To Clap Or Not To Clap: Deconstructing Lady Gaga’s “Applause” (Single Review)


The art (read: ARTPOP) of premiering a lead single is an incredibly tricky thing — especially coming from one of the biggest pop stars in the world.

Over the weekend, Katy Perry let loose her claws with her post-Teenage Dream comeback track “Roar,” resulting in a decidedly split reaction between delight and staunch criticism for sounding a little too familiar to a certain song released earlier this year.

By now, you’ve no doubt seen (and heard) that Lady Gaga declared A Pop Music Emergency in a fury of tweets following a string of sloppy snippet leaks overnight, resulting in an early global radio premiere of “Applause” this afternoon. (Whether that’s genuinely the course of events or an intentional move given the timing of Katy’s single release? Eh, you be the judge.)

It’s now time break down the applause, clap by clap.

The verse vocals.

It’s the warbling, theatrical stuff of David Bowie (and/or Grace Jones) which may or may not be a happy accident, considering the single artwork is unmistakably a nod to Bowie’s “Scary Monsters.” With each passing album, she’s got more and more free reign to play weird — and she’s going hard.

The verse beat.

An homage to nerdy ’80’s synth-pop: It’s like what Thomas Dolby‘s “She Blinded Me With Science” and an Atari video game might sound like if sped up and reinterpreted in 2013 by DJ White Shadow. (There’s a touch of Born This Way‘s glitchy electronic sound thrown in, too.)

The lyrics.

Unlike “Born This Way,” “Applause” is about celebrating no one but Mother Monster herself: “If only fame had an IV baby, could I bear being away from you / Put it in here!” she declares. Upon first listen, it sounds like egotistical garbage. But take a step back and look at the bigger picture: It would be foolish to read “Applause” as anything but pure camp — in fact, it’s self-parody. (Or, well, one would sincerely hope.)

Gaga chews up art and pop culture throughout, quite literally: “One second I’m a Koons — then suddenly the Koons is me!” she declares. (And no, it’s not that racially charged other “C” word.) “Pop culture was in art / Now art’s in pop culture in me!” It’s hysterical, really. She’s joking! She has to be joking, because the alternative interpretation is too try-hard to take seriously. (Her tweets today have proven that she has a great sense of humor, actually.)

I applaud (LOL) Gaga’s decision to steer away from self-empowerment anthems or love songs, but does the general public want to sing along to what is essentially a Weird Al Yankovic interpretation of Lady Gaga’s need for attention/validation? (Little Monsters: “YES!”) We’ll soon see. It’s fine if you don’t buy into the #ARTPOP dogma — just dance, as one might say.

The pre-chorus build.

It’s honestly one of the most instant pop earworms in a long time: “I live for the applause, applause, applause…” Those building synthesizers recall (NO SHADE, SERIOUSLY) Madonna‘s “Get Together.” It’s just a big way to lead up to the chorus.

The chorus.

That chorus! The chorus is where “Applause” finally clicks — and mercifully, it’s also the dominant force of the song. That beat is bouncy and sublime — a solid mixture of EDM-influenced pop, glitchy K-Pop-lite euphoria and just a twinkle of that original joy of The Fame. If we all loved how much she was doin’ it for the fame, then doing it for the applause is only the most natural extension.

The bridge.

Again, pure camp that is (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek. A fake crowd cheering — really? Are we suddenly playing Rock Band? Silly Gaga.

The conclusion.

“Applause” is neither as heavy-handed as feared from the dramatic ARTPOP imagery and nude forest romps, nor as joyous and melodic as anything off of The Fame or The Fame Monster…but it’s nearly there. And after a few more plays, it may very well be there. (It’s certainly proving to be as “immature” as promised.)

From far away — away from the critics, Little Monsters and everyone in between — “Applause” is a pretty great tune. Is it a solid start? I’d say so. On par with “Bad Romance”? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

But what do I know, anyway? I’m just a blogger.

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“Applause” will be released at 9 PM PST / 12 AM EST tonight. (iTunes)

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