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The song received generally positive reviews from music critics, who felt its chorus was catchy and favorably compared it to the material featured on Gaga's debut album, The Fame (2008). "Applause" achieved commercial success in a number of nations, topping the charts in Hungary, Lebanon, South Korea, and Spain while peaking within the top 10 in Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as the top 20 in Australia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Sweden. It was also certified multi-platinum in Canada, Sweden, the United States, and Venezuela.
Development of Artpop began shortly after the release of Born This Way (2011), and by the following year, the album's concepts started building as Gaga collaborated with producers Fernando Garibay and DJ White Shadow. Initial recording sessions for Artpop coincided with the Born This Way Ball: up to fifty songs were written and considered for inclusion. Gaga herself admitted that she intended to make audiences have "a really good time" with Artpop, engineering the album to mirror "a night at the club". Meanwhile, the singer began presenting tracks to her record company and hoped to reveal the album's working title by September, instead was announced one month in advance.
A hip surgery in February 2013 caused the singer to take a six-month hiatus, during which she studied literature and music with the Haus of Gaga. It also allowed her to review and enhance her musical direction, which she described as a meticulous "gazing process". "Applause" was written and produced by Gaga and DJ White Shadow, along with Nick Monson and Dino Zisis while on the road for her Born This Way Ball tour in 2012. Other songwriters working on the track included Martin Bresso, Nicolas Mercier, Julien Arias and William Grigahcine. Talking to Sirius XM Radio, Gaga explained the inspiration behind the songwriting of "Applause":
"I realized it was the applause of the fans that really kept me going. Because I would be ready to go onstage and just be crying hysterically not understanding even how I was feeling. I was feeling very dizzy, I had a lot of vertigo, I had pain but it's like fuck if I know what hurts the most because I'd been on tour for a year. But I didn't want to let them down and I just couldn't cancel because the thought of leaving 50,000 kids in the arena just broke my heart. So I went out every night and I played and I played and I played until I couldn't walk one night."
Recording and composition
Recording sessions for the song took place at Record Plant Studios, Hollywood, California, and Platinum Sound Recording Studio, New York City by Dave Russell, with Benjamin Rice and Andrew Robertson working as assistants. Russell also did the mixing of the track at Record Plant and at Heard It! Studios. Additional mixing was carried out by Bill Malina, with assistance from Rice and Ghazi Hourani. Rick Pearl performed the additional programming and Gene Grimaldi completed the audio mastering at Oasis Mastering Studios in Burbank, California.
A 21-second sample of "Applause", featuring the chorus where Gaga sings, "Give me the thing that I love (I'll turn the lights on) / Put your hands up, make them touch (Make it real loud)" backed by an electropop production.
The song's production is primarily centered around hi-NRG beats, "stuttering synthesizers", and hard snares. Robbie Daw of Idolator noted that 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."The Guardians Michael Cragg described the song's composition as "brilliantly camp - all squelchy synths and juddering beats" and likened it to a "ridiculous glam-rock song given a techno makeover". The chorus has been noted to contain "a solid mixture of EDM-influenced pop, glitchy k-pop-lite euphoria and just a twinkle of that original joy of The Fame" and features Gaga singing the lines, "Give me the thing that I love (I'll turn the lights on) / Put your hands up make 'em touch (Make it real loud)". Her vocal acrobatics during the song's verses have been compared to those of David Bowie, Annie Lennox, and Grace Jones.
Lyrically, "Applause" is about how Gaga is dependent upon her fan's adoration, and "what it means to live your life as a canvas", while also serving as "a kiss-off to critics". Bradley Stern of MuuMuse opined that "Unlike 'Born This Way', 'Applause' is about celebrating no one but Mother Monster herself". According to Gaga, the song's lyrics highlight the difference between an artist and a celebrity. She elaborated, "I live for the applause but I don't live for the attention in the way that people just love you because you're famous. I live for actually performing for people and then them applauding because they've been entertained."
Artwork and release
During the process of picking the lead single from Artpop, Gaga played numerous songs for Jimmy Iovine, an executive at Interscope Records. Of the 40 songs she played for Iovine, he preferred "Applause", the last song played. Gaga revealed that "Applause" was almost excluded from the final cut of Artpop, due to an abundance of recorded material, until the meeting with Iovine. Gaga confirmed "Applause" as the upcoming single, and announced that it would be released on August 19, 2013. The official artwork for "Applause" was debuted on Women's Wear Dailys website on July 29, 2013. The cover features Gaga's face smeared with multi-colored paint and surrounded by a white sheet. Gaga explained that she chose the smeared makeup look for the cover to symbolize the moment at the end of a show when the performer is vulnerable and longing for the audience's approval. The artwork was compared to the cover of David Bowie's 1980 album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).
On August 10, 2013, two snippets of the song leaked online. Gaga urged fans to "please take these down as much as possible" and provided instructions on how to report information regarding the unauthorized distribution of her song to her label's parent company, Universal Music Group. In response, fans reported websites seen distributing or linking to the snippets of the single, with nearly 2,500 individuals sending a singular link to Universal's takedown page. However, despite such efforts, a leak was eminent. So Gaga released the song a week early onto various radio stations across America. The single was made available in most countries just before midnight (EST) on the iTunes Store, coupled with a pre-order of Artpop. Following day, Gaga was seen in goth costume with clown-like face paint similar to the "Applause" artwork, at various promotional events. The Huffington Post compared the style-shift to Marilyn Manson, saying: "With her black hair slicked back, a face full of white powder and her black blazer and shirt combo, Gaga could have easily been mistaken for Manson if it wasn't for her towering heels." Gaga also premiered a short clip of "Applause" that quoted harsh journalism that attacked her credibility as an artist. In the video, Gaga was seen sitting naked in a white room and wearing a transparent visor. The sound of an audience booing and jeering was heard in the background. Direct quotations from critics and detractors appeared at the bottom of the video, which included: "Lady Gaga is over"and "Do not buy Lady Gaga's new single 'Applause'". The clip was construed as an attempt at reverse psychology.
Due to the proximity of the single's leak to fellow pop singer Katy Perry's "Roar", "Applause" was fervently compared to it, In addition to rumors spreading of a "feud" between the two. Gaga received negative press after news arose of her attempting to artificially increase the single's placement on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which some sources reported as an attempt to beat the sales of "Roar". She was criticized for tweeting fans and encouraging them to purchase numerous copies of the single, with the chance to meet the singer in London offered as an incentive. The tweet provoked criticism from Billboards Editorial Director Bill Werde, who opined that "An artist tweeting out and Facebooking a link that enables a fan to hit play and leave their computer is not in the spirit of what we chart". Following this, Gaga stated that she would be rewarding the fans with the most creative ideas, and not those who purchased the most copies of "Applause".
"Applause" received favorable reviews from music critics. Chris Richards of The Washington Post wrote, "It's good. Maybe even slow clap good. Because while so many (too many!) of Gaga's songs have been designed to boost the esteem of her flock, this song finds her openly pining for the mass-adulation that all superstars need to survive." Jason Lipshutz of Billboard lauded the song's hook and remarked, "As always, Gaga has turned a lofty idea into a jingle for the masses." Lewis Corner from Digital Spy gave the song four out of five stars, stating that "Lady Gaga makes no secret that she's after mass adoration, and as far as lead singles go, her next grand spectacle is off to a strong start." Carl Williot of Idolator praised the track, saying that it "ticks all the right boxes when it comes to being a balls-to-the-wall pop delight ... this is pop doing what good pop songs should do, which is grab you by the collar from the first listen and make you fall in love on the spot."The Huffington Post writer Baggers described it as "pop at its best: instant, euphoric, joyful and impossible to get out of your head".
Bradley Stern of MuuMuse gave the song a positive review and concluded, "Is it a solid start? I'd say so. On par with "Bad Romance"? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves." Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine believed the song lacked "the bigness" of Gaga's previous lead singles but noted that "it proves she can still craft a catchy hook". Mof Gimmers of The Quietus noted that the song was "a bit sticky in places" but explained "if you stop expecting too much of Gaga, you'll realise it has a furiously irresistible chorus." Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast was critical of the song's "disjointed verses" but noted that they were "increasingly forgivable every time the song's unshakable chorus blasts" and praised it as a fitting climax to the album. Melinda Newman of Hitfix gave the song a B+ rating and labelled it "a layered, dance twirler". Positive feedback also came from Mike Driver from Clash who highlighted "Applause" as one of the tracks on Artpop that ticks "all of the prerequisite Gaga boxes - dazzling production, a clutch of clever couplets, choruses you can demolish a tower block with", but found that it did not represent a notable musical progression for the singer. Hilary Hughes from Esquire offered similar commentary, feeling that Gaga was playing it safe and that "the song doesn't break new ground for the reigning Queen of Pop".
In a mixed review, Evan Sawdey of PopMatters called the song generic and that "were it not for her heady lyrics and warped lead-in synth line, "Applause" wouldn't stand out all that much in radio, which makes it an even more curious choice as a lead single."Spins Marc Hogan criticized the song's "bland dance-bot foundations" as "a bit behind the times at a pop moment where the biggest song-of-the-summer candidates have moved back toward '70s-inflected guitars." Another mixed review came from Harry Hawcroft of Contactmusic.com, who wrote "I can't give it more than a polite clap."
In the United States, Nielsen SoundScan predicted "Applause" to sell upwards of 400,000 units in their first week. By the end of the week, Nielsen SoundScan and Billboard had lowered the estimated amount of "Applause"'s first week sales from 400,000 to 200,000-225,000. "Applause" did not enter the Billboards Hot 100 in its first week. It also ranked below the top 75 threshold of the US Radio Songs chart, with 16 million audience impressions across 210 stations, with the track officially impacting radio stations on August 19, 2013. "Applause" reached number one on the Dance/Electronic Songs chart, and entered the US Pop Songs Chart at number 20; the highest debut on that chart, by a solo female artist in 2013. The following week, "Applause" debuted at number six on the Billboard Hot 100. Following its radio and retail release the track charted on Digital Songs at number three, Streaming Songs at number nine and Radio Songs at number forty.
On its second week on the Hot 100, the song climbed to number four while reaching number three on Streaming Songs (due the release of the music video), and number thirty-five on Radio Songs, and falling to number five on Digital Songs with sales of 163,000. In its sixth week, the song sold 160,000 copies and reached sales of 1 million copies, becoming her eleventh song to do so. In the same week, it rose to number nine on the Radio Songs chart, becoming her tenth single to reach the top-ten there. It managed to stay in the top-ten of the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks. As of February 2018, the song had sold 2.7 million copies in the United States, and has been certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
According to the Official Charts Company, "Applause" sold over 10,000 copies within a few hours in the UK. It debuted and peaked at number five on the UK Singles Chart, making it her highest charting single since "Born This Way" (2011). "Applause" sold 38,042 copies by the end of the first week, and dropped to number nine on its second week. It was present for a total of 20 weeks within the top-100 of the chart. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) certified it Gold, and it has sold slightly under 300,000 copies as of September 2016. "Applause" was also certified Gold in other international markets including Italy, New Zealand, and Sweden.
The music video for "Applause" was directed by fashion photography duo Inez and Vinoodh, who had previously collaborated with Gaga on a series of fashion films in 2011 and a photoshoot for V magazine. The video was filmed at Paramount Pictures studio in Hollywood, California on two different sets over three days. Gaga was inspired by silent film and early horror films and explained that the concept behind the video is that of her passion for shape-shifting and transforming. She described it as "Iconography in motion, as magic." Gaga and her team decided to use several different looks for the video, with each being representative of different facets of her as a performer. Attires worn in the video included designs by Gareth Pugh, vintage John Galliano, as well as outfits crafted by the Haus of Gaga.
Inez and Vinoodh explained that the video symbolizes "this idea that she goes through this struggle to go back onstage, which is in that pink laser tower. And she's sort of dragging that leg as a trophy and making it back on stage as a fully-realized, complete new person".Jo Ratcliffe, a London-based illustrator known for her hand-drawn graphic design, was hired to provide animation effects for the video. She described Gaga as "really tough" during filming and added that she had "never seen anyone push themselves so hard." Gaga spoke of this intensity during an interview with the radio station Z100 New York, explaining that it was difficult for her to quickly mould herself into the different personalities portrayed in the video.
The video itself includes shots taken in both color and black-and-white. It drew heavy inspiration from the arts and featured references to Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and Andy Warhol's Marilyn Diptych. The video included artistic and complex scenes such as Gaga's head on a swan, a scene in a bird cage, and the singer seated in a large top hat, as well as more simplistic scenes including Gaga walking in a black outfit wearing a headscarf, and the singer dancing with a white cloth in bright make-up, in a scene similar to the cover art of the single. Throughout the video bursts of color are shown theatrically. As Gaga sings the line "One second I'm a Koons then suddenly the Koons is me", she is transformed into a black swan/human hybrid. Gaga also wears hand-shaped lingerie and a seashell bra with matching shell decoration. Near the climax, the singer features in a violet, crystal-like scene, holding a silver, leg-shaped bouquet of colorful flowers. The final chorus concludes in flashing images from various scenes of the video. and at the end, Artpop is spelled using hand gestures.
Reception and analysis
A scene from the music video for "Applause", showing Gaga's head superimposed on a swan's neck. Chris Rovzar of Vanity Fair compared the scenes to a photo shoot Gaga did for Interview magazine.
The video received generally positive reviews. Glenn Gamboa of Newsday described it as a barrage of artistic images that continued the song's theme of combining art with pop culture. Erin Coulehan of Rolling Stone magazine noted that the video was in "typical Gaga fashion", further calling it a spectacle of flashing lights, vivid colors and intricate choreography. Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly also echoed Coulehan's statements about the video being in Gaga fashion, adding that it "makes the song sound infinitely better... It doesn't quite hit the high notes of 'Paparazzi' or 'Bad Romance', but it's definitely a step up from the middling clips from the Born This Way era." A writer of Billboard described the video as "a collection of arty postures and scenarios" and compared the black-glove bra look to Janet Jackson's 1993 Rolling Stone magazine cover. Randall Roberts of Los Angeles Times saw the video as "basically like 20 different Vogue shoots documented and spliced. There is no plot other than the basic lyrical premise, "I need you to pay more attention to me," given heft by a syllabically rocky first-person observation about pop culture, fame and art that Andy Warhol noted 50 years ago." Chiderah Monde of New York Daily News described the video as "a straight-forward profile of the artist herself."
A writer of Rolling Stone compared the black-and-white look of the video with Madonna's "Vogue", 1920s German Expressionist cinema and Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. He further noted influences from Liza Minnelli, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Don't Come Around Here No More", and Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. A writer of The Independent wrote, "Showing Gaga in a number of guises (as a Beatnik performance artist, her face smeared with clown make-up, sporting David Bowie-esque androgyny while wearing a bra made of black, leather gloves and as various winged creatures), the high energy accompaniment to her new track is a hotch-potch of imagery that seems to highlight the pop princess' ever changing appearance." Chris Rovzar of Vanity Fair described the video as a moving photo shoot for Interview magazine "except with more sanity". Rovzar concluded that it also featured "the standard Gaga nonsense" and praised Gaga's smile during several scenes of the video as a highlight. James Montgomery of MTV News saw the video as Gaga "pulling the curtain back on her creative process, showing the viewer how she's willing to do anything to please the public." Melinda Newman of Hitfix felt Gaga "continues her one-woman performance art with the very theatrical video" and interpreted it as showing that "there is nothing Lady Gaga won't do to get your attention".
Conversely, Spins March Hogan wrote, "'Some of us just like to read', she sings, and hey, that includes us. But it's easier to clap for something that moves or touches you, rather than serves as an advertisement for Gaga as incomprehensible high-end brand."Consequence of Sound wrote in their review, "Gaga's head appears on a black swan and she boogies down in a clam bikini. If this doesn't bump up her sales, I no longer believe in art." Hilary Hughes of Esquire said that the video "hits all the marks of Gaga-esque eccentricity: glitter, boob grabs, weird animals, space, severed limbs, devotional imagery, nudity, neon, etc. It just doesn't redefine those marks, as previous music videos of Gaga's -- namely "Bad Romance," "Paparazzi" and "Judas" -- have". Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic believed that Gaga was parodying herself with the video and suggested that her aim was "to make a video both celebrating and poking fun at her career thus far." However, he considered it forgettable when compared to Gaga's previous efforts.
"Applause" was performed live for the first time at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Gaga began the performance wearing a square-shaped head piece and an all-white cape as pre-recorded boos were quickly replaced by sound of cheers. Gaga then glided across the stage and was assisted by her dancers as she changed into a black sequin leotard and performed the intricate choreography seen in the song's corresponding music video. Throughout the performance she cycled through costumes and wigs she had previously employed throughout her career. She danced with a Jeff Koons blue gazing ball, and had her face painted in the style of the single cover by one of her dancers. Gaga concluded the performance by emerging from behind jungle-like scenery dressed in a seashell bikini, big blonde curly wig and took a bow. The singer collaborated with theater director Robert Wilson on the performance. His designed set featured a shimmering white jungle background with letters spelling "Applause" suspended from tree branches. Gaga relegated the performance as a "metaphor" for herself and felt it was "the most physically challenging performance I've done, ever".
"Applause" was the final song Gaga performed at London's Roundhouse as part of a show that was broadcast live online on September 1, 2013 for the month-long iTunes Festival. Gaga completed her last look of the show with "a green ringmaster jacket, top hat and sparkly silver boots" and performed the song alongside "an endless supply of supple dancers in gothy fetish wear" who danced behind her on chairs. On September 9, 2013, Gaga performed the song on Good Morning America and appeared dressed as multiple characters from The Wizard of Oz. "Applause" served as the encore during the singer's Artpop launch party event, dubbed the ArtRave, held in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York during the early hours of November 11, 2013. The singer was the host of the November 16, 2013 episode of Saturday Night Live, where she opened the program with a Chicago-style performance of "Applause", which subsequently morphed into a rendition of "New York, New York". Later that month, Gaga also performed the song on the television special Lady Gaga and the Muppets' Holiday Spectacular as both a solo and a reprise with The Muppets. Another performance took place at the Jingle Bell Ball on December 8, 2013, where she sang "Applause" along with other songs from her discography.
Gaga and her dancers performing "Applause" in flower-patterned outfits at the Joanne World Tour, in 2017
In 2017, Gaga used the song at her Coachella set for a video interlude before the encore. While changing into her final outfit, the whole song was played as the lyrics appeared on big screens. The song was later also added to her Joanne World Tour (2017-2018) setlist. During the show, three catwalks were suspended high above the floor, which were lowered for the performance of "Applause", allowing Gaga and her dancers to cross between three smaller b-stages on the floor while performing the song. Gaga wore a black bodysuit with rose embellished sleeves, while her dancers were dressed in flower-patterned kimono robes. Gaga has also performed the song on her 2018-2019 Las Vegas residency show, Enigma.
Stefani Germanotta P/K/A Lady Gaga (BMI) Sony ATV Songs LLC/House of Gaga Publishing, LLC/GloJoe Music Inc. (BMI), Maxwell and Carter Publishing, LLC (ASCAP), administered by Universal Music Publishing Group and Maxwell and Carter Publishing, LLC (BMI) administered by Universal Music Publishing Group, Etrange Fruit (SACEM), Mercer Music (SACEM), Guess Publishing (SACEM), Fuzion (SACEM) Administered by Get Familiar Music (ASCAP)