Lady Gaga has released a new single titled “Applause,” the first song to be heard from her forthcoming album Artpop. (Video at bottom.) Frankly, to these ears, it is three minutes and thirty-three seconds of brain-battering bombast. Not long ago, I wrote about the recent Miley Cyrus hit (“We Can’t Stop”) and—although both the song and the video have fairly obvious objectionable elements—it was possible to appreciate some qualities of the tune purely as a pop-record that were well-executed and attractive to the ear. It’s understandable why it would be a hit. Unfortunately this is not so for Lady Gaga’s “Applause,” although it is getting plenty of attention and views on YouTube and is likely to be a very big hit in the coming weeks. Purely from the point of view of sound, however, it seems like something she might have cooked up in her bedroom with an electronic keyboard in about twenty minutes. Of-course, people can dance to it in the clubs, and that might be all the success that really matters to her and her business colleagues, but as a lasting and worthy piece of pop-music it falls rather short; actually, it doesn’t even arrive.
Lyrically the song disappears into an abyss of self-regard. Gaga is aware that she’s been criticized for being highly unoriginal, and in “Applause” she seems to be basically calling out to her fans to defy her detractors:
I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong to crash the critic saying
Is it right or is it wrong?
If only Fame had an IV
Baby could I bare being away from you
I found the vein, put it in here
I live for the Applause, Applause, Applause …
This may all be very meaningful for Lady Gaga, but it’s a slight stretch to imagine listeners relating to it and singing along, or even remembering it a few months from now.
Seemingly responding to criticism she’s received for being too derivative in her music are these lines:
I’ve overheard your theory
Nostalgia’s for geeks
I guess sir, if you say so
Some of us just like to read
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being derivative when what you are coming up with is something that is beautiful, pleasurable to listen to, spiritually uplifting or merely fun. All popular music is derivative, and indeed all art, in one way or another. But when you nakedly take from the past only to create music that bores the ears, mashes up the mind and fries the soul, then you’re going to attract a lot of criticism for being derivative simply because there’s so little else to say.
Enough people will believe that they like this record to make it a hit, and Lady Gaga will receive her “applause.” But this is not the kind of pop-music that finds a lasting place in anyone’s heart.