Lady Gaga

Artpop |

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"Do you wanna see me naked, lover?/ Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?/ Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?" teases Lady Gaga in the beginning moments of Artpop, as if she might strip it all the way down to the real Stefani Germanotta. But "Aura," the zigzagging opener, is as larger-than- life as the singer's persona, and the rest of her third proper studio album only goes further to show that she has crafted a pop image—as a walking, breathing piece of art—that goes far beyond the music. Her iconic presence brings strength to Artpop even in its weakest moments (see "Dope," the only ballad). Even when the hooks aren't as good as Katy Perry's - her main competition, whose new Prism beats this - Gaga is just plain more interesting. Electro thumpers like "G.U.Y." (which stands for "girl under you") recall the sleaze beats of her 2008 debut, The Fame. But "Do What U Want," an unlikely pairing with R. Kelly, takes her downtown- New York City edge into more urban territory with a decided R&B vibe. Gaga is less successful, though, when appropriating hip-hop with rappers T.I., Too $hort and Twista on "Jewels N' Drugs." Two fashion-themed tracks also produce mixed results: "Donatella," inspired by the Versace couture queen, fails to make you break out your best catwalk strut. But then "Fashion!"—a bass-bumping groove with echoes of David Bowie, one of Gaga's heroes - will have you "looking good and feeling fine" as you work it under the disco ball.

Celine Dion

Loved Me Back to Life|

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Having hit the Vegas circuit with her Caesars Palace residencies, Celine Dion seemed content to live off '90s hits such as "The Power of Love," "Because You Loved Me" and of course "My Heart Will Go On." But on her first English-language album since 2007, the diva has found new creative life, inspired by some fresh (for her) writers and producers. They include the in-demand Sia, who cowrote the soaring title track; Ne-Yo, who had a hand in writing two songs, including their tender duet "Incredible"; and Eg White, who cowrote and produced "Water and a Flame" and "Didn't Know Love," which evoke a past White collaborator: Adele.



Debonairly decked out in Tom Ford - his couturier for the 20/20 Experience World Tour - Justin Timberlake was all classic, effortless cool during the opening night at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Indeed, he didn't seem to break a sweat for much of the concert, making it look almost too easy at times. But in the show's second act - after a strange, buzz-killing intermission - Timberlake cut loose when a stage apparatus took him across and above the floor during the Afro-funk jam "Let the Groove Get In," one of many numbers from his two 20/20 installments. Later JT really turned it into an old-school party with a crowd-pleasing cover of Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison." Another well-chosen cover, Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," seamlessly segued into a stripped-down rendition of "What Goes Around ... Comes Around" that, emphasizing the sweet over the bitter, matched his smooth elegance.


After recording for 14 years, you recently scored your first pop hit with "Closer." How's it feel?

SARA: We're really excited. Love having a song on pop radio!

TEGAN: But I feel weird when I hear it in Forever 21. I feel weird being in Forever 21 anyway. I'm too old!

You've also opened for Taylor Swift and Katy Perry this year.

SARA: We've been a cult band for so long, so having them be fans and acknowledge us is sort of surreal.

TEGAN: Taylor was awesome. She's a boss, totally running that ship, but also so grounded and down to earth.

You are both lesbians. How was coming out like for you?

TEGAN: I don't remember ever feeling closeted. Our parents just knew; no one was surprised.

SARA: We really wanted to be role models for the gay community and show people that we are incredibly comfortable with ourselves.


It Goes Like This

This Nashville newbie seriously has country music in his blood: His dad is go-to songwriter Rhett Atkins, who helped pen the title-track hit and four other tunes. But after a strong first half, it goes downhill. Then it rebounds with the closer "Beer with Jesus."

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Bad Blood

This English quartet has been rocking the alternative charts with "Pompeii," the chanting first single off their debut album. There are more Fun-esque moments here, but they can also bring to mind the synth-pop sounds of Capital Cities and the piano-based balladry of Keane.

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12 Stories

From Kacey Musgraves to Ashley Monroe and Holly Williams, the best country music this year has been by women not named Miranda, Taylor or Carrie. The trend continues with this sought-after songwriter's excellent full-length debut full of some terrific storytelling.

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Word of Mouth

"Glad You Came," the hit that put this British-Irish boy band on the map here early last year, feels too old to be included on this, their U.S. debut album. And there are only a couple of other tracks ("We Own the Night," "Glow in the Dark") that are worthy of any real buzz.

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