As far as I’m concerned, the idea of Lady Gaga died three years ago when she released Art Pop and then disappeared from the “mainstream” music world to do songs with Tony Bennett and be on American Horror Story. Gaga’s 2016 showed her randomly performing the National Anthem at Super Bowl 50 (and now will play the half-time show at Super Bowl LI), and even performing an awkward and all over the place David Bowie tribute at the Grammy’s. But Art Pop was really the final straw for Lady Gaga. Goddamn was “Applause” a bad song, and that was only the single. I actually really enjoyed her record with Tony Bennett, and the idea of Lady Gaga as a jazzy lounge singer on her next record was really what got me excited for Gaga’s return.
Sadly, Joanne is not a Lady Gaga jazzy lounge singer record. If anything it’s not even Gaga and way more “Joanne,” Gaga’s real middle name, since the idea or character of “Lady Gaga” isn’t really anywhere to be found. Also named after her late aunt Joanne, her new record is basically country-pop with a few exceptions and thematically all over the place. The cover art designation really says it all, though it should read more like “Lady Gaga -> Joanne” than “Lady Gaga / Joanne,” because there’s no real slash or balance of power between the old persona and the new. Lady Gaga is pretty much not even here, but Joanne is, and unsurprisingly I’m not a big Joanne fan.
The opener “Diamond Heart,” however, is honestly a decent opener and the best song on the record, though that’s pretty generous considering the low track record of the rest of the album, a.k.a., it’s not that hard to be the best song on Joanne. A lot of the songs here are very corny when it comes to songwriting and lyrical choices, such as “Million Reasons,” “Sinner’s Prayer,” “Come to Mama,” and “Just Another Day,” the latter of which sounding like something a pre-teen Paul McCartney would write. I thought the record would be about her late aunt Joanne, who is really only sung about on the title track, but instead Joanne has some songs like “Dancin’ in Circles” which is unabashedly about masturbation, and “A-Yo”/”John Wayne,” which awkwardly stress how much she wants to get high and find a rugged man like John Wayne, the now 72-year old actor from the original True Grit.
“Perfect Illusion” is one of those songs that you’ll like only because they play it on the radio 24/7, but besides being beaten into your head it’s actually a pretty bad song. More like “Perfect Delusion” (fun fact: it’s basically pronounced the same). It’s a “decent mirage.” Okay, I’m done now. Also, the beginning sounds exactly like the Pokemon theme song. It’s so overly Cher and I, for the life of me, don’t understand why her eyes keep rolling back into her head in the video. While we’re at it, please no Florence Welch, they both sound so out of place and that atonal synth just please, why?
Joanne is about as all over the place as LadyGaga.com, from songs about pleasuring yourself to deceased relatives leaving too soon, drinking pinot grigio, John Wayne, smoking pot, and police shootings on “Angel Down.” On one hand, I’m glad that “Lady Gaga” didn’t make another record because Art Pop 2 would have been a disaster, but the dull and contrived Joanne isn’t that far away. Jazzy lounge singer Lady Gaga has been the best Gaga since The Fame Monster and I stand by my belief that when Tony Bennett asks for another go around, Gaga will realize there’s enough bad pop-country in the world. There’s a whole un-tapped market she would kill in if she just pushed the envelope instead of trying to fit in somewhere that already plentifully exists.