by S.L. Chambers
I’m listening to “Perfect Illusion” for the second time. Again, I responded excitedly to the beginning bass and guitar riffs that captured anticipation, as if in the middle of a sandstorm, and vibrated like a tribute to 1980s rock. It is super polished in its production than its predecessors. The rock sound is not gritty, but still loud. By the chorus, Lady Gaga‘s newest single exhibited her theatrically roaring “It wasn’t love, it wasn’t love. It was a perfect illusion.”
Her last album, 2013’s Artpop, was lower in sales and pop culture recognition (a minor hit occurred with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills assisted “G.U.Y.”). However, she forged onward, and musically retreated to the refined plateau of jukebox tunes with her warmly received duet album, Cheek to Cheek, with the legend, Tony Bennett. When not singing paeans to the days of 1940s Manhattan jazz bars, she went completely left and gothic, as she starred in the over-the-top television anthology American Horror Story: Hotel (and unexpectedly won a Golden Globe for her role).
Her critical acclaim also went up. At this year’s Super Bowl, she heartily sang the National Anthem. In 2015, covered John Lennon‘s “Imagine” at the European Games Opening Ceremony. And at the Academy Awards that February, delivered a beautiful medley of songs from The Sound of Music for its 50th anniversary. These showcases led former detractors and non-fans of Gaga to admit that the often grandiose entertainer indeed obtained genuine musical talent.
Meat dress be damned.
Since it appeared that Gaga’s look and musical tendencies had swum away from the candy land of cartoonish get-ups and songs primed for the LGBT dancefloor, it was up in the air what the sound of her next album would be. Now, with the release of “Perfect Illusion”, her version of garage (pop) rock and a single cover that features her up in the air, fist pump in tow, mid-song, wearing heavy, Doc Martens-esque lace-up boots, a rock aesthetic is clear. Pop music, Gaga is. But rock?
I liked “Perfect Illusion” instantly. It goes against Gaga’s resume of flamboyant seduction. I don’t think it’s a perfectly crafted song, but its freshness and ragged nature stand out. I was surprised to see online from comments to reviews that most were baffled by the single. “They” had insinuated that it was flat, unfinished, and essentially not “Gaga” enough. What did I miss? I accept that it has a demo feel. Granted, a shiny, expensive demo feel. Evidently, I had checked off the unpopular opinion box.
Rich Juzwiak of Jezebel unleashed a scathing cut calling it a “wall of shrill sounds.” And the opening that I found foretelling of a tale about to shared, was to him a “distorted wail that opens the song and pierces the eardrums with a metronome’s precision, a hair-metal guitar riff that gets buried under the screeching, and Gaga’s own voice. Her deflating hook is practically D.O.A., and Gaga’s theatrical delivery doesn’t seem particularly interested in conveying anything aside bravado.” Juzwiak and I gathered the same combative vibes and similarly described the song. Yet both left with disparate experiences.
Pitchfork, the at times frustratingly verbose, even if greatly educational, music website, lazily used a Slack message conversation between editors as a way to review and denounce Gaga’s song. (Hilarious considering they’ve given full-blown articles to albums and songs that were awful).
Twitter had concluded that the track held similarities to Madonna’s 1986 True Blue song “Papa Don’t Preach.”
I’ve heard that song too many times. I think I would’ve picked up the twinning on site. I had to read the comment section of a magazine on Facebook to better comprehend the relation. Obstensibly, when Gaga sings “It was a perfect illusion” it is on the same wave as Madonna’s “I’m keeping my baby” in “Papa Don’t Preach.” Eh. I do hear it (now that I’m aware). That, and the thundering strings at the start of “Papa Don’t Preach.” But that was an effort.
Can we focus more on how amazing Gaga’s voice sounds on her new song? Her range should be center stage here, even if you don’t like the song too much. It is the same attribute that allowed her above-mentioned performances in 2015 and this past past winter to soar.
Lady Gaga’s ferocity recounted the passionate vocals of women in rock like Tina Turner, and more specifically regarding the track, Pat Benatar. What I’m about to say might be music blasphemy to some, but “Perfect Illusion” is the distant cousin to Benatar’s 1983 hit “Love is a Battlefield.” They don’t sound alike, but the intent of the lyrics are there.
“We are young. Heartache to heartache we stand. No promises or demands. Love is a battlefield.” –“Love is a Battlefield”, Pat Benatar
Both songs are a white flag to no longer playing the fool and being docile. For Gaga, her admission is disbelief shaded by pomposity, with statements like “Mistaken for love.” The timing of the single’s release is equally telling because, in real life, Gaga broke off her engagement with actor Taylor Kinney earlier this summer. Did the sad change of events inspire the lyrics?
From Benatar, the track described a young woman’s brave decision to walk the line of the outside cruel world without the comfort of home or a safety net. The facade of the picket fence gone. Empowerment mission on, albeit shaky. This also appears as a motif in “Perfect Illusion” because as strong as Gaga’s vocals are, it sounds like she may about to break down and cry. But she’s still singing her pain out.
The hate towards Gaga’s new song was too easy. Of course, the critics want to make fun of Gaga’s attempt to rock out as if her new song was supposed to be a carbon copy of “Just Dance” instead. Give the song a chance on your own. And be sure to blast it that second and third time around you listen to it. Trust me, you’ll grow to like it.