Perfect Illusion Review
"Perfect Illusion" is the lead single off of singer-songwriter Lady Gaga's new album Joanne. The album marks the pop star's return to the music industry after a two-year-long hiatus. Co-produced by Kevin Parker and Mark Ronson, the single's collaborative writing and production featured creative input from both producers and Gaga herself. The result includes elements of disco, rock, punk and pop music, incorporated into the single’s bull-dozing conglomerate of sonic fury. “Perfect Illusion” simultaneously showcases the diversity of Gaga's past musical ventures, with references to pop hits like "Marry the Night" and "Born this Way", while manifesting a completely new persona— both musical and visual. In this way "Perfect Illusion" stays true to Gaga's commitment to continuous change, a convention of unconventionality, while diverging from the explicitly avant-garde in favor of a more toned-down image. Indeed, with Joanne, the conceptual overtones of Gaga’s past projects are replaced with a more universal concept: tradition. Tradition in family, in genealogical connection, is at the center of Gaga’s new direction. There’s no doubt the pop star’s new album aims to appeal to a wider audience who, in the words of Ronson, “might not have [sic] realized that her music had something for them.”
“Perfect Illusion” begins with a blaring siren that repeats throughout the song’s relatively short time span. The sense of urgency and raw energy are corroborated by Gaga’s aggressive vocals, whose lyrics declare, “Tryin' to get control/Pressure's takin' its toll/Stuck in the middle zone/I just want you alone” in an expository calibration of the song’s element of anxiety and frenzied chaos.
By the half-minute mark the single has launched into its signature chorus,
“It wasn't love, it wasn't love
It was a perfect illusion (perfect illusion)
Mistaken for love, it wasn't love
It was a perfect illusion (perfect illusion)
You were a perfect illusion.”
The chorus dominates most of the run time of the three-minute song, taking up the whole last minute of the song’s progression with small lyrical variances. The rest of the composition is punctuated by passages comparing the song’s unnamed addressee to drugs and its effects,
“I don't need eyes to see
I felt you touchin' me
High like amphetamine
Maybe you're just a dream
That's what it means to crush.”
In “Perfect Illusion” Gaga’s lyrics opine a blazing indictment of deceit. As her relationship with the “you” of the song reveals its illusory construction, Gaga screams the chorus verse, “You were a perfect illusion,” juxtaposing the musical transparency of her raw vocals with the thematic opacity of the titular deceptive state.
Interpretations of the song’s message vary. For one, the addressee can be seen as the audience of her fame from the beginning of her success to her later hiatus, during which the “perfect illusion” of Gaga’s worldwide domination fizzled into the reality of relative media obscurity. Specifically, the pop star’s halt on music production and constant promotion of her media presence catalyzed a sort of demotion from her recent status as the world’s biggest pop star. People stopped paying attention, and the lyrics of “Perfect Illusion” demonstrate this in the background vocals, “(Where are you? / ‘Cause I can't see you).”
The single illustrates the artists’ authenticity dilemma, of balancing fame and self-fidelity. Gaga’s initial success was in a large part due to her creative energy. Her public eccentricity was what began and sustained her virality, “Gaga . . . throws in our face something we’ve known all along but numbly decided to ignore: American celebrities have become very, very boring.” But as the beams of fame and identity diverged for Gaga, the artist decided to opt for authenticity. In a talk at Yale University last year she said, “I feel sad when I'm overworked, and that I just become a money making machine, and that my passion and my creativity take a back seat. That makes me unhappy, it feels shallow. I have a lot more to offer than my image.” Her refusal to “channel the authentic inauthenticity [of] manufactured . . . stardom” is an integral part of “Perfect Illusion” and the upcoming album. With Joanne, Gaga is searching to realign the beams of fame and personal identity.
The singer has said herself that the song’s addressee, in particular, is social media. The secondary background vocals in the chorus, “(But I feel you watchin' me / But I feel you watchin' me),” echo this. In an age of internet illusion, where the consequences of media-churned spectacles are more urgent than ever, Gaga says, “[‘Perfect Illusion’ is] about wanting people to re-establish that human connection.”
Joanne was released on Friday, October 21.