A part of Lady Gaga’s success can be attributed to her ability to shock listeners with the choices she makes. How can we forget her most iconic fashion moment – that meat dress (which by the way, still makes me queasy) – or the religious controversy she courted with singles Judas and Alejandro?
In her latest album release, Joanne, Lady Gaga is shocking listeners once again. But the shock here lies in the fact that her new material isn’t a celebration of the bizarre and the outlandish that we’re used to, instead, it celebrates the plain and the simple.
Half of Lady Gaga’s new album comprises slow, stripped down ballads that warm the heart. The deeply personal title track was written for her aunt Joanne (also Gaga’s middle name) who died before Gaga was born. Accompanied by just a guitar and the sound of her raw, crackling voice, it is a meaningful ballad for anyone who has lost a loved one and is trying to come to terms with that.
Besides personal stories, the singer also draws inspiration from hard-hitting issues affecting the United States today. Angel Down was written with Trayvon Martin in mind. The 17-year-old unarmed African American student was shot down by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman back in 2012. Beautifully written and movingly performed, it is easily the highlight of the album.
Another low-key, tear-jerking ballad is Million Reasons. Gaga co-wrote the song with Hillary Lindsey, a rather unusual choice seeing the songwriter is responsible for country hits such as Sara Evans’ A Little Bit Stronger, Carrie Underwood’s Jesus Take The Wheel, and Little Big Town’s Girl Crush – not pop hits.
Speaking of country music, there’s a palpable sense of the genre in this album. For example, Sinner’s Prayer, a song about abusive relationships, has an unmistakably country-Western feel to it.
If you’re looking for something more uptempo, the album has a good number of those such as lead single Perfect Illusion and A-Yo, which are both pretty danceable. The difference here is, these fast tracks feature more of an old school vibe and don’t lean heavily on the modern, electronic sounds she often incorporates to her music.
Still, the most outstanding moments in Joanne are her ballads. It is during these moments that Gaga proves she can do without all the shock value she has injected listeners with in the past.
It is evidence that her vocal ability is enough, her knack for songwriting is enough, her musical taste is enough to maintain her position atop the charts.