There are two things that we’ve known about Lady Gaga from day one: First, she loves her fans more than life itself. Second, if you don’t like her, she’s not particularly interested in what you think. Both attitudes pervade her latest single “Applause,” which is probably most intriguing for its lyrical content. Her talk of “living for the applause” and “banging the gong to crash the critic” seem to indicate that she is more comfortable with where she fits into the pop culture grid these days. This song marks a return to the themes Gaga explored in her first two albums: the nature of fame and admiration.
The other big theme in this song is expressed in the lyric, “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me!” Whenever an artist talks about fusing art and pop music, it always makes me a little nervous, because they often go in an avant-garde direction and end up making some truly bad music. Gaga had shown hints of this direction on her latest album Born This Way, with songs like “Scheiße,” “Heavy Metal Lover,” and “Black Jesus † Amen Fashion.” The intro and first verse of “Applause” are somewhat avant-gardesque with a harsh instrumental part and lyrics that are yelled more than sung. But once the chorus hits, Gaga backs off and sings in a much more conventional style, delivering the lyrics as only she can. The beat becomes more familiar, and the next verse, while echoing the delivery of the first, is easier on the ears. Perhaps, by writing the song this way, she is showing us that pop songs can challenge traditional songwriting norms while still giving us a good melody to listen to, that “art” and “pop” can coexist. The title of her new album, Artpop, seems to indicate that as well.
Overall, while the song starts somewhat harshly, I like the way it ends up, and thus I believe it is a solid first offering from Artpop. I will be interested to see which direction the album takes. Will the songwriting style be more familiar, like her first two albums? Will it veer off into Abstract Art Land? Or will it be a little of both, a fusion of two styles that creates something new and interesting? Based on Gaga’s previous efforts and this song, I’m betting on the latter.