What Is Lady Gaga's 'Perfect Illusion' About? It's Far More Than Just A Love Song
Though many of us were able to get our fix of Lady Gaga during her Golden Globe award-winning stint on American Horror Story: Hotel recently, it's been a while since we've enjoyed any new, dance music from the star. And let's face it, as tremendous a performer and actress as she may be, nothing compares to how perfectly pop her music is when it's at it's best. So, it's with much relief that I can report Gaga released her new single, "Perfect Illusion" on Friday morning, and it's a blissful burst of anthemic-rock infused dance pop. Sweeping between ideas of false love, forged feelings, and painful epiphanies, the song's lyrics make references to various forms of manufactured happiness. But, just what is Gaga's "Perfect Illusion" about?
On first listen, the song sounds little more than a forlorn rebuttal to a love affair gone sour, as Gaga is heard repeating the line, "it wasn't love/ It was a perfect illusion" throughout the chorus. As a result it would be easy to make the mistake of writing it off as being little other than a break-up song. But, listen a little more closely, and "Perfect Illusion" actually has a great deal more to offer — and a lot more going on beneath the surface.
For starters, there's a couple of references to a conflict between performance and reality through the lyrics depicting Gaga suggesting that she's "caught up in [the] show" of someone's seemingly duplicitous life. Later on in the song, during the bridge, the lyrics then give the impression that, though she's a part of the show and perhaps a complicit performer in it, she's incapable of witnessing it for herself:
Mistaken for loveWhere were you'Cause I can't seeBut I feel you watchin' me
There's also plenty of description of feeling misguided by false feelings, as well as blinded by them. Additionally, by using the effects of amphetamines as a metaphor for the highs of falling in love with someone, "Perfect Illusion" highlights the difference between the artificial and the real, the manufactured and the natural, and the superficial and the genuine. Gaga sings, "High like amphetamine/ Maybe you're just a dream" in the second verse, before returning to the metaphor in the bridge where she sings, "Dilated, falling free/ In a modern ecstasy."
In an interview with iHeart Radio on Wednesday, Gaga cryptically revealed that "Perfect Illusion" is "about modern ecstasy," before explaining, "We found our sweet, simple, rage-y way of saying it." This is an incredibly interesting statement. Just what does Gaga think is modern ecstasy? Though she didn't explain it during this interview, the clues are somewhat there throughout the song — after all, there's nothing "modern" about the extreme highs and lows of a love affair gone bad. Gaga's revealing something else to us.
Between the references to pre-formative behaviors, superficial delights, and manufactured artifice, "Perfect Illusion" may actually be more about how we engage with and present ourselves on social media. In an interview with BBC Radio 1 on Friday, Gaga even told presenter Nick Grimshaw that the song is a commentary on the ways people present idealized versions of themselves on social media, explaining:
I believe many of us are wondering why there are so many fake things around us ... How do we navigate through social media? How do we look through these images that we know are filtered and altered, and decipher what is reality and what is a perfect illusion? There are also a lot of things on the internet that are not reality. And I think people are pressured to keep that personal illusion going on in their real lives.So this song is about raging against it and letting it go. It's about wanting people to re-establish that human connection.
This makes perfect sense once you hear the Mother Monster herself explain it. Though "Perfect Illusion" may be a song of heartbreak on the surface, at it's core it's clearly a statement about the sort of doubts and insecurities which can plague relationships and our own personal expressions of identity. It also seems to be about the "modern ecstasy" of living idealized lives online and receiving false validations on them, and how they can become as addictive as any other drug, and damaging in it's own way.
Thankfully, amongst the filtering, the altered, the illusions and the idealized versions of reality, Gaga has managed to make a song which has definitely re-established that human connection with her fans. "Perfect Illusion" is a little sad, a little confused, plenty angry but ultimately, totally real.