Review

Is Lady Gaga’s Chromatica the Best K-Pop Album of 2020? (Plus, a Sour Candy Review)

Yeah, yeah, I know. This article’s title is problematic in all sorts of ways. But, hear me out. Obviously, Lady Gaga isn’t a K-pop idol, nor does her career follow the traditional K-pop process. But, I would argue that her ascendance influenced the idol industry to a great degree.

Back in the mid-2000’s, pop music was in dire straits – similar in some ways to the situation we’re in today. And whether accurate or not, I largely credit Gaga for resurrecting the kind of widescreen, high-concept pop that had been absent for several years prior to her debut.

This energy filtered down to K-pop a year or so later, helping to spawn the 2009-16 pop peak we saw within the idol industry. That’s not to dismiss K-pop itself. Though it often takes Western trends and reinvents them, I’d argue that the source material is almost always improved upon. However, with years of trap and tropical house flooding the Western charts, K-pop hasn’t really had much inspiration to draw from.

With Chromatica, Lady Gaga has returned to the big, bombastic pop she made her name on. The music is more EDM and loops-based this time around, but it’s still driven by anthemic melodies and powerful, charismatic vocals. The album’s very good, and often reminds me of the K-pop sound I first fell in love with. The songs are high-concept, the production is trendy but engaging, and there’s a crackle of dancefloor energy that ties everything together. I could see so many top-tier K-pop acts performing the hell out of these tracks. Ah, to be free from the incessant trap breakdowns.

Sour Candy has garnered much attention in the K-pop community because of its BLACKPINK feature. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song itself succumbs to many of the issues I’ve had with K-pop lately. Of the three duets on Chromatica, it’s easily the weakest. It lacks the kind of strong melody that characterizes most of the album, favoring vibe and production over fleshed-out songwriting. Sound familiar, longtime readers?

This has nothing to do with BLACKPINK themselves, though I feel like their performance style is a bit too similar to Gaga’s to act as a compelling foil. Within the context of Chromatica, Sour Candy’s sing-talk delivery made me realize how refreshing it was to hear melody take the lead for the vast majority of the album. It’s a critical element that has played second fiddle in both K-pop and mainstream Western pop music for some time. A killer melody really allows for a more diverse appeal – even within a project as streamlined and genre-specific as Chromatica.

Chromatica may not be K-pop, but its unabashed theatricality feels like the fuel for many a big K-pop comeback. I’m looking forward to seeing how it, and like-minded albums such as Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, will impact the industry. Though still in an emergent phase, it feels like pop music is beginning to make a return to the western charts. Could we hear K-pop’s answer to Rain On Me or Physical before the year’s end? I sure hope so, because we’re more than ready for a jolt of new energy – even if it’s inspired by old, retro sounds.

16 thoughts on “Is Lady Gaga’s Chromatica the Best K-Pop Album of 2020? (Plus, a Sour Candy Review)

  1. I don’t really know how to feel about Sour Candy. I mean on the surface it’s a perfectly fine, mildly appealing club track, but it just feels like a missed opportunity. The biggest problem is the length; 2:37 isn’t an ideal amount of time when you have five people on one song. This is made worse by the fact that there’s no real rapping, which the song practically begs for. A rap section would’ve been a great opportunity for the members to show off their skill and let listeners know why they’re on the track in the first place, instead I feel like we’re left with the impression that anyone could’ve sung their lines.

    That critique aside, I feel that the members did a nice job with the parts they had. I would even go so far as to say that their vocal performance, while not as good as Gaga’s technically, is much more memorable and gives the track some flavor. In particular I think Rosé and Jisoo’s parts were very nice and showcased their unique vocal tones well.

    It just feels like for a song called Sour Candy, there should be a lot more bite, especially with five artists that are perfectly capable of serving just that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yohoho! Didn’t expect this! Will there be any chance of u doing an in-depth review on Future Nostalgia. Or is this site just purely for kpop (and jpop)?

    Like

    • I’ve got to keep you guys on your toes!

      But seriously, don’t expect more western pop reviews anytime soon. I really only listen to K & J-pop these days, but given Sour Candy’s high profile, I felt I had to cover it in some way. This is how that manifested itself.

      Plus, I’ve always loved Gaga and the new album is quite good.

      Like

  3. I didn’t click with Sour Candy (at least since my last listen) but I’m glad it got me to listen to Chromatica. With that and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, western pop has really been surprising me lately!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Just 1 complaint: we can have more than 1 way of describing “dat bombastic sound”

    I really like “Stupid Love” more though. Why couldn’t Day 2 sound like that? I am so mad right now (actually I know why Day 2 can’t sound like that but whatever)

    Like

  5. Thank you for writing this! I said the same thing to myself yesterday. I completely agree with your thoughts on Sour Candy. The girl’s talents weren’t utilised properly, and the track feels very Gaga heavy. Rain on Me would make a fantastic Kpop single, I wish BlackPink replaced Ariana in the duet. That would have been mega! Gaga was really influential and inspired a lot of releases around 2009 – 2016. I can think of numerous releases, notably Narsha’s ‘Bbi ri bba bba’ that had a very Gaga feel to it and more controversially Co-Ed Schools ‘Bbiribbom Bberibbom’ which was a blatant Telephone knockoff. Interestingly, both of those tracks had onomatopoeic titles haha

    Like

  6. Sour Candy is a fun treat, but not a main course. (gah, sorry, it just came out that way) Its a song that is written that is fun and good enough to make the album, but would take too much effort and reworking to turn into a lead single for someone of Gaga’s level.

    Gaga is so ridiculously well trained as a vocalist that she has a dozen and more ways to alter her timbre to suit the intent of the of the song. Its not the line distribution, its that Lady Gaga turns on her Ethel Merman with an English accent heavy voice. And then Gaga is the one who gets to intone the monotone “take a bite, take a bite” bits, because it is way too low for BlackPink = it’s about a D3. They can’t hit that, not like that. So if it sounds unbalanced, well it is.

    I think it is a fun pop song. Don’t overthink it.

    Like

  7. So I just listened to Chromatica, its the first Lady Gaga album I’ve listened to. It was good overall. But I have to say I enjoyed listening to Twice’s album preview more than this whole album. And I’ve never listened to a whole Twice album either!

    Like

  8. It’s crazy to think how much on an influencer Lady Gaga was, to now being the influenced. Definitely not a favourite of mine, it’s kinda like a Big Mac, you know what you’re getting and that’s fine but it doesn’t really trump other options. 6/10 for me.

    There are so many other good pop influenced acts coming up like Dorian Electra, Magdalena Bay, Rina Sawayama and Jessy Lanza for example that are turning out much better records IMO.

    Like

    • SAWAYAMA was a great album, and I love me some Dorian and Charli XCX too. I wonder how Nick would feel about PC music/hyperpop in kpop. I feel like NCT could pull off that sound, albeit with more of a hip hop focus. I’d love to hear someone try it.

      Like

      • I can sympathise with both sides of the coin: A. It’s hot auto-tuned noise-garbage or B. They’re trying something different, it’s weird and quirky, but I like it.

        A younger group trying it out for spin could really work, like you said. Perhaps as deep, deep cut on the B-side. It’ll probably ostracise a large portion of the fanbase otherwise.

        Like

  9. I’ve been vying for you to talk about pop music again! Though you’re heavily invested in j/kpop right now, I’d love to see an in depth review of Future Nostalgia as a treat from you haha.
    Btw, though not her best work, Chromatica is really that album that filled the void of anthematic pop that Gaga is known for and for that I’m elated that she came back.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.