Monday, September 2, 2013

Lady Gaga: Live at the iTunes Festival


Aura: ★★★★☆
MANiCURE: ★★★★☆
ARTPOP: ★★★★★
Jewels and Drugs: ★★☆☆☆
Sex Dreams: ★★★★★
Swine: ★★★★☆
I Wanna Be With You: ★★★★☆

Every year, Apple Inc. sponsors the month-long iTunes Festival held at The Roundhouse of London. Yesterday, Lady Gaga opened the concert series, premiering seven new songs from her upcoming album, ARTPOP. She closed the show (which she coined the 'SwineFest,') with "Applause," the lead single from the album.

Twenty minutes later than scheduled, Lady Gaga appeared on stage, kneeling in a black outfit that covered her entire body, including the majority of her face. Unexpectedly, her wig was straight and black. I wasn't the biggest fan of the hairdo, but it was definitely different from other hairstyles she's done before.

Blaring through The Roundhouse first was "Aura," which wasn't entirely new to everyone; a demo of the song leaked a few weeks ago online, so many fans, including myself, had already heard it before. The initial sound of the song could be described as a demented version of Gaga's own "Americano," but at around the one-minute mark, all hell breaks loose and the song swings into an electronic-dance craze. It was one of my many favorites of the night.

Following "Aura" was another much-talked about track: "MANiCURE," a title which acts as both the word 'manicure' and the phrase 'man I cure.' The song screams the influence from rock music, as Gaga rips into verses sounding somewhat like Joan Jett. The rock vibe lasts for the entire song, but towards the end a bit of trippy electronic music gets added in, giving the song a completely insane sound that I would have never expected from Lady Gaga.

"MANiCURE" ended with Gaga sitting in a chair, surrounded by men in suits. On stage, in front of everyone, Gaga ripped off her black wig, replacing it with a large, frizzy brunette wig. (That certain wig that seems to be quite popular this era.) She also spun around in her chair, and stripped down to a seashell bra and underwear.

This new look led into the performance of the title track from ARTPOP, a song I've been waiting to hear for over a year now. The song is actually a bit more chilled-out than I expected, but its instrumental track is just as techno and glitchy as I wanted it to be. The only thing I didn't like about the song were the Michael Jackson-esque "HEEE-HEEE" noises that Gaga made towards the end of the song. Perhaps if we're lucky those noises won't be included in the studio version, and the song can truly be considered perfect.

As "ARTPOP" concluded, Gaga went into a small speech about not caring about commercial success or popularity, and said she wrote the next song in the set list with that mindset. However, that statement was obviously a complete lie, as "Jewels and Drugs" opens with a terrible verse from T.I., one of three rappers to be featured on the track. (Come on, we all know that pop stars include rappers for commercial success.)

The instrumental track of "Jewels and Drugs" is stunning, but the inclusion of messy rappers like T.I., Too $hort, and Twista make me dislike the song. I can't believe that Gaga axed both of Azealia Banks' tracks from ARTPOP but kept that mess on the track listing. I'm really hoping that "Ratchet" and "Red Flame" surface at some point, because I'm sure they'll be ten times better than "Jewels and Drugs."

Once "Jewels and Drugs" (finally) ended, the show continued on with "Sex Dreams." Little Monsters have known this title for a while, and I've been against the entire time. It sounds like such a slutty and trashy title, but the song actually turned out to be my absolute favorite from this set. The song is all about fantasizing about somebody that you can't really have for yourself and the overall sound is so smooth and seductive. I couldn't help but fall in love with the song once I heard it.

Another costume change took place on stage after Gaga was done having her "Sex Dreams." This time, she talked to the audience and she took off her wig and skull cap. She talked about her critics and how they always say she 'hides' behind fancy clothes and big wigs. As a response, she said that the next few songs were quite personal to her and decided to strip down to just her dark, natural, shoulder-length hair. She also threw on a plain white tee-shirt to add to the simplicity.

The monologue led right into "Swine," a song she said took her back to a 'place she never wanted to go back to.' I had always assumed the track was inspired by the hatred from Perez Hilton, but she left it pretty open-ended to the point that it could be about anyone or anything. So far, fans have guessed sexual abuse, drug use, and the struggle to get to the top of charts, all of which could seem plausible.

Like "Aura," this song begins and ends on two opposite ends of the spectrum, which leads me to believe that both tracks were produced by Zedd. "Swine" begins with a piano verse but somehow ends with the Mother of All Electronic Breakdowns. The song features plenty of random pig-like squeals and screams, and one part where Gaga's voice is edited to sound somewhat like Porky Pig from Looney Tunes cartoons. The track sounds amazing, but the lyrics are pretty off-putting, considering they're about a pig...

Finally, Gaga takes things a much more personal level, as she sits behind a keyboard and begins playing the beginning chords of "I Wanna Be With You" as she explains the meaning behind the song. She talked about how hard it was to make the decision to end the Born This Way Ball Tour early and how much she misses all of us: her fans. The song can easily be seen as a dedication to her fans, and she even plug the title "Born This Way" in the lyrics at some point. For me, it was a really emotional song. The lyrics were a bit cheesy, but I didn't care because of how emotional it made me.

The stage went dark after "Swine," but Gaga soon re-appeared in a green jacket and top hat to perform an encore: "Applause." She looked amazing and vocally, it seemed even better than the performance she did at the MTV Video Music Awards. However, I'm still disappointed that she left all of the vocals in the chorus up to the backing vocals, opting to dance instead. The choreography is complex, but not so that she couldn't sing along as well. (If she could sing and do the dance moves to "Judas" at the same time, she could easily do the same with "Applause.")

The concert left me stunned. Some of these songs were so different from what she's ever done; the lyrics, the production, the inspiration... Everything changed. Sometimes I noticed that the songs fell flat lyrically, but the instrumental beats completely met my expectations. I'm sure that Gaga, Zedd, DJ White Shadow, and Madeon have done wonders with the studio versions of the songs from ARTPOP. I gave each song a rating at the top of the page, but I can't call them final ratings until I hear the studio versions in November when ARTPOP finally drops.

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