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Lady Gaga Needs 'Applause' a Bit Too Much

Most intriguing to me is her voice. One can't read too much into one song -- I need to wait for the whole album. But she sounds here about 20 years older than her previous outings. The song has a lot of attractive anger, not joyless by any stretch, but a boxer's focused resignation: I'm here to knock somebody out.

I live for the applause, applause, applause, she sings, in her driest monotone, comparing it to a heroin addiction. Yup. I think we can all agree on that.

But then she goes further, making herself, Yeezy style, into a vessel containing all the cultural expressions of society. That's the message of ARTPOP.

Pop culture was in art, now art's in pop culture and me, she sings. Um, we're going to run into some disagreement on that point.

As much as I love Gaga, there's nothing terribly new in what she does. She is clever as hell and wraps it all up in a great package. She delivers for her fans. She has even managed to bend the pop world to her will and stretch expectations into the realm of art. I'll give her that. But I'm not cashing in my MOMA and Met Opera subscriptions in favor of ARTPOP tour tickets yet.

Ambition like that has to have a forceful product and flawless execution to back it up. I see all the pieces in place, but the hype is already stilted and rings untrue. If Applause is any indication, I don't see ARTPOP delivering a Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band or a Yeezus experience. I don't see it transforming the culture the way she hopes. Frankly, I don't think Gaga is capable of that.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'm seeing the calculated "leaking" of Applause -- a good song, but not a great one -- together with the shrill ARTPOP sloganeering as an early sign that Gaga may be getting lost in her own hype.

In another tweet this week, after bashing music "bloggers" as know-nothings, Gaga says:

Well, OK, but this music scholar and blogger says you can't have it both ways. You can't represent all of culture and then turn around and say, I'm just here to entertain you. That's not what culture is.

To be fair, that tweet came in a flurry of messages defending Katy Perry, telling her to ignore the blogging critics. Perry can say she's just here to entertain. Despite the activism she may be involved in, she's exhibited few pretensions to anything greater as an artist.

Other artists have been able to successfully act like scoundrels, playing on their own hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement and get away with it. Some have even made a career out of it. ( Cough, cough -- sorry, I've got a little Yeezy caught in my throat.)

But Lady Gaga represents something very personal to her Little Monsters. They need to her be both larger than life and painfully real. She isn't just their star, she's their avatar.

Maybe they'll forgive her if she is dishonest with them or promises them something she can't deliver. Maybe not.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park, N.J.

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