Lady Gaga, in her most iconic forms, has no place in 2016. Can you imagine her 2010 antics at a time like this? Anything outlandish or flamboyant she could’ve done would’ve immediately been overshadowed by the nightmare media cycle tourture chamber we’ve been subjected to all year. So, when her lead single “Perfect Illusion” arrived, it was met with cut-off tee shirts, shorts, and sighs of relief. That, or indifference. Gaga’s never been this normal. No growls, no costumes, or anything to write a think piece about. It’s a perfectly acceptable song that fits comfortably in the middle of her discography. It doesn’t blow anyone’s hair back but merely evokes memories of earlier Gaga extravagance, and I believe that was the intention with her lead single and her album as a whole. Though a slight misdirection, Joanne distills the Gaga mythology and expands on an element that’s been reserved for smaller moments on her previous works: humanity.
That’s not to say that Lady Gaga isn’t human in her four albums so far (aside from that time she was a motorcycle), but it’s obvious that theatricality took the front seat in most albums; showcasing lavish, exotic thrills that stretched and bent pop music and theater to her will. And of course, it was fun! Though, aside from The Fame Monster, there’s no perfect Lady Gaga album that doesn’t get too weird or too experimental. An album in the vein of memorable moments of subdued theater and elevated emotion in songs like “Speechless” from The Fame Monster or “You and I” from Born This Way are under the spotlight here. What’s left is Joanne, a humble, impressive album that may sit for me as her strongest effort since The Fame Monster.
With the small Dive Bar Tour she’s embarked on along with her new Nashville-chic look, it’s reasonable to conclude that Joanne as a character is meant to be that singer-songwriter gal who performs around town at modest-sized venues and performs modest-sized songs. Clearly talented, sure, but is more about connecting with an audience emotionally than showcasing an array of stunts, costumes, and shows that distract from that. Songs like “Joanne”, “Million Reasons”, and the standard-album closer “Angel Down” reinforce that narrative.
The pivot from ‘Mother Monster from another planet’ to ‘everyday, simple gal who loves the Lord’ is an interesting one, especially after Taylor Swift’s famed abandonment of her own country-girl image. Gaga’s departure isn’t as stark, there’s still plenty of retro pop fun to be had ranging from “Hey Girl” (featuring really stunning vocals from Florence Welch), “A-YO”, and “Come to Mama” are effortlessly fun. But it’s pop music run through a vintage Instagram filter, and perhaps it’s the freshness of the album that hinders that message.
Time and age by nature cannot be accomplished the week of release, however. With time, though, I think Joanne, will begin to look like what Lady Gaga is actually envisioning it to be: an album destined for Crosley record players and young girls’ bedrooms, and I say that in the most postive way possible. These songs, I believe intentionally, insanely easy to play on an acoustic guitar. They’re clean, they’re emotional, they’re classic in the most basic, juvenile sense of the word. The immediately iconic album cover looks very good on a songbook. Lady Gaga is still a superstar, and an ever-evolving, adaptive one at that. Joanne fills a gap in today’s pop spectrum somewhere between Adele and Lana Del Rey, and that might be where she belongs. For now.
Joanne by Lady Gaga: 80%