Gaga takes up Black Lives Matter

Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga.

NEW YORK • For almost a decade, Lady Gaga has been arguing the case that flamboyance is ideology. Her career has been predicated on demolishing conventional ideas about what it might mean to play a character - with Gaga, it was never play, always work.

She was focused on the transformative powers of packaging, but her new album, the stripped-down Joanne, is a rejoinder to her past and also to the candy-striped pop that surrounds her.

Using roots music and rock, she takes up issues including Black Lives Matter, the movement triggered by a series of killings of African-Americans.

She said she wrote Angel Down, a grim ballad, after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida as he walked home with iced tea and candy.

"I confess that I am lost in the age of the social," she sings. "Angel down, angel down/But the people just stood around."

Gaga, in an interview for the album's release last Friday, said she felt compelled to speak out after talking to black fans who are "terrified when they hear sirens".

"How could I possibly make an album about twerking my a** in a club?" she told Beats 1, Apple Music's Internet radio station.

"It feels empty, it feels irrelevant. When I go into the studio at this point in my career, I can't possibly just sit and think, oh, what would be just fun?"

Joanne, however, is still very much an album about Lady Gaga. The title track is a reference to an aunt who died at age 19 after a struggle with lupus and who the star is named after (her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta).

Gaga, who was until recently engaged to actor Taylor Kinney, makes a likely reference to the break-up on Diamond Heart. She sings that she has become resilient enough, thanks to her strong-armed father - "A cruel king made me tough/Daddy's girl, never good enough".

Lady Gaga has arrived unadorned before. Her collaboration with Tony Bennett on the album Cheek To Cheek won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album last year. Her Sound Of Music tribute at the Oscars the same year was ostentatious in a different way - nude make-up, but make-up nonetheless.

These moves, and Joanne, too, may serve as an overcorrection to the garish eccentricity of Artpop, her last album in 2013, which flopped.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Gaga takes up Black Lives Matter'. Print Edition | Subscribe