Lady Gaga’s ‘Chromatica’ Remix Album Unlocks The Thrilling Potential Of The Original
A lot of 'Dawn Of Chromatica' is uncomfortable and challenging - and that's the whole point.
At the end of Lady Gaga’s ‘Sine From Above’ off Chromatica, the sprawling, EDM power ballad explodes into a raucous drum & bass beat. It’s unexpected and abrasive, but a thrilling rush.
Gaga is one of the few artists who embraced these shocking detours — she’s been doing it since the start of her career, pairing classic pop melodies with avant-garde production.
That said, bar ‘Sine From Above’s’ glorious exhale, Chromatica played within the rules. The production, delivered at the hands of her close collaborator Bloodpop, sands down some of the pointier edges that could’ve shone through. And it makes sense. Gaga is a megastar, after all, not a hyperpop artist satisfying more niche pockets of the internet.
When Bloodpop announced that a remix album was in the works earlier in the year, it felt like a chance to dig deeper into the world of Chromatica. To hear it in its primitive form.
Over the past few months, Bloodpop has gathered collaborators visibly, going back-and-forth on Twitter and one-by-one, forming a lineup of some of pop’s freshest visionaries. The remix album has now arrived with a tracklist that includes Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama, Arca, and more.
Generally, pop remixes are focused on catapulting a song further up the charts from Ariana Grande joining The Weeknd on ‘Save Your Tears’ to Megan Thee Stallion joining BTS on ‘Butter’. Dawn Of Chromatica is not that though. It’s a chance to explore Chromatica without boundaries — taking an eye off the charts and looking towards the pop future.
The Past, The Present, And Future-Pop
“I invite you to dance to this album in celebration of young artists all over the world,” Gaga wrote announcing the album. “Artists who see the world, feel the world, and put that feeling into something bigger than all of us: music.”
This is an artist who is about to release her second album Love For Sale with jazz legend Tony Bennett. She’s always been an artist who pays her respects to music’s heritage, while boldly marching to other planets in her own work. Gaga collaborator and EDM superstar Madeon put it best, tweeting, “In four weeks she’s gonna go from a dance album with a literal speedcore drop to an album of Jazz standards with Tony Bennett. What a phenomenal popstar.”
Dawn Of Chromatica lives in a different world to Love For Sale, gathering a group of artists who have both been inspired by Gaga and have come to inspired Mother Monster herself. They are not heritage artists but students of Gaga’s absurdist, avant-garde pop music; they have used her as the blueprint to expand pop’s horizons.
It’s thrilling to hear Gaga in a sonic arena that’s uninhibited by what is happening in the mainstream.
There’s not one song on Dawn Of Chromatica that would find a place on radio in 2021, bar perhaps Sawayama’s powerhouse remix of ‘Free Woman’. The whole album is noisy and garish, but it’s thrilling to hear Gaga in a sonic arena that’s uninhibited by what is happening in the mainstream. Imagine a world in which Gaga released this as the official album with the pulsating drops of Doss’ ‘Enigma’ remix or Dorian Electra’s dark, twisted redo of ‘Replay’.
Where Chromatica often shied away from going down a more eccentric path, Dawn Of Chromatica embraces it. Chromatica is an album born from the sadness that was looking for relief through dance. Upon its release, Gaga told Paper, “I’d start out the day so down and I’d end up dancing, looking in the mirror, practicing my moves, singing along.”
As strange and even comical as Dawn Of Chromatica gets, it always keeps that underlying sadness at the root with an eye on brighter days. “I look out to venus and search for a place/And search for a place/And sometimes I hate myself,” Charli XCX sings on her remix of ‘911’. “If it’s all getting way harder/Turn it up, party to Gaga,” she concludes though in one of the record’s more triumphant moments. Far from the original’s steady beat though, A.G. Cook’s instrumental warps and distorts as if the original is melting into a new form.
Meanwhile, on Pablo Vittar’s remix of ‘Fun Tonight’, she juxtaposes the hopeless, devastating lyrics with a brass-laden, forró influenced instrumental. It’s somehow both overwhelmingly sunny and despairing as Vittar sings “I’m not having fun tonight” over a blaring horn. On ‘Plastic Doll’, Ashnikko doubles down on the anger, bringing an emo twist to the already-defiant cut. It’s empowering and frustrated, boosted by the grinding, trap-influenced beats.
At every twist, it feels like Gaga’s emotions are being magnified by the more challenging production. On the original record, Gaga’s sentiments of emotional turmoil felt easy to clutch onto, but with new production it becomes more complicated.
Arca’s ‘Rain On Me’, for example, emerges from a sonic sludge, slowly revealing the song’s euphoria bit-by-bit. The euphoria is harder to access but by the time it builds to its climax, through glitchy synths and chopped vocals, the pay-off is glorious. Sadness, and the subsequent healing, is never simple.
The Legacy Of SOPHIE
Someone who understood that better than most was the late SOPHIE. Her productions were avant-garde and challenging but the emotional pay-off was always immense. When Dawn Of Chromatica was released, a viral tweet paid homage to SOPHIE, acknowledging the impact she has had on this futuristic brand of pop music.
“In almost every track, I could feel her presence, and it’s important to respect her work since EVERY artist that is on this project was impacted by her,” the tweet read. It’s true. The hyperpop movement — a term for maximalist electronic pop music — can largely be traced back to SOPHIE, and all the artists who appear here display some of SOPHIE’s influence from Charli XCX’s penchant for saccharine sadness to Lil Texas’ love of absurd, jarring sounds.
SOPHIE initially worked on Chromatica with Bloodpop and Gaga. Bloodpop recalled early sessions where, “[they] set up six microphones and recorded [Gaga’s] Lamborghini exhaust, and SOPHIE cut it up into samples.”
Even though SOPHIE didn’t have production credits on the final product, her fingerprints are all across it. Even more so on the remix album, where numerous SOPHIE disciples display elements of her lusciously emotional production.
Even though SOPHIE didn’t have production credits on the final product, her fingerprints are all across it.
The best part about Dawn Of Chromatica is it feels like a celebration of community. SOPHIE was instrumental in building that community and so was Gaga. When The Fame arrived almost 15 years ago, she felt like an outlier in the pop community, and by the time Artpop arrived several years later she was being ostracised for going too absurd. Now, however, she’s joined by artists who have carried the torch, creating a community for musicians who follow their creative tick, unconcerned as to whether it registers as weird or inaccessible.
Whether it be Bree Runway’s never-ending search for avant-garde fashion or Sawayama’s proud grandiosity, each of these artists has been empowered by Gaga’s ethos. That shines through on Sawayama and Clarence Clarity’s remix of ‘Free Woman’ where Sawayama finds power in her partnership with Gaga. “Let’s go Gaga,” she sings at the start before melding their two verses in the chorus. When it comes time for Sawayama to lay down an original verse she sings, “Stand tall even when belittled/Your voice is louder, it echoes.”
Dawn Of Chromatica gives these commercial outcasts a gigantic platform and the best part about it is it’s completely unrestricted. The remix album is so strange throughout that you find yourself consistently bewildered. Some of the sounds won’t land favourably but that may be exactly the point — the experiment of this all is whether the emotional backbone of Chromatica remains when the sonics are muddied.
“What sound would work here to make the listener almost feel comfortable, like they’ve experienced it before,” Bloodpop told Rolling Stone talking about the creation of Chromatica. On Dawn Of Chromatica, the aim is the complete opposite. How can they make the listener feel uncomfortable like they’ve never experienced it before?