While most mainstream musicians care deeply about both the details of their music and the way that music is presented to the world, Lady Gaga is the hardest-working artist in pop music because she makes absolute certain that every inch of her craft evolves and innovates. Her first major hit, "Just Dance," is a cleverly constructed account of being deliriously drunk but stringing together a solid evening; because it posed as an enduring electro-pop jam, that cleverness was bestowed to a huge audience. Since then, Gaga has done everything in her power to turn pop music into a grounds for discovery that goes beyond face value, from bold fashion selections to sprawling live set-ups to artiste collaborations to cultural engagements that go well beyond the transition of a verse into a chorus. When Gaga wanted to herald a social movement, she focused the first single on her pivotal "Born This Way" on LGBTQ rights; when she wanted to clue the unaware in on the magic of Jeff Koons, she hired the world-class artist to create a nude replica of her "Fame" persona for her latest album cover. Sure, there are times when the simple pleasure of a verse and a chorus is enough to satisfy, but Gaga has always demanded more -- and when she has found success, she has upheld achievements that no other pop artist has sniffed.
"ARTPOP," the follow-up to "Born This Way," naturally abides by this far-reaching ambition and looks to re-think the "pop album" as an entity, even more than Lady Gaga's last album did. It's not surprising that "ARTPOP" will be packaged with an interactive app that blends music, art, fashion and technology together, since that is precisely what "ARTPOP" the album tries to actualize; Gaga is grasping more cultural trinkets than ever before, and wants to synthesize them into one mind-blowing, 15-song statement. When Gaga balances these skyward designs with dynamic songwriting -- when she successfully mixes the 'art' with the 'pop,' if you will -- the results are often euphoric. "Dope" and "Gypsy" are compelling accounts of personal hell and heaven on the back half of the album, and when the midway run of the seductive "Sex Dreams," boisterous "Jewels n' Drugs," effervescent "MANiCURE" and slithering "Do What U Want" takes hold, it's a long-player experience unlike anything a pop fan will hear this year. Of course, some of the more convoluted tracks sputter out before Gaga can carry her vision through, but even the weakest moments on "ARTPOP" are so carefully built and ardently imagined that one cannot help but admire the effort.