Pop Perspective: Lady Gaga’s “Applause” Reviewed By All Four Idolator Editors

Mike Wass | August 16, 2013 6:24 pm

Great music affects you on an emotional level. Take Demi Lovato‘s “Skyscraper”. That soaring ballad can make one person weep (ie. me) and another switch the channel while muttering “bitch, please.” There is no right or wrong — just different opinions.

At Idolator, the editors share a passion for pop and on occasion, our tastes even align completely. Other times, not so much! So, in the spirit of debate, we’ve decided to start a new feature called Pop Perspective. Basically, all four editors will dissect a particularly noteworthy song, album, video or performance, and give a rating on a scale from one to 10.

That way you’re getting a full spectrum of views…and we can all vent. (It’s cheaper than therapy!) The first song to be placed under the Idolator microscope is Lady Gaga‘s polarizing “Applause”. Is it the glittering comeback we’ve all been waiting for or an unusual misstep from one of pop’s finest practitioners?

Head below to see what we all have to say.

Robbie Daw — 7/10

Lady Gaga has never shied away from wearing her influences on her sleeve, and with “Applause” we get them in spades — from name-dropping Jeff Koons, one of several artists the singer is collaborating with for ARTPOP, to mimicking David Bowie‘s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) era cover art and font on the single cover. (Gaga goes one step further by pulling a full-on Bowie impersonation while delivering the “Applause” verses.”)

Art and pop references aside, “Applause” finds Gaga sending the biggest musical love letter to a fanbase since Backstreet Boys‘ 1999 single “Larger Than Life.” Personally, I’ve found myself more drawn to the sound of the track itself, which plays like a return to Gaga’s days of The Fame. The opening, pulsating synths are a straight-up throwback to the “Poker Face” intro — albeit slightly sped up — while the handclap-laden chorus swells and soars with the same pop frenzy that made “Paparazzi” such a delight.

For me, Born This Way, as a whole, had a few highs and far too many lows, so it’s good to hear Gaga ditching the gloom and shooting for merriment once again.

Sam Lansky — 5/10

There’s much to admire in Lady Gaga’s “Applause,” and much that I find frustrating. The hook gleams and sparkles, a melody that surges; the production feels sharp and modern; it’s just so wonderfully catchy, and after the mixed bag of Born This Way, the intention feels cleaner and more engaging on this, the lead single from ARTPOP.

At the same time, if she’s referencing Bowie with her theatrical delivery on the verses, it’s executed with a dissonance that makes me want to turn it off; worse, the lyrics are painfully ham-fisted and spuriously self-important. (That nostalgia’s for geeks line, in particular, is cringe-inducing, and “Art in pop culture in me” is completely inane).

That sucks, because it’s a great pop song, and it shows that her instincts as a musical artist are still extraordinary, but the insistence on heavy-handed social commentary is compromising the integrity of her songcraft. Maybe it’s time to put the artist away for awhile and let the pop star shine.

Mike Wass — 4/10

The fact that “Applause” is basically interchangeable with a non-charting single from Madonna‘s worst album says it all. Little Monsters can keep this underwhelming exercise in narcissism. I’ll just keep blasting Lady Gaga’s triumphant duet with Cher. Now there’s a song that lives up to its title.

Carl Williott — 6/10

There’s no getting around the fact that the sonics of “Applause” are chintzy and generic in 2013. If this were on The Fame, I’d love it, but now, it mostly sounds like any other throwaway DJ track with a hired-gun female singer.

That said — it stirs something within me each time those Atari synths tumble as Gaga shouts “Give me the thing that I love,” already making it a workout playlist staple. But I can’t help but feel it’s a cheap thrill, employing electro-pop’s crescendo-by-numbers formula the way a horror director uses the cat-jumping-out trope to elicit a few shrieks.

Final verdict (for now): It’s underwhelming, but not unenjoyable.