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Lady Gaga has officially left her Joanne phase — and her Ally Maine phase, for that matter. While the shapeshifting multi-hyphenate for the most part abandoned her Monster-Balling, meat-dressing persona while focusing on her recent musical projects (the Tony Bennett jazz collaboration Cheek to Cheek, the stripped singer-songwriter vibe of Joanne and A Star Is Born), her absolute banger of a sixth studio album, Chromatica, marks her triumphant and trippy return to disco-stick-wielding, poker-faced, bad-romancing electropop.
But Chromatica isn’t exactly a flashback to Gaga’s The Fame era — it goes deeper and flashes farther back than that. In the lead-up to Chromatica’s release, Gaga posted a “Welcome to Chromatica” playlist on Spotify, a seven-hour virtual rave with remixes of her new floor-fillers, “Stupid Love” and “Rain on Me,” sliding right in between inspo cuts by house music and techno icons like Frankie Knuckles, Moby, Tiësto, Basement Jaxx, Bob Sinclair, Todd Terry, Roger Sanchez, Cassius, Axwell and Tchami (the latter two have production credits on her album). And while Chromatica leans more pop than those tracks, it’s still a glorious exercise in future-nostalgia; in particular, the ebullient opening opus “Alice” and a slinky collab with K-pop girl group Blackpink, “Sour Candy,” wouldn’t sound out of place on a playlist next to ‘90s club queens like Crystal Waters, Deee-Lite or CeCe Peniston.
The lyrics to Chromatica’s confessions on a dance floor, however, still tap into the raw, keening pain of Gaga’s more recent heart-on-fringed-sleeve ballads like “Million Reasons” and the Oscar-winning “Shallow.” The aforementioned edge-of-glory empowerment anthem with Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me,” was inspired by their friendship forged from shared trauma; another remix-ready track, “Sine From Above,” pairs its glitchy bonkers beats with the unexpectedly gut-punching line “When I was young, I felt immortal,” stoically delivered by her 73-year-old duet partner and another dear friend, Sir Elton John. Elsewhere, Gaga fembotically raps about self-sabotage and medication dependence on “911,” while “Free Woman” reflects on her survival of a sexual assault by an unnamed music producer.
But when Gaga belts, “This is my dance floor I fought for” on the latter track, she also seems to be reviving the simple but reassuring sentiment of her very first smash single: Just dance. It’s gonna be OK. And as she drops a blacklight-bright collection of rave anthems in the middle of some incredibly dark times, that healing message, beamed in from the fantastic planet Chromatica, is certainly one this planet needs right now.
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