The singer's newest album marks her long-standing foray into the fine art world.
A 3D pig is spinning on my iPad screen, with a photo of my cat mapped onto it, in front of a galactic cloud with the word DEATH spelled out in capital letters. In the background, Lady Gaga is singing about “Sexxx Dreams”. Welcome to the ARTPOP app.
It’s the long-awaited interactive companion to Gaga’s new album of the same name, and the most high-profile music app since Bjork’s Biophilia back in 2011. It was released as a free download for Android and iOS today, and has grand ambitions to say the least.
“Lady Gaga brings you a musical and visual engineering system that combines music, art, fashion, and technology with a new interactive worldwide community – ‘the auras’. Altering the human experience, we bring ARTculture into POP in a reverse Warholian expedition,” explains its app store listing, copying and pasting a post from Gaga’s Facebook page earlier in the year.
“Exploring Gaga’s existence as a cultural interface, the user will share in the ‘adrenaline of fame’ as they build and share their own projects, chat with one another, and watch in real-time on a virtual globe as ARTPOP explodes onto the physical and virtual universe at once.”
Gaga worked with mobile developer Relative Wave on the app, presumably attracted by the studio’s work on some of the sections of the Biophilia app. If you think Lady Gaga is rubbish, you won’t like the app. If you’re one of her avid Little Monsters, you’ll love it. And everyone else? Well, it’s certainly interesting…
The app kicks off with a virtual character named Petga, who asks for your name, requests access to your device’s location and camera, then “scans your aura”, asking you to choose characteristics that you identify with most from a list (Artistic, Entrepreneurial, Poetic, Social, Techy, Visionary, Athletic, Psychic, Musical and Philosophical were the choices available to me this morning).
The app then asks what artistic expressions interest you the most (Painting, Graphic Design, Sculpture, Theatre, Film, Fashion Design, Photography, Drawing, Music and Dance), which themes from ARTPOP you’re most interested in, and which lyrics “represent you in the ARTPOP universe”:
You’re then presented with your aura: a glowing orb of light that will apparently travel and grow with you, the more you use the app. At this point, you’re thrown into the app’s main menu:
A pullout menu from the left-hand side includes a link to Apple’s iTunes Store to buy ARTPOP (although the buy button unhelpfully brought up a “The item you’ve requested is not currently available in the UK Store” message, even though it is.) You can also connect to Gaga’s Little Monsters web community to chat to other fans.
The menu itself has four options: ArtHaus and ARTPOP are available, while two others – Trakstar and GagaTV – are marked with 141-day countdowns. What are they? A Settings menu elsewhere in the app describes Trakstar as “Live DJ Sessions”. GagaTV is clearly video-based, although the lengthy wait hints at something more ambitious than simply streaming her music videos. Livestreamed events, perhaps?
ARTPOP is a virtual turntable to play the album on, if you have the tracks stored on your device. It continues playing while you explore other sections of the app, and also runs in the background if you switch to using other apps:
ArtHaus is, as the name implies, the arty section of the app: essentially a place for Gaga’s fans to create, share and rate animated GIFs, using a mixture of 3D shapes, slogans and their own photos. It’s the bit that takes ARTPOP beyond being a pure digital container for the album into something more interesting.
Essentially, you choose a shape, map an image or texture onto it, choose an animation and tweak its settings, pick a background, select a filter, and then share the results via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, email or the Little Monsters community:
My results were amateurish and sometimes unsettling, but you can browse those created by other fans, looking at the most popular, the most recent, or the ones that have been “seen by Gaga” (none, at the time of writing, but it is quite a busy week…)
Any GIF you see in the app can be tapped on to get a closer view, given “Props” and remixed using the same creation tools, which is a handy way to figure out how the better ones were made.
And the verdict? There have been some overblown expectations for the ARTPOP app: suggestions that it’s The Future Of The Album and so on – expectations already deflated by Gaga herself in July, when she tweeted that it’s “in essence, an interactive jewel case”.
Actually, it’s more than that: the ArtHaus section is good fun, walking the line rather well between ease-of-use and creative complexity. The Little Monsters community has already shown that there are plenty of Lady Gaga fans interested in expressing their creative instincts, so ArtHaus should be popular. It’d be nice to be able to mix in snippets of music with the animations, but perhaps that can be added at a later date.
As for the app’s wider impact, we’ll have to wait to see what the Trakstar and GagaTV features are all about before judging whether the ARTPOP app has legs as a year-round hub for Lady Gaga and her fans. Apps certainly aren’t replacing albums any time soon (if ever), but as an interactive companion, this is an innovative and interesting step forward.
Read The Guardian’s review of Lady Gaga: ARTPOP.