introduction to Gaga’s concept of Chromatica. The euphoric dance production creates an intriguing blend when paired with Gaga’s open songwriting showcasing an acknowledgement of the need for love – it feels authentic and admirably vulnerable, whilst also being a Top 5 Gaga dance banger.
Rain On Me (with Ariana Grande)
“I’d rather be dry but at least I’m alive. Rain on me,” Gaga sings on this joyous flashy big pop girl duet. Ariana Grande and Gaga’s vocals compliment each other with impressive effect – Ariana softer and more seductive, with Gaga’s powerful and versatile. Rain On Me is a distinctive, earworm-filled jam packed with lyrics which hook us in (“Hands up to the sky, I’ll be your galaxy,” and “Rain on me. Tsunami.”) and again sticks to nostalgic club-inspired production. The track showcases themes of overcoming personal hardship, hurt and tears, and dancing your sorrows away.
Gaga turns a traumatic experience into an empowering anthem of strength and independence on Free Woman. The singer noted in her interview with Zane Lowe the track stems from her refusal to see herself as a victim after a sexual assault from a music producer. One may be able to detect the song was one rooted in a painful experience, with Free Woman shining as an ode to perseverance, heard as Gaga sings “I’m still something if I don’t got a man. I’m a free woman,” and “This is my dancefloor, I fought for,” alluding to her fight for happiness against hardship and adversity. An early contender for single treatment, Free Woman’s themes and lyrical strength help it stand out.
Lacking the initial addictive appeal of some of the other tracks on Chromatica, Fun Tonight struggles to find its footing and a clear distinctive sound, despite sounding like it is building to a massive chorus around the one minute mark. Fans may enjoy the winking references to The Fame and Paparazzi – although we do think that it cheapens the otherworldly concept slightly. Fun Tonight begins to grow on us as it reaches the half way point as Gaga absorbingly croons “I’m feelin’ the way that I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’ with you, I’m not havin’ fun tonight” post-chorus. The slick production from Burns and BloodPop does save the track in its final thirty seconds.
The next act of Chromatica begins with another orchestral interlude from Morgan Kibby and Gaga. Our voyage continues with the sumptuous strings taking a some darker cinematic tone building to a jaw-dropping transitioning blend into the intro of 911. These two tracks should be played together for maximum effect as when 911‘s intro hits it feels like we have crash landed onto the euphoric world of Chromatica. We are fully immersed.
Gaga, BloodPop, Madeon, and Justin Tranter produce this contemporary electronic pop number continuing to enhance the sci-fi imagery of Gaga’s Chromatica concept. Here she showcases an impressive vocal versatility opening with a soft hypnotic quality before enhancing her vocoder assisted vocals as she sings “My biggest enemy is me, pop a 911” a reference to her relationship with anti-psychotic medication. 911 is an impressive album track that sees Gaga veer into darker lyrical territory but not in a way that adapts the album’s tone to a sombre one. The production is still a testament to sharp crisp futuristic pop.
Plastic Doll plays with the concept of pop culture objectifying artists as products with Gaga singing “Open me up and cut me loose / I come with a purse and new shoes / Am I your type? Am I your type?” in the track’s pre-chorus. This is a stellar track once again playing with futuristic concepts and lyrics that will undoubtedly pack a double meaning to queer listeners with “Don’t play with me / It just hurts me” and “I’m no toy for a real boy” likely to strike a chord with anyone who has had their emotions or heart played with. This is bouncy electronic pop anthem with Gaga’s vocals shining strongly.
Sour Candy (with BLACKPINK)
With Korean girlgroup Blackpink opening the track and getting the platform to shine in both English and their mother tongue, Sour Candy is soaked in nineties house culture and packs seductively dangerous lyrics. The girl’s blend of English and Korean gives Sour Candy and eclectic global feel. As Gaga enters the track with vocal delivery at perhaps her most theatrical as she sings “I’m hard on the outside / But if you give me time / Then I could make time for your love.” This a refreshingly punchy club anthem that is likely to grow with listeners over time.
The spectacular Enigma takes us to transcendent highs as Gaga belts out “We could be lovers, even just tonight. We could be anything you want. We could be jokers, brought to the daylight. We could break all of our stigma, I’ll, I’ll be your enigma,” against inviting production from BloodPop and Burns. Playing with concept of distorted reality and relationships, alongside very Gaga-esque imagery (“Violet light smears the atmosphere,” “Dragon’s eyes watch, goddess breathing,” and “Is it all just virtual”) that continues to define and explore the concept of Chromatica. This a grandiose belting standout with Gaga’s masterful vocal control, evocative imagery, and soaring production hooking us in.
Opening like an electrified version of The Who’s Baba O’Riley, Gaga’s vocoder assisted, immaculately enunciated vocals remind us we are firmly on the world of Chromatica. The track explores the idea of Gaga’s battles with PTSD and the demons that continue to ‘replay’ and plague her, seen as she sings “Every single day, yeah, I dig a grave / Then I sit inside it, wondering if I’ll behave” on the evocative second verse. Again, Gaga and producers BloodPop and Burns manage to turn a dark subject matter in a future deep house classic that plays with the world of electronic disco.
The final instrumental interlude on the album, Chromatica III, a short yet beautiful twenty-seven seconds soaked with a sense of urgency – yet not an alarming. Soundtracked by light backing sounds of thunder and rain, it feels somewhat as if we have emerged from the darker lyrical middle act of the album.
Sine from Above (with Elton John)
With no disrespect to Sir Elton, our preconceptions had us assuming this would be a chirpy piano centred number (somewhat akin to their previous collaboration Hello Hello) – yet Sine from Above slapped us sideways by delivering a raucous eurobanger of epic proportions. A love letter to music as Gaga’s method of survival (a sine being the musical expression), the singer leads us to clubland before Sir Elton arrives around the half-way mark with one of his most staggeringly raw vocals in a way that the musical icon has never been heard before. A eurotrance beat underpins the soaring vocals of Gaga and Elton who create an undeniably interesting blend as both belt over a chorus noting “Before there was love, there was silence, I heard one sine, And it healed my heart, heard a sine.” The last act of Sine from Above veers us into a further curveball, turning into a hard dubstep beat. It is a staggering track and one of the album’s clear standouts.
Opening with raw, vulnerable lyrics “I need you to listen to me, please believe me / I’m completely lonely, please don’t judge me,” 1000 Doves sees another standout vocal performance from Gaga as she sings this anthem about supporting one another. As the chorus arrives, the beat drops and 1000 Doves transforms from an emotive midtempo to a club-ready banger.
The culmination of the album is a dance celebration and testament to its themes of dancing through pain and transporting yourself to another world through the dancefloor. Evocative of classic mythology, but in an unabashedly queer and empowering fashion, Gaga sings: “Strut it out, walk a mile” and “serve it, ancient-city style.” It’s not far of a RuPaul anthem – made for strutting, voguing and feeling your oats on the dancefloor. With Gaga’s almost chanting vocals, backed by a gospel choir, this is a slick, nineties inspired club-ready crowdpleaser and another album standout.
Fully deserving of the rave fan praise, Chromatica is Gaga’s most assured and cohesive pop album since Born This Way. Secured by its otherworldly theme, Gaga truly takes us on a voyage throughout the album. A love-letter to the world of dance music of all kinds (nineties house, eurodance, trance, being just a few), Gaga continues to showcase her versatility and lyrical depth within this. Lyrics which deal with challenging concepts such as the singer’s own demons, supported by immaculate, full pop production, help Chromatica shine as one of the singer’s strongest musical works.