It’s always risky to make too much out of a song’s lyrics, but Lady Gaga’s new “Applause” is so immediately striking in its un-sing-along-able ridiculousness it’s hard to know where to start. Julie Andrews always advised us to start at very the beginning, so here’s how a groaning Gaga opens: “I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong / To crash the critic saying, ‘Is it right or is it wrong?'” When Gaga first shared the ARTPOP single on August 12, ahead of schedule, that line raised the question of who exactly in the world wants to go out and sing karaoke or pump their fists in the car about a subject as (frankly) removed from everyday life as us cantankerous music-opinion types. Now, it’s clear that leveraging Gaga’s market clout against a critical establishment that may have tired of her was the point all along.
We called the song “forgettable” and “the sound of one pop star clapping for herself,” and obviously we’re right. But as Idolator sums up in its reviews round-up, the critical reception to this club-ready song was generally glowing. And yet Gaga has shared a short video, above, ironically declaring that Lady Gaga is “over,” “a flop,” “no longer relevant,” so “don’t buy” her new single — and there’s a link to buy her new single, haha. On the one hand, Gaga got us: She has turned even her critics into part of her art. But on the other hand, that decision reflects a more insidious embrace of entrenched power.
First, let’s talk about Gaga’s triumph here. She has previously said that ARTPOP, which arrives on November 11, will allow audiences to explore the singer’s “existence as a cultural interface.” Gaga recently appeared naked in a video for performance artist Marina Abramovic’s nonprofit; this, we argued, was performance art itself. In fact, even the well-timed Lana Del Rey track that surfaced dissing Gaga could be considered part of Gaga’s cultural existence, right? With Gaga’s new anti-commercial for “Applause,” she winkingly incorporates negative reviews into the project. She is Gaga. Prepare to be assimilated.
And yet, Gaga’s portrayal of herself as somehow less powerful than the few professional critics who savaged her song is troubling in various ways. She recently topped a list of the highest-earning famous people younger than 30, and since money is legally speech these days, that means her voice is probably louder than those of any detractors (although, have you heard “Applause”? Her voice is loud!). In fact, Billboard reports that industry sources say Gaga’s single will probably sell more than 400,000 copies in its first week, so she’s not being as crushed by critical opinions as the video suggests. When Gaga sings for her fans to drown out those mean ol’ critics, she’s posing as an underdog. She isn’t one.