With the announcement of “Perfect Illusion,” Little Monsters and critics alike were left to wonder what a Lady Gaga single would sound like after her three-year hiatus from pop music. Would the swirling rumors of a RedOne/Gaga reunion make for a dark, club banger a la “Bad Romance?” Perhaps a Grammy win with Tony Bennett had persuaded the Golden Globe winner to try her hand at a solo jazz collection? Neither, it seems. As a collaboration between Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Mark Ronson, and the producer, Bloodpop, Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion” finds the Mother Monster swapping her jazz ensemble for a handful of guitars and a dash of punk.
More Tame Impala than Mark Ronson or Bloodpop, “Perfect Illusion” takes a stab at dance-rock, toeing in line with Ronson’s promise of a purely “analog record.” Simple guitar progressions and delayed synth vamps underscore Gaga’s raw vocals, which waver between a female Bruce Springsteen and (oddly enough) a belting Miley Cyrus. The auto-tune that ran rampant on previous dance hits like “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” is gone, leaving behind the sheer force of her powerful delivery.
The Ronson-Parker-Bloodpop trio’s intentions are glaringly clear from the first listen: to feature Gaga’s undeniable vocal talent, as showcased on Cheek To Cheek and her memorable tribute to Julie Andrews at 2015’s Oscars. The effect, however, has overshadowed Gaga’s knack for quirky, provocative lyrics. Vague verses and a simple, repetitive chorus stand as some of Gaga’s weakest lines, despite her recent boast that “every few days, a lyric would change and it would get better and better.” Even in its final draft, the song’s intention as a commentary on the ingenuine nature of social media barely comes across.
Lady Gaga’s survey into punkish disco-rock of “Perfect Illusion,” marks the beginning of yet another reinvention in the singer’s eight-year stint in the limelight. After the saccharine empowerment of Born This Way and the weed-fueled erracticism of Artpop, the raw vocal power and refreshing collaborations on”Perfect Illusion” are a hopeful sign that Joanne may produce some of Lady Gaga’s most accessible work. The stale lyrics and modest arrangement, however, still fall short in capturing the thrill and intrigue of The Fame Monster, arguably the most authentic and respectable release of the icon’s career.