PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Lady Gaga's Round of "Applause" (single review)

As Gaga and Perry go toe-to-leopard-print-toe, it's obvious which diva comes out on top. Shame then that neither track are indicative of either artist's actual strengths ...


Lady Gaga

Applause [single]

US Release Date: 2013-08-12
Amazon
iTunes

Oh it's a catfight, ladies and gents.

Much like Blur vs. Oasis, Kanye vs. 50 Cent, and Justin Bieber vs. common sense, the media is more than ready to hype up a battle of the pop divas, as Katy Perry's remarkably hackneyed sing-by-numbers anthem "Roar" was unleashed to radio just days before Lady Gaga decided to debut "Applause", both of them lead singles from their hugely anticipated albums.

While there is a lot of similarities between the singer-songwriters (and to their credit, they do have a hand in writing their own songs despite what you may hear), their objectives are remarkably different: Katy Perry loves big broad pop music and enjoys making a litany of #1 hits. Even the most jaded of critics would have to acknowledge that Perry is capable of some truly transcendental moments, but that also means suffering through such base, surface-level throwaways like "Last Friday Night" and "The One That Got Away". There's nothing complicated about Perry's music, and there never will be, even as she stows her best songs away as album cuts ("Hummingbird Heartbeat") or gives them away to other singers (her co-write of Kelly Clarkson's "I Will Not Hook Up").

Gaga, meanwhile, has let us know well, well in advance that her new album is going to be called Artpop, and the title alone lets you know everything you need to know about Gaga's aesthetic: she truly believes that it's possible to create great, smart, and deep art while also making it as broadly appealing as possible (hell, Prince's Purple Rain is the de-facto blueprint for that fine line between being groundbreaking and commercial all at once). Yet, as is often the case with Gaga and divas of her ilk, the need to be important, smart, and self-aware has lead her to be meta, deliberately complicated, and sometimes downright confusing even among the most devout of her Little Monsters. As Born This Way proved, Gaga has more ambition than a dozen of her peers, but that doesn't mean she doesn't get overwhelmed by her own creations.

Thus, we are greeted with Artpop's first single, "Applause" -- and, surprisingly, it sounds like a step backwards for our crazy pop queen. That being said, a "step backwards" might actually be a good thing.


Working once again with one of Born This Way's chief sonic architects, DJ White Shadow, Gaga has veered hard into third act Madonna territory by gunning straight for the clubs, broad mainstream acceptance be damned. The opening synth, were it not so rooted in modern production, would fit right at home with too many '80s synthpop maestros to name in one go. Her chorus is simple -- she lives for the applause, and then gives you instructions on how to applaud! -- but her numerous statements about pop, art, and the critic's role in it ("I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong / To crash the critic saying: 'Is it right or is it wrong?'") show that she isn't even saying anything about art as much as she talking about what art does to herself personally and what it means in the broader sense ("Pop culture was in art / Now art's in pop culture in me!" -- what?) There's a lot to dissect, but if her lyric sheet proves anything, it's that she's not gonna play outside of her wheelhouse anytime soon.

The actual song structure by itself is perhaps the most interesting aspect of "Applause". There's no massive pre-chorus, no huge sing-along moments akin to "Edge of Glory" or even "You & I", no. Instead, this is a club-banger: a direct synth rush that is all momentum all the time always. It hews closer to "Just Dance" in style over any of her Born This Way-era hits, but in a much more aggressive fashion, catering to the gradual EDM-stranglehold of pop radio.

Yet, in that melody she found, Gaga actually sounds a little generic, the chorus feeling like a faint ghost of (ugh) David Guetta & Nicki Minaj's "Turn Me On", of all things. Were it not for her heady lyrics and warped lead-in synth line, "Applause" wouldn't stand out all that much in radio, which makes it an even more curious choice as a lead single.

Then again, Gaga isn't known for following convention, even if the song feels like it's chasing chart trends a little bit. Thus, due to club-centric appeal and typically Gaga-ian lyrics, Katy Perry's "Roar" will definitely be the bigger hit, but Gaga's, as is oft the case, the more interesting, even if both don't provide the same giddy pop thrills that both ladies have been known to deliver in the past.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.