Lady Gaga’s sixth studio album, and latest musical project since 2016’s folksy Joanne and 2018’s A Star Is Born, sees the star as the grown-up pop queen we always knew she’d become. Chromatica, like all of Gaga’s projects, exists in its own world. The magical, space alien realm stands only as an ode to electronic music, gloriously mixing in elements of 80s new wave, 70s disco and house. It’s Gaga at her most Gaga, the Gaga she started out as and the Gaga we’ve all come to love. And just like she was when she debuted in 2008, she’s standing on the dancefloor inviting us all to join her.
Chromatica starts with a theatrical string instrumental, and it pops up again two more times throughout the album. At first listen, it feels as though Gaga’s gone back to her jazz roots, but in fact she’s opening the stage for the cinematic experience that details her journey to happiness. She peppers them throughout the album to symbolise the feeling of impending doom that comes with mental illness; to show that no matter how good you can be feeling, you’re always fighting the battle.
The theme of mental illness is a recurring one for the album. In the electric ‘Alice,’ Gaga compares herself to the tale of Alice In Wonderland and her constant struggle of finding peace in not only her life but in her mind. In what could be a definite The Fame B-side ‘Fun Tonight,’ Gaga touches on her anxiety and depression and how her negative thoughts can often ruin positive moments. The 80s pop hit ‘911’ explores the effect anti-psychotic drugs have had on her life and the disco ball spinner ‘Replay’ references the star’s metaphors of monsters and personally touches on her struggles with PTSD.
The flipside of the album focuses on Gaga’s woes of love. On lead single ‘Stupid Love,’ the star confesses to wanting someone’s love, every stupid little part of it. It’s a refreshing love song from Gaga, and it seems to be a reflection of the happiest she’s ever been. The kaleidoscopic ‘Free Woman’ acts as a self-empowered track, noting that Gaga is still undisputedly Gaga with or without a man, and she refuses to be swallowed up by a relationship again. On the BLACKPINK duet ‘Sour Candy,’ Gaga sassily warns her lover that he better accept her for the way she is, flaws and all, and the stadium-filler ‘Enigma’ introduces us to Chromatica’s alter-ego Enigma and sees Gaga enticing a new lover into her web.
Chromatica exists to separate Gaga from herself. She looks within and pulls out personal struggles and emotions that all make up the normal woman behind the fantastic Lady Gaga. No track is better perceived of that than the house mix ‘Plastic Doll,’ a hit that pokes at all the ways Gaga contributes to the archetype of stereotypical pop stars and how she has been ridiculed and dehumanised throughout her career. “Am I your type?” she repeats, referencing that no matter what she does or how she looks, she’ll always exist primarily to serve the masses. A similar theme floats into the Madonna-esque ‘Babylon’ too, with Gaga comparing the toxicity of the language of gossip that revolved around her career to the incoherent miscommunication that happened in the ancient city of Babylon. (It’s believed in the Bible’s Tower of Babel story that God changed the languages of those living in the city, creating chaos and miscommunication among all citizens).
A real highlight of the album comes with Gaga and Elton John’s collab ‘Sine From Above,’ a track that thanks music, more specifically dance music, for its healing powers (and we get a nice but also strange look at what Elton John making house music would sound like). Aside from the huge flex of having Elton John on your record, the track nicely sums up Chromatica as a whole. Despite all the troubles we’re gifted in life, Gaga reminds us that we can always find solace in dancing. And it’s a nice way to come full circle. No matter where she goes or what she does, Gaga will always find a home in the electronic music she started with.