"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.