September 21, 2016


Lady Gaga's 'Joanne' Album Era: The Pop Star is Redefining Her Normal

James Devaney/GC Images
James Devaney/GC Images

Lady Gaga released the music video for "Perfect Illusion," her most minimal one to date, on Tuesday night. The singer traded in her extravagant outfits for a casual ripped tee and hot pants, put down her wig to rock her natural hair and ditched choreography and backup dancers for a manic mosh pit party. It was strange to see a pop star acting so normal, but it may be a sign of what she has in store for her Joanne album era.

The "Perfect Illusion" video is a striking yet refreshing departure from her 2008 flashy David Bowie-inspired debut "Just Dance," or even 2009's groundbreaking "Bad Romance" video that set a new standard of what it meant to be a modern pop visionary.

The same person who gave us pop culture-shifting moments like the meat dress, the half-human/half-motorcycle album cover, the vomit-filled SXSW performance, the Jeff Koons sculpture and the infamous disco stick is now trading in all of her eccentricity for a more normalized style. Yet what does this all symbolize?

Perhaps Lady Gaga is trying to stray away from the frustrating chaos that was the Artpop era, a time in her career where creating a try-hard artistic "reverse Warholian" movement hindered the music. Artpop underperformed and found the singer slowly shifting away from her over-the-top image. And then, in came in 2014's Cheek to Cheek, Gaga's collaborative jazz album with Tony Bennett that foreshadowed what was about to come.

Instead of her typical avant-garde and often jarring outfits, the singer opted for glamorous Old Hollywood garments on the red carpet and simple New York girl-next-door looks. Maybe she was tired of chasing her own thrill, or maybe she now wants to reveal the other side of Lady Gaga: Stefani Germanotta.

As seen on Instagram, Stefani likes to make fresh pasta from scratch, eats dinner with her pastor, does the grocery shopping herself, gets her driver's license and opts for a bare, bright-eyed face that was once emblazoned with a glittery lightning bolt. Gone are the gimmicky stunts, wild child antics and overwhelming pretension.

The music is shaping up to be different this time around too. The more minimal "Perfect Illusion" is a pop/rock/disco fusion helmed by Mark RonsonTame Impala's Kevin Parker and Bloodpop. Gaga also revealed she's collaborating with indie rock artist Father John Misty, Florence Welch, Josh Homme, Beck and country songwriter Hillary Lindsey. It is a notable departure from four-on-the-floor Artpop collaborators Zedd, David Guetta and DJ White Shadow.

In an interview with Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio, Lady Gaga's explanation of the new album's title gives insight on what could be a more personal record:

"When Mark [Ronson] and I wrote it, the decision to name the album that was in tribute to my father's sister who died when she was 19. He was younger than her. She was very sick with lupus. The death of her in his family and life left a scar that never healed. As I returned to my home life and spending time with my friends and family and getting out of the mainstream limelight for a minute, the experiences of our family and our challenges that make us who we are. It's everything about Joanne, which also happens to be my middle name. It's all the toughness of the pain of losing her that made us all strong and made us who we are. She is the woman of my past who is becoming and helping me bring more of my honest woman self into the future."

Throughout the years, Lady Gaga has created a character that defines each period in her musical career: the club girl tainted by money for The Fame Monster, the raging and overtly sexualized rocker for Born This Way, the mythological "artiste" for Artpop and the smooth jazz queen for Cheek to Cheek. But now, she is stripping away all of that to showcase the true self she rediscovered in the midst of her personal journey.

Joanne, Gaga's fourth studio album, will arrive on Oct. 21. With only one single to its name at the moment, we still have a bit of time to find out if the artist truly laid her Mother Monster wig to rest. But for now, it seems like she has no desire to revert back to her old ways.

Below, watch the pop star reflect on Artpop, the state of the music business and being compared to Katy Perry at SXSW 2014: