In 2017, Lady Gaga rocked the Super Bowl halftime show with an incredible performance following the release of her fifth studio album, Joanne. In 2018, she worked a different angle, co-starring in “A Star is Born” — a film that incorporated her vocal talent as well as her acting capabilities. Since these momentous milestones in her decadelong career, fans have anticipated the release of her next solo record. With Chromatica, Gaga has finally delivered, surpassing expectations with a body of work that is intelligent and unprecedentedly complex.
Chromatica embodies the many facets of the pop star, explored with the mindfulness of her place as a woman in the pop industry. While the content is exceedingly dense, the music remains exhilarating. The majority of the album consists of electro-pop dance tracks, transporting Gaga all the way back to the stylings of Born This Way, circa 2011. The beats are heavy and the synths are loud, making this a work that is unmistakably club and dance-floor ready. Gaga is in her element here, traversing the record’s production with a quirky ease one can only expect from “mother monster.”
The album’s club bangers are found in its collaborations, as well as solo tracks such as “911.” Gaga’s collaborators, Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK and Elton John, serve their respective tracks with the poignancy expected from these huge industry names. “Rain on Me” is an anthem of perseverance, showcasing the outstanding vocal talents of both Gaga and Grande. “Sour Candy” is an obvious ode to the K-pop genre that has risen in popularity in the United States in recent years, assisted by the multitalented girl group BLACKPINK. Finally, “Sine From Above” is a memoir of Gaga’s past, recounting her struggles to be heard and understood, fittingly supported by one of her many musical influences — Elton John.
Chromatica doesn’t stop, however, at simple club bangers. Unlike many of her previous works, the album accounts for a wide range of Gaga’s personal struggles, doing so by calling on a wide range of genres. The record’s three interludes feel intelligent and purposeful, moving the record through what feels like acts in a Broadway drama. Each of these acts carries meaning and congruence, allowing the record to flow with a tightness unmatched in Gaga’s discography.
The emotional and lyrical highlights of the record come when Gaga is at her most vulnerable. “Plastic Doll” and similar track “Free Woman” see past the mystique that surrounds Gaga’s public image, and offer a looking glass into the obstacles she has and continues to face. “I’ve lived in a pink box so long/ I am top shelf, they built me strong,” she laments on “Plastic Doll.” This is Gaga as we rarely see her, transcribing the patriarchal obstacles faced by women in the pop music industry. She’s experienced these manifestations of an institutional misogyny, and she tackles them with heart and mind.
Standouts on Chromatica extend to Gaga’s diverse group of influences as much as her lyrical depth. On one of the album’s highlights, “Babylon,” Gaga seems to allude to “ball culture,” an LGBTQ+ subgroup that intertwines drag, dance and popular music. It engendered a particular style and flavor of music, including the techno or “voguing” tunes that Gaga calls upon throughout “Babylon.” The track is upbeat, sassy and written with a stunning amount of wit. It is riddled with biblical and historical references, woven in with colloquial phrases that make for an exciting, “vogue-able” outlying track.
A clever combination of style and perceptive lyrical craft make Chromatica a beacon in Gaga’s ranging discography. More than anything, Gaga seems to understand her work and her place in relation to it — producing moments on the record that feel far beyond the catchy tunes she is widely known for. Hearing her transcend in this way is thrilling, recalling the exciting artistic potential she displayed all the way back in 2009, at the very start of her career. Time has proven her a juggernaut in the music world and a mainstay in an industry that seems quick to throw away what it has lost interest in. Clearly, though, Gaga has proven capable of holding our attention.