“I discovered that I was living in two realities at once,” Lady Gaga explains in a spoken word piece called “The Manifesto of Chromatica, Part 1,” accompanying the new album release. “They fought all the time, and yet I made space for both of them for a reason I can’t explain.”
She goes on to try, explaining that, early on in life, she was living in an “Earth reality,” but simultaneously one which she experienced through dream, where she performed her thoughts, and mattered. And spread kindness through sound. How literal she’s being here, it’s hard to say. You never know with Gaga. But as a metaphor for her career, it works wonderfully.
The obvious take is that Stefani Germanotta is the “Earth reality” while Gaga is the dream performer. Stefani is a real person, Gaga a theatrical pseudonym. Maybe, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. At least, not any more. One suspects that the artist we know as Lady Gaga encompasses elements from both of those realities, and so does Germanotta. Somebody should draw a Venn diagram.
You have to dig a little deeper, but only a little because Chromatica lays a lot of it out for you. Gaga’s musical career at this point, as beautifully illustrated by this album, is a furious, gorgeous blend of the fantastical and the painfully honest. Sometimes within the same song, sometimes separately but still within the same body of work.
The reception in the days since the album’s drop has been largely positive. But how Chromatica, or any Gaga release, is received by critics and fans sort of depends on what those people expect from her at this point. It’s tough to imagine that anyone could have expected more, because it’s a joyful album.
Previous records might have had the better singles. But as a body, as a concept almost, Chromatica is a raging success. It is both commercially accessible, and artistically valid. That’s what separates her from other contemporary pop icons such as Ariana Grande (who she carries like a backpack on new single “Rain on Me”).
She takes so many left turns, throws so many curve balls, it’s mildly dizzying but in the best possible way. There are three orchestral pieces here — “Chromatica I,” “II” and “III.” Each time one sweeps in, we’re reminded that we have no idea what’s coming next. It could be the appropriately named “Enigma,” arguably the most epic, anthemic tune on the album. Or it could be the super-sweet “Sour Candy,” which sees her working to great effect with K-pop girl group Blackpink.
“Stupid Love” is a heart-wrenching display of strength, while Elton John seems to be having the time of his life on “Sine From Above” — not, as you might expect, a ballad but a pop banger that drops.
It finishes strongly, with potential club anthem “1000 Doves” giving way to the concluding “Babylon” with its Madonna’s “Vogue”-esque spoken word bit. It all works though. And it’s typically Gaga in that nothing is typical. Yeah, it’s pop and detractors will claim that it’s vapid. Whatever. All that matters is that the artist is living and working in whatever realities she wants to, and she’s producing fiercely exciting work. This is where she is now. Do with that what you will.