Why “Applause” Rules: 7 Reasons You’re Underestimating Lady Gaga’s Hit


The new video for Lady Gaga’s cuckoo ARTPOP lead single, “Applause,” is the shadowy, makeup-smeared spectacle you expected, and a cynic may say it’s time to give Ms. Gaga the new moniker “Bjork for Dummies.” But after listening to “Applause” for the trillionth time, I can assure you that Lady Gaga is still way more interesting than any other currently cavorting pop star, and we should respect this song’s joy and weirdness in kind. Here are seven reasons why.

1. The David Bowie vocal quaver is awesome.

As soon as Gaga arrived on the scene in 2008, she was clear about who her pop idols were: Madonna, Queen, Sinead O’Connor, and David Bowie. She was specific about her fandom, and I think that means she’s qualified to reference their vocal stylings more than five years into her enormous career. I love the Bowie-esque quaver in her voice on the vocals, and not just because it’s a fun reference. She can pull them off vocally because Lady Gaga has the best singing voice (and most versatile?) of any superstar today. AND David Bowie’s “Fame” period is obviously a proper ancestor to Gaga’s career. How about that.

2. The nutty lyrics are one-of-a-kind and hilarious.

I love the grim “fame injection” (quoth Liz Phair) of the first verse. “If only fame had an I.V., baby could I bear being away from you / I found the vein, put it in here,” and I especially dig the applause-centric double entendre of the post-chorus: “Give me that thing that I love (I’ll turn the lights out)/ Put your hands up, make ’em touch, touch (make it real loud).” It’s clever! And actually means something! And is dirty! It’s everything you like about a good pop song.

3. The yapping on the chorus? Is fire.

I’ve already touted the song’s one-of-a-kind-ness, but the chorus truly sounds like nothing on the radio right now. To invoke an overused pop critic adjective, it is “delirious.” Can any other current song claim that distinction? No.

4. The New Wave angle is sweet.


The zippy, overcaffeinated lines like “Nostalgia’s for geeks!” is so Talking Heads in the most ideal way. Swaggering, yet irreverent. This song is irreverent. With the exception of “Thrift Shop,” we haven’t had another irreverent pop song in the past year. We needed this.

5. Unlike “Roar,” it doesn’t sound like any pop song of the past three months.

We all know that Katy Perry’s “Roar,” which is still #1 on iTunes, sounds a hell of a lot like Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” Katy herself even tweeted a couple months ago that she loved “Brave,” and that strikes me as tragic foreshadowing. I’ve heard some rumbling that “Applause” bears a resemblance to Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild,” and I’m here to say: No. It’s about as close to “Girl Gone Wild” as “California Gurls” is to “Tik Tok,” which is to say: Sometimes basic pop songs can fit into each other. Also unlike Katy Perry: Lady Gaga’s cheekiness has some actual defiance and verve to it. Katy Perry’s career has been a giant Betty Boop wink about nothing.

6. The lyric video is classic “Beautiful Dirty Rich” Gaga.

Love the runway-stomping dragginess of the lyric video. Smacks of The Fame’s raunchiest moments, and it’s nice to have a throwback to that time.

7. Because the Gaga backlash is completely predictable and annoying.

The video for “Applause” is sort of like Black Swan mated with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ video for “Otherside,” and I can understand thinking that’s a little contrived. But aesthetic judgments aside, I’m definitely over whatever Gaga backlash is occurring. Oh, we figured out her references? Oh, she’s actually attempting something ambitious? Hard to knock her when there are STILL people breathlessly awaiting the new collection of infant moans from Britney Spears or tasteless come-ons from Katy Perry. All the Gaga bashing is the same: Stop being smart and knowing it, lady. Predictable misogyny. It’s just like when you hear Kathy Griffin dismissed as “annoying” or Bjork as “weird”: Actually, if you paid attention for more than two seconds, you’d be aware that you’re in the presence of an amazing, bold mind, regardless of the outsize personality at hand. But no. You’re too busy considering your arbitrary dismissiveness a valid criticism.

Do you live for the “Applause” too? Why or why not?