October 21 was a day and a half. It felt like homecoming, to be honest. After three years of waiting (and defending) the Haus of Gaga, our reigning queen finally crossed the moat of screaming Little Monsters and delivered us a new album. With it, she brought a homegrown sound and style that signaled a complete and total return to form. Yup, we're talking about those country vibes no one saw coming. Before deciding whether you're a fan or not, it's helpful to separate The Lady from The Gaga. It may be hard to believe, but it's been eight years since we first learned what a disco stick was. An egg, a lobster, and 40 pounds of meat with its own Wikipedia page later, her style has run the gamut of an all-you-can-eat buffet to a refined menu. And because of that, she's really the only artist in the game who has literally tried anything once. When she released Artpop, her second No. 1 album, the world saw even the most loyal of fans turn on her. Like every other piece of work she'd come out with, Artpop introduced a bevy of new looks that, while still outrageous, were a bit more minimalist (for Gaga, at least). She still wrote her own lyrics, directed her own stupendous music videos, and stomped on the piano with her right foot every time she sat down to play. Yet, critics ripped her to shreds, calling it "Artflop"; sales dipped as far as 82%. The whole project might have been too highbrow, sure, but, in our opinion, at least, her style was stronger than ever.
She stepped out of cars and hotels looking like everything from Professor Trelawney to a giant hairball. And yeah, people were abuzz. But that's what happens when a pop star goes against the grain to try something new. We saw the same thing happen to Miley Cyrus and Madonna. The only difference with Gaga is, because she'd been making out-of-the-box choices from the start, people were already used to them. Segue into the Cheek to Cheek era. Albeit short-lived, Lady Gaga's album with Tony Bennett did the same thing Joanne now has. (New sound, new style.) But this record's wardrobe incited more fandom than hate, as she succumbed to the normalcy that her mainstream listeners demanded of her. Gaga, finally, went glam: flat-ironed hair, Oscars-style Versace gowns, body-con jumpsuits, and — for maybe the first time — a sensible pair of heels on her feet. Where some fans might find this hypocritical (based on her reputation as the poster woman for anti-glam, the pop star who's unafraid to embrace her inner machismo), Joanne is where all these past aesthetics finally make sense. It's 2016, and Gaga has brought us the ultimate throwback: her return to denim cutoffs. (Meaning booty shorts so short, the flash of full behind that falls from the bottom is more than enough to make Daisy Duke blush.) It's a look that many a country artist has tried, but for us, Gaga's return to denim bikini bottoms and plain cropped tees reminds us of her Stefani Germanotta days, when she, at 19, cut her teeth performing all over New York's dirty Lower East Side along best friend Lady Starlight, setting hairspray on fire and spraying it into the audience. The uniform back then looked the same: a disco bra and disheveled denim crotch riders.
But at its core, that's what Joanne is all about: the basics. For Gaga, it's 2007 all over again and anything fucking goes. Her biker bar looks have been strutting around New York City for the past few weeks, and no matter the weather or occasion, she's sticking to her guns. Despite them appearing actually quite simple, the ensembles are more revealing than ever before — perfect for a bar-walking, beer-guzzling superstar. You wouldn't see former female country singers like a Loretta Lynn or a June Cash wearing boob tape and a pair of sequined cutoffs, per se, but perhaps a Dolly Parton or Gretchen Wilson might give them a try. And that's why, really, the method to her madness isn't mad at all. It's totally meant to be unhinged in the best way. Thanks to tabloids that continue to tout those hot-or-not style quizzes, however, we remain a culture that is consumed with judging people based on their outfits. And how do we do that? By using a metric that changes so fast it no longer exists. That even if we tried, we couldn't tell you what's "in" or what's "out." This, of course, is more cause to let stars dress however they want to, and to discontinue this idea that Pop Star A and Pop Star B are mutually exclusive. Lady Gaga is the chick who wasn't invited to the party but decided to stay anyway, and that's why Joanne — in so many ways — is rocking this millennial world. A new Gaga is here, more irreverent than ever. And whether we embrace the change or not doesn't really matter. Because Lady Gaga is going to continue doing what Lady Gaga has always done, pink cowboy hat and all. She will continue to flip the fashion and pop music industries on their heads, only so fast that both will end up spinning in opposite directions. And that, the idea that your shorts can be as high as you want them to be, is what owning your personal style looks like.