If Born This Way was made for the Little Monsters, its 2013 sequel ARTPOP was made for the world. Lady Gaga has grand designs for her third album, to pull a "reverse Warhol," which presumably means she wants to channel high art into pop instead of pop into high art, but it's a little difficult to discern Gaga's intent, either in this statement or ARTPOP as a whole. Willfully existing simply on the surface, a surface that perhaps (or perhaps not) signifies a greater depth, ARTPOP is teasingly garish, its bright colors and brittle beats attacking with glee, the emphasis always on big, pulsating beats, shattered reflections, and sound cascading over song in every instance. Inevitably, this emphasis on production means the pop in ARTPOP winds up diminished; perhaps it's "pop" in the pop-art sense, as it's shamelessly intentionally populist, but as pop music it's stiff, relying not on hooks in either its melody or rhythm, but rather a full-on glitz blitz that can dazzle as often as it tires. Lost in her self-generated mythos, Gaga doesn't much care whether her music sticks as long as she's not ignored -- even such seemingly soul-baring moments as the single-spotlight showcase "Dope" aren't confessional so much as gear shifts designed to capture attention -- and ARTPOP continually demands attention as it eschews the notion of love, right down to how all the sex songs deliberately separate the body from the soul. This isn't limited to Gaga's exhortation to R. Kelly to "do what you want with my body" on "Do What U Want," either. At times -- particularly through the album's first half -- ARTPOP is a non-stop erotic cabaret, Gaga contorting herself to fulfill any desire, switching roles between a guy and a girl, and a bottom and a top, her ambidextrous sexuality signaling power, not sensuality. This same arrogance glides her through songs about style -- the ludicrous "Donatella," a tribute to Versace that borders on character assassination; "Fashion!," which isn't a David Bowie cover, no matter how much it longs to be -- and through the songs about drugs, a cycle that takes her toward a concluding coda where Gaga stands resplendent in the applause. The concept is artful and logical, yet ARTPOP never insinuates or settles in the subconscious; it always assaults, determined to make an impression even when all it has to say is that it doesn't have much to say.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine