Album Review: Lady Gaga, “The Fame Monster” (2009)

I’m not a Lady Gaga hater just for the sake of being one. To be honest, I enjoyed her when her first album was released- before the world proclaimed her as the best thing since sliced bread. Some of my hatred of Gaga and her music (unfair as this may be) actually does have a lot to do with the fact that she’s been greatly over-hyped and overrated. So many people worship her and her music and I just can’t agree that she’s as original or talented as her legions of fans (or monsters, as Gaga calls them) proclaim.

At best, Lady Gaga is a decent singer and a decent pop star. She’s great at putting on an interesting public persona, but to me, that doesn’t make someone a credible musician. Sure, she and her team have produced extremely catchy, memorable songs, but again, that doesn’t really make her a credible musician, either. Her songwriting is no prize either- it doesn’t take much to string together a bunch of vowels like she does in the choruses of many of her songs (seriously, Bad Romance, Alejandro and Telephone all feature some sort of stuttering chant in the chorus, with very few actual lyrics).   Even though I’ve danced along to her songs in a club, or sung along with the chorus of Telephone in a friend’s car, I still can’t say she’s deserving of all the success or attention she’s attained since her debut.

The Fame Monster (released in 2009) is Gaga’s third EP, and was responsible for a slew of hits, despite only being thirty minutes long and containing 8 tracks. A handful of producers (including pop/R&B hit maker, Rodney Jerkins) and songwriters (all of the songs are co-written by Gaga, though she partners up with songwriter/producer RedOne for several tracks) teamed up with Gaga for the production of the album.  Part of the disc’s success is due to Gaga’s bandwagon fan base, but I will admit that the other part of the album’s success has to do with the fact that it does contain a few good pop songs.

Bad Romance was ridiculously overplayed at the time it was released, and it’s still a bit hard for me to listen to the whole thing now because of the fact. I feel like the nonsensical refrain of “rah-rah-ah-ah-ah-roma-ro-ma-ma” has been permanently bashed into my head, the disco-esque melody has sadly been imprinted in my mind. Of course, anytime a song is such a colossal hit as this one, it makes one wonder just what makes it so appealing.  The case with Bad Romance is that it’s just extremely catchy. The chorus is an ear-worm (“I want your love and I want your revenge/You and me could write a bad romance”), and it seems that no one cares that Gaga’s throaty vocals are so unappealing here- it’s all about that chorus.

Alejandro follows and is actually a far better song than its predecessor, in my opinion. Sure, the melody is strangely reminiscent of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” (but what does Gaga do that isn’t somehow reminiscent of Madonna?), but I still like the Latin melody and even Gaga’s vocals. She’s not doing that weird growling thing she did for all of Bad Romance, and the result is a straight-forward vocal delivery, in which her voice is surprisingly pleasant to listen to. The chorus is another catchy beast (“Don’t call my name/Don’t call my name/Alejandro/I’m not your babe/I’m not your babe/Fernando/Don’t wanna kiss/Don’t wanna touch/Just smoke my cigarette, hush”) and the beat is danceable and fun.

Lady Gaga, ARTPOP Ball Tour, Bell Center, Montréal, 2 July 2014 (59) (14563277555)

Monster is a techno-laced dance track about a “bad boy”. The robotic refrain of “he ate my heart, he ate-ate-ate my heart,” explains it all, but in case you haven’t quite got how bad this guy is, Gaga sums it up over the synth-heavy chorus (“That boy is a monster!”). Speechless is an obvious send up of The Beatles, which is apparent right from the Sgt. Pepper-esque opening. The mid-tempo ballad is an interesting departure musically and production-wise from the pop/dance songs featured on the rest of the album. The song itself isn’t bad, but I find Gaga’s vocals too weak and, for lack of a better word, ugly, to really pull off a song like this. I really don’t care for the tone of her voice, and she doesn’t sound great here. Dance In The Dark is a new wave number with plenty of flashy synth lines and a breezy chorus made just for dancing in the club. Though the harmless fun of the song is nice, the tracks lacks anything to make it stand out, especially compared to some of Gaga’s more heavy hitting dance songs.

Speaking of which, next up is the album’s other big hit, Telephone. With two big names like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, it’s no wonder this song was such a hit. The dance anthem was heard everywhere the year it was released and again, features another unforgettable chorus (“Stop callin’/Stop callin’/I don’t wanna think anymore/I left my head and my heart on the dancefloor”). I can’t say I actually enjoy this song as far as music goes; the lyrics are too repetitive, I don’t like Beyoncé rapping (seriously, you have Beyoncé on your record and she’s not belting out something? What a waste of a feature!), and the “eh-eh-eh” stuttering in the chorus was already done earlier on Bad Romance (or on Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, which did it best). But the track is another fun one that I always find myself singing along to, so I have to give it a nod for that.

So Happy I Could Die is a hedonistic look at Gaga’s pleasures, including drinking, dancing, and touching herself. Despite the purposefully risqué lyrics, the song fails: the Europop beat is bland, as is Gaga’s flat delivery. Teeth continues the sexual theme as Gaga signs about S&M over a urban beat. “My religion is you,” she purrs repeatedly in the background. Excuse me while I yawn. Again, this sort of thing was already done in the 80’s by Madonna, and she pushed the envelope far further and sexier than Gaga could ever dream of. In this day and age, sexuality in pop music is so overdone and there’s pretty much nothing shocking anymore (as sad as that is). Writing a song for the sake of being “shocking” or creating a buzz is just sad, and further discredits Gaga’s musicianship in my eyes.

I’m not trying to bash Lady Gaga, but let’s be honest here: she’s really not as talented as the world seemingly thinks she is. Most everything she does is derivative of something better in the pop music world, and that’s not just me being a harsh critic: it’s true. Her songs are catchy, but that’s really all they have going for them, bereft of well-written lyrics, interesting subject matter, or good singing.  If you’re just looking for some surface-level, fun pop music, look no further.  If you’re looking for interesting, provocative, innovative music, keep searching.

Rating: 2_stars.svg

Track List
1. Bad Romance
2. Alejandro
3. Monster
4. Speechless
5. Dance in the Dark
6. Telephone
7. So Happy I Could Die
8. Teeth

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I]
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