Lady Gaga has been always been a few normal outfits away from becoming a meme; specifically one those “we need to appreciate this transformation” social media posts that juxtaposes the meat dress with a pair of denim short shorts. It’s like when “the basket case” Allison Reynolds is made into your average gal next door in The Breakfast Club, except, with the release of her new, more accessible single “Perfect Illusion”, the general public think they’ve boxed Gaga into normalcy. Spoiler alert: Gaga has always had this more “usual” pop persona underneath her, and with “Perfect Illusion,” she’s merely offering up a different facet of herself. And if you’ve ever been under the impression that Lady Gaga can only pull off freak-pop, you’ve been part of her ruse.
Like most pop stars, Gaga’s been sorted into categories her entire career based the album she’s working on. From the beautifully bizarre The Fame Monster days of 2009 (arguably her peak), to the more recent seashell bikini-clad Aphrodite era of ARTPOP and glitzy charm of her jazz standards with Tony Bennett on Cheek to Cheek, Gaga has remained a veritable chameleon, albeit an odd one. Now in 2016, little monsters date time as the year of LG5, an ambiguous name and hashtag for the star’s forthcoming album, title TBA.
First LG5 single “Perfect Illusion” debuted last night as a power banger, with Gaga’s vocals sounding “wounded,” as promised by co-producer Mark Ronson, and synth-rock undertones thrusting the tune forward. There’s no reference of a single Alfred Hitchcock movie, no mention of “banging the gong,” no clever yet tawdry double entendres. For a fanbase expecting quirk, the single makes an appalling first impression.
This stylistic shift in Gaga’s new music may seem like a complete 180 in comparison to the golden days of “Bad Romance,” but this change has been on the horizon since Gaga’s vocals crackled over the soaring chorus of “Gimme Shelter” with the Rolling Stones live in New Jersey back in 2012. After a test of her vocal chops on a normcore jazz tour with Bennett, her new persona is more standard for pop, but a thousand disco sticks from subdued.
The change is clear — namely in the key change in one of the track’s last choruses, where nearly 10 years of performing renders her vocals unrecognizable from the bubblegum banter of “Just Dance.”
ARTPOP didn’t top Gaga’s previous work largely because of her choice of producers and mismanagement with promotions and single releases. In the album’s wake, LG5 creeps into late 2016 with little or no prior clues. After all, ARTPOP’s title was announced more than a year before the album actually dropped, while LG5, officially announced at the Golden Globes earlier this year, remains a mystery only a few months before its release. More importantly, Mark Ronson, Bloodpop, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker stand behind Gaga as producers of the new release, instead of DJ White Shadow and Zedd, whose collaborations with the pop star didn’t necessarily help her last two albums.
Gaga has never been a woman who gives people what they want. The vulgarity and grotesque gestures she became famous for manipulating — once mocked by the public, and now craved — grovel as absurdities of the past, at least temporally. Now that eccentricity is expected of her, Gaga shape shifts once again to dodge any predictions of her artistry. On the “Perfect Illusion” single cover, Gaga soars into the sky in a simple black tee and weathered Doc Martins, merely fulfilling her vow to “explode in her 30s.”