December 10, 2012 by NowhereButPop
Pop albums aren’t supposed to be dark; they’re supposed to be light and accessible and concise. Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster is a dark album that depresses itself. And if you think I’m being critical of the album, I’m not, in fact that’s what makes the album succeed. At the heart of it, The Fame Monster is the mirror image of her debut album, The Fame. It’s not a sequel or a true follow up album, but more of a dark corollary to all the themes presented in The Fame. Whereas The Fame celebrates its excess, hedonism, and capriciousness, The Fame Monster portrays the negative aspects of this fabulous and reckless lifestyle. It’s a response to herself, and that is the secret of the album. The overall success or failure of each song is predicated on how well it adheres to the theme of life twisted and contorted because of a lavish and capricious lifestyle.
The EP starts off with the hit single “Bad Romance” and from the very beginning of the song, this idea of ugliness and darkness appear to contrast the themes of fun and superficial joy presented in The Fame. According to Gaga herself, each song represents a “monster” in some way or another. “Bad Romance” is the monster of intimacy, the idea of sharing the worst aspects of yourself with someone else. “I want your ugly, I want your disease” is indicative of this point, unless of course she’s simply cruising for a venereal disease. Plus, you remember how hot that song was when it first came out; no one could escape it. “Bad Romance” was played at every club, party, bar, radio station, everywhere.
The next track “Alejandro” continues this idea of a “monster” representing a negative aspect of life riddled with fame. Gaga has stated that “Alejandro” is about “fear of the sex monster”. The opening monologue should make that incredibly clear, being with someone who is detrimental to you. It sounds like she was consulting Freud, but it’s a song about trying to escape the sexuality of someone else. She doesn’t want to kiss, or touch, or for him to call her name; she wants to get away, from something or someone that has arisen as a result of the lifestyle described in The Fame.
“Monster” comes up next and really no one should be surprised that she has a song titled “Monster”. The Fame Monster, her little monsters, mother monster, it’s no surprise that an album about monsters would feature a literal monster. Who’s the monster? Someone who seduced her. “Monster” is the heart and crux of the album, without which the album is left as a messy affiliation of tracks. It’s the linchpin by which the other songs revolve around. This beautifully brooding number reflects her fear of attachment and romantic instability. That boy is a monster because he’s bad for her; he doesn’t really care about her he just wants to get with her because she’s Lady Gaga. It’s also in “Monster” where we get our biggest hint that this is a twisted corollary to The Fame with the line “I wanna just dance but he took me home instead, there was a monster in my bed”. She’s referencing her first hit single “Just Dance” and all she wanted to do was partake in that fun and shameless lifestyle conveyed in The Fame, but because of it, she has now been opened up to meeting this monster.
The middle of the album is where it starts to drag on a little bit. “Speechless” a ballad about her father’s heart condition sounds more like a left over from Born This Way. It doesn’t stand all that well on its own and slows down the pace of the EP only for it to speed up once more with “Dance in the Dark”. Sounding like a B-version of “Bad Romance”, “Dance in the Dark” a song about “fear of the self monster” expressed Gaga’s insecurities with how she looks and appears to other people. The song just sounds recycled and the bridge is a clear rip off of Madonna’s “Vogue” and leaves the listener thinking to themselves “been there done that”.
Thankfully, right as the album is beginning to sound repetitive, “Telephone” comes in to save the day. A song about the fear of suffocation both literal and metaphorical, it’s Beyonce who really stands out on the track. Her strong vocals and delivery give the song that “fuck off” tone that it needs to succeed. The telephone is a metaphor for always feeling overwhelmed and suffocated by her life. It refers to guys who want to bang her, record execs who want to use her, and producers who want her to continue working and touring. All she wants to do is go on the dance floor, drink the drink in her hand, and let her hair down. The life that started in The Fame is overwhelming her and she just needs a break from it all so she’s gonna leave her phone at home and have a night out on the town.
The penultimate song “So Happy I could Die” deals with the addiction monster and not being able to stop. She’s so into alcohol, some blonde woman, and the partying that all the excess has lead her to be so happy that she could die. It’s either an extreme euphoria or the point where all her excess will consume her. It’s mission statement is to say that this is what will happen when you take the lifestyle presented in The Fame to its fullest degree. Partying nonstop in a club coveting drink, drugs, and sex. Either she really means it, or she’s admitting to fooling herself that she is so happy that she could die.
The album ends on an unexpected note with “Teeth” a song that sounds like a gospel ode to SM practices. I don’t know if it’s about her fear of the truth as some argue with the line “show me your teeth” meaning to bare it all in front of her. It’s a number that at first I found to have no purpose on the album, but it has since grown on me just by virtue of sounding nothing like the rest of the EP.
Is The Fame Monster a superior album to The Fame? No it’s not, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a response to itself and an explanation of all the factors that went into its conception. Although not as good as The Fame, The Fame Monster is more aware of itself and together they represent two opposing halves regarding fame. The former celebrates and reveals in the benefits created by fame, while the latter laments and broods over the darker and destructive elements of living this life. In the end, The Fame Monster is a good album because it doesn’t try to be great, it’s just an album about monsters.