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A Retrospective Review: The Fame Monster

NotMyFlop

Read my last review: 'A Retrospective Review: The Fame' to understand the purpose of this review. It will help contextualize some of my comments, since each post will operate as one massive review of her body of work in relation to Chromatica. 

Chromatica is being heralded as a "return-to-form" for Lady Gaga. While it does encapsulate a more audacious pop persona like her early albums did, calling it a "return-to-form" is extremely limited because what is she exactly returning to? Gaga has defined her career on reinvention; no two albums daring sound the same. In her later albums, songs even refuse to share auditory cohesion. In all likeliness, critics are recalling the darker, more bombastic days of The Fame Monster; the second effort in Lady Gaga's catalogue. 

Reinvention has always been a tool artists used when their narratives got dry, people were bored or their music began to falter. Female pop artists were able to coast off their images for years before radical reinvention; male artists are often awarded decades. Lady Gaga was barely on the radar of pop notoriety before she tossed the rule book. Just Dance reached the summit in January 2009, and she alloted herself a mere nine months before dropping the lead single of her next effort. During that time, she had three more highly-successful singles and a jaw-dropping VMA performance, just to name a few things. Gaga's image as a fame-obsessed performer wasn't even cemented when she dropped Bad Romance in October. 

Bad Romance, the lead single, changed pop music history forever. Essays could be written about the impact of that singular song and video alone. Nevertheless, The Fame Monster followed. While technically an extension (or EP) of her debut album, there is such a jarring juxtaposition in the music lyrically, thematically and sonically that it's not worthwhile to review it alongside her hit-or-miss debut. 

Largely, The Fame Monster, operates on the same motives as the predecessor. It explores the dichotomy of fame. Whereas The Fame represents a more cliché, mundane and inviting look at the subject, The Fame Monster invites us to look deeper. It takes us to darker places; manifestations of Gaga's fears of what will happen to her now that's she credible enough to talk about fame. Where LoveGame is a carefree approach to sex, the titular Monster boldly exclaims "He ate my heart," within the first few lines. Sex isn't much fun anymore, is it? 

In 2017's Five Foot Two, Gaga discusses her legendary VMA performance and briefly mentions how the world loves to see the downfall of the celebrity. Marilyn Monroe and Amy Winehouse are classic examples; Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber are more contemporary ones. That VMA performance was simply foreshadowing what was to come. 

The Fame Monster clocks in at eight songs and just 34 minutes. It's a loaded effort though, each track represents a 'fear': fear of love, men, sex, alcohol, ego, suffocation, death and truth. If any of her albums still hold up, it's this beast. It's coaxed in elaborate production, all-too-daring and not dark enough for the mainstream to turn away. The accompanying visuals are equally as thrilling. If looking at The Fame as the idealism around fame, The Fame Monster is the anthesis. Together, they form a powerful truth that is represented in the names listed above: Fame is great until it's not. Interpret that as you will. 

The Fame Monster is wildly addicting; almost too easy to listen to from beginning to end. It's a pure shot of catharsis and adrenaline, and in 2020, nostalgia. Despite being released a decade ago, the embodiments of these fears are almost more relevant in the 'influencer' age than they were upon release. It somehow makes The Fame Monster both perfect for the times and way ahead of its time. Despite it refusing to be a cohesive effort (something Gaga has always struggled with), it's forgivable because it's so concise.

However, and possibly a negative, The Fame Monster works on a wide-sweeping level, instead of the wholly specific approach of Chromatica. In broad strokes, painting these fears works as a good social commentary. It leaves one to wonder why Gaga had so many fears of being famous when she just earned it within that same year. Gaga uphending her image removed her the chance of telling her narrative, and instead left listeners perplexed and willing to fill in their own conclusions. (Could that be why so many people believed she was a man?) 

It becomes increasingly hard to critique The Fame Monster since it's intentionally so vague. Maybe the genius lies in that. Within the decade of release, Gaga has revealed several personal stories of her life as Stefani that helps contextualize what exactly she is talking about. With her owning more of her narrative, the pieces of why exactly the effort exists is answered. In life events not even she could have predicted, The Fame Monster also almost sounds like a warning to her future self. 

In Chromatica, she discusses her relationship with fame in a somber, depressing way. Plastic Doll, 911, Fun Tonight and 1000 Doves are just a few examples of her fears answered. She now has had failed loves, manipulative men, sexual assault, addiction, an ego, etc. Chromatica is a "return-to-form" to The Fame Monster because it arguably acts as a third act in "The Fame Saga"; The Fame being her dream, The Fame Monster being her fears and Chromatica as the explanation how both her dreams and fears have affected her. Chromatica's specific approach works because we understand what she is referencing, whereas The Fame Monster arguably was not allowed to be specific because Gaga herself was too new. It begs the question, how would The Fame Monster work in 2020 and how would Chromatica have worked in 2010? 

Lastly, The Fame Monster's biggest impact was the introduction of an 'era'. What is now commonplace for reinvention with every album cycle, it was this that started the contemporary approach to reinvention. It's a standard that Gaga placed on herself that has benefitted and worked against her. At the end of this era, she was a global superstar, etched into the history books. She was at the height of influence, power and status. She was now able to see how her dreams and fears played out, and how they would all influence her next record, Born This Way... 

'A Retrospective Review: Born This Way' coming tomorrow... 

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Salvador Sequea

I would like to be tagged for the next one! I love this, it transports me. I became a stan in late 2010's so there was a still a little bit of The Fame Monster going on, and also got the chance to experience the whole Born This Way Era :tony: and every era ever since

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NotMyFlop
16 hours ago, Salvador Sequea said:

I would like to be tagged for the next one! I love this, it transports me. I became a stan in late 2010's so there was a still a little bit of The Fame Monster going on, and also got the chance to experience the whole Born This Way Era :tony: and every era ever since

I will! Thank you. It will be up later this afternoon (in my time zone). I became a fan during TF era, but I really didn't become dedicated until TFM. :hor:

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Alex Spade

Well said and beautifully written. I'm loving your perspective on this. Definitely tag me in your next one :flutter:

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NotMyFlop
On 6/2/2020 at 10:03 AM, Alex Spade said:

Well said and beautifully written. I'm loving your perspective on this. Definitely tag me in your next one :flutter:

Thank you! I was so busy yesterday, so I am working on editing now and publishing it! 

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