Last week, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry both dropped singles off of their new albums, and in a feat that caused the pop-culture Internet to raise its collective over-painted eyebrow, Perry’s single dominated the charts. Her “Roar” was downloaded more than Gaga’s “Applause” by 525,000 to 225,000. (At the time, our Josh Duboff imagined Gaga’s reaction to this news.)
Over the weekend, my boyfriend, Cub, and I took a road trip and spent some time listening to the radio. We were agog, as we are every time we get in a car, at the repetitiveness of Top 40 stations everywhere. If we heard “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky,” and “Same Love” one time, we heard them 30. “Roar” was rolled out once or twice, but we didn’t hear “Applause” a single time. I played it for Cub on my phone, and he said he actually preferred the latter, even though it seemed like no one else did. I myself like “Roar”—it’s got “last stretch of a painful morning run” written all over it.
“But just wait,” I told Cub. “Lady Gaga will release a video, she’ll come up with a little dance to go with it, and before you know it all the gays will be doing choreographed clap routines to ‘Applause’ at clubs and weddings all over the country.” Is there anything that sells a song better than gay men doing a group dance to it at a straight wedding? (Well, topless models dancing to it, I guess.)
Lo and behold, this morning the pop star released the video to “Applause,” directed by photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. It basically looks like a moving photo shoot for Interview magazine, except with more sanity. And if you fast-forward through the standard Gaga nonsense (face-paint smearing, a bikini made of hands, a giant severed leg that’s also a bouquet of flowers, Gaga’s head on the body of a black swan, etc.), there’s a bit of a catchy dance routine around minute 1:50. Who doesn’t love a syncopated overhead clap?
I’m already practicing for a wedding I have in three weeks. Are you?
But beyond the dance, the video features something else that gives me hope about this new album: a smile. You can see hints of it starting 50 seconds in. It’s not a full grin, but it’s a hint that—gasp—Lady Gaga is actually having fun.
When was the last time we saw a smiley Lady Gaga video? I can tell you; I just re-watched all of them. It was in 2009, with “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say),” a cheesy, pastel-tinted homage to the great, rolling-around-in-bed Mariah Carey videos of the 1990s. In it, Gaga prances up and down what appears to be Manhattan’s Little Italy, hanging out with friends and eating carbohydrates while wearing a big bow made of hair. (Remember that phase?) That was a full four years ago, our last real Lady Gaga smile.
(That’s if you don’t count the robotic, frightening grimace she gives after killing Alexander Skarsgard in 2009’s “Paparazzi.” Which I don’t, because I can’t reward that. Gaga also smiles briefly in a corn field while she’s serenading a male version of herself in 2011’s “You and I.” But since the video also involves her drowning and getting electrocuted in a barn, I don’t really qualify it as “smiley.”)
Now, smiling isn’t really what Lady Gaga is about, is it? Costumes and sky-high torture shoes? Yes. Social commentary? Sure. Art, even? All right, fine. It’s all campy, but not exactly a laugh riot. So then is it weird that I still want to know that our gal Gaga is having fun?
One of my favorite televised Gaga performances was her 2010 Grammy appearance with Elton John. In an evening of incredible live performances (including Pink’s acrobatic “Glitter in the Air,” Beyoncé’s fiery cover of “You Oughta Know,” and a Michael Jackson tribute that featured Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Carrie Underwood, and Smokey Robinson), the Gaga/John duet stood out because you could see in her face that she was performing with one of her musical idols. It’s not usual that you can look into a pop star’s eyes and see a dream coming true. And though she tried to hide it, in spite of herself, Gaga smiled.
(Compare that with the night’s cringe-inducing Taylor Swift/Stevie Nicks duet, in which an off-key Taylor looked like she was all alone, singing “Rhiannon” in her bedroom mirror. For the 100th time.)
The lyrics to “Applause” give us a hint that Gaga is ready to admit that she’s having a good time, and that the crazy, skeleton-filled haunted hayride that is her life is actually fun, in its way. She compares the applause from a crowd to sex and straight up begs for it. “Give me that thing that I love,” she says. “I live for the applause, live for the way that you cheer and scream for me.”
This is one of those oft-repeated sentiments that pop stars don’t realize doesn’t translate to listeners. Not many of us have stood in front of thousands of people screaming and cheering our names, after all. From what I imagine, this is probably a terrifying thrill akin to Motorcross racing or playing Russian roulette and not losing. It’s probably really, really great. But saying so comes across as egomaniacal, even desperate.
Or it would in Gaga’s case if she weren’t smiling when she said it. The smile says, “I know, I know. But this is fun. Trust me.”
I like it. And with an album name like Artpop and new friends like Marina Abramovic, I was worried Gaga would be taking herself way too seriously this time around. But looks like we’re in for some good times in the next few months.
So from where I’m sitting, bubblegum queen Katy Perry shouldn’t get too comfortable on top of the charts. She may be the Glinda to Gaga’s Wicked Witch of the West, but the Lady’s still got a few surprises tucked up in her severed-leg bouquet.
if this was too much for you to read you probably havent completed your ged yet!
Mods this is Vanity Fair not some random blog!