“We will move on from Lady Gaga as soon as the next shiny object catches our attention.” This is where we left off at the end of the last investigation of Stefani Germanotta, better known to the world as Lady Gaga, back in 2011. Gaga has maintained relative radio silence up until recently, when she released the admittedly catchy “Applause.”
“Applause” itself is undeniably a well-polished ear worm, but hampered by Gaga’s annoying roar in certain parts and lyrical content that once again shows how shallow the message actually is. Whereas previous Gaga singles at least attempted to divorce themselves from her overwhelming public persona (simple songs about girls in clubs who get drunk), this new song is unmistakably about the Lady herself. Lyrics like “I live for the applause/Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me” draw Gaga’s narcissistic obsession to center stage, as if such sentiment is more than anything to be ashamed of. Almost twenty years after Kurt Cobain made hating fame cool, Gaga positions herself as desperately seeking attention – without which, she’ll die.
Another line is very telling: “Pop culture was in art now art’s in pop culture in me.” Here, it seems that Gaga believes she has replaced conventional “art” from which pop culture used to be derived and now packages and delivers it herself out of the kindness of her heart. This from someone who seconds later provides instructions on how to clap: “Put your hands up, make ‘em touch, touch.” Marvel at Lady Gaga’s brilliance.
Despite the fact that songs like “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” are little more than sonically pleasing candy with no nourishment for the brain, they at least had some level of depth. “Paparazzi” is a song full of metaphor, with the camera waving vultures representing the fierce determination of an unrequited lover. “Applause” is simply about Gaga appreciating attention. There’s no way Greyson Chance could perform a cover of this newest song; it would seem ridiculous.
It’s ironic that Gaga performed the song at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards before being promptly upstaged by (and completely abandoned as a topic in favor of) Miley Cyrus’ gyrations. It seems that the pop culture Gaga purports to be the embodiment of has moved on without her. At this point, Gaga’s elaborate costume changes, colorful wigs, and intricate choreography are no match for a giant foam finger stuffed between legs. Gaga’s performance may have been technically better, but Cryus’ got everyone talking, the new shiny object for the masses to obsess over.
Gaga has been playing the long con: performing bubblegum pop while positioning herself as a figurehead of the downtrodden, outsiders of the world. While Miley Cyrus’ appropriation of “black” culture is blatant, Gaga’s is much more surreptitious. Cyrus surrounds herself with black girls to appear to be like one of them; Gaga heads to the front of the pride parade to seem like she IS one of them.
After listening to Gaga’s personal philosophy in interviews and seeing her activism (which, admittedly, is very nice of her), you’d expect her catalogue to be full of the same topics, but Gaga has demonstrated time and again that she has no interest in singing about what she talks about. You would think the purveyor of pop culture would be a little more responsible. Imagine how much she could further her causes if she actually wrote songs about them!
(Although, judging by the relative obscurity of Janelle Monáe, whose numerous concept albums deal with themes like racism, societal oppression, and class inequality, Gaga’s approach is much better for gaining mainstream attention.)
Gaga spent so long away and “Applause” is what she gives us? A song about how much she needs our attention. She’s made being an attention whore into a badge of honor. Why does Gaga do the things she does? She’s telling us the exact reason, herself: for the spectacle, for the praise. This isn’t news, Stefani. We knew that a long time ago.