A Review of 'Joanne' That's Also a Review of Lady Gaga's Ever-Evolving Style

Identity, reinvention, and pink cowboy hats.

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We do not allow celebrities to reinvent themselves—much. Yet how many evolutions of Lady Gaga have we cycled through? Horned facial prosthetics Lady Gaga. Jo Calderone Lady Gaga. Jeff Koons Lady Gaga. Candlelit-jazz-holiday-advert-with-Tony Bennett Lady Gaga. Not-to-everybody's-taste David Bowie Lady Gaga.

Given her history of look-at-me outrageousness, is it a wonder that T-shirt-and-jeans Lady Gaga, the most recent version, feels like such a departure? Who *is* this woman Joanne, who plays dive bars (sponsored by Bud Light!) and wears sequined boleros to match the equally sparkly bands of her cowboy hats?

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When her latest release—already poised to be her fourth chart-topper—dropped Friday, "Why is she doing country now?" probably pinged group texts everywhere. But it's not country, really—it's an at-times jumbled hodgepodge that raises further questions about sincerity and authenticity from an undeniably talented performer who's either lost her way or begun to find it, both musically and sartorially. Because we know Gaga has the range and the wherewithal to craft a persona—and this one does demonstrate her impressive ability to expand on a theme until it fills a complete, cohesive character—but is it just that? Another role when, sonically, Joanne is meant to be more authentic than ever before?

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Of course, going against everything you once were is a gimmick itself—the oldest one in the fashion book—so what does it mean when someone who's clung so tightly to fashion eases off? Maybe it was, as we previously speculated, a symbol of the buckling-down making a new record requires. Maybe it was like a sorbet of sorts, to cleanse the palate between moods. (She's since returned to repping old friends Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Donatella Versace.)

Or maybe we're simply seeing who she is at this moment, which is almost certainly who she decided to be at a previous moment. So with this, this imperfect illusion of realness, Joanne's ultimate purpose might be to remind us that life as a process—that every new look can take us one step closer to becoming the people we were all along.

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