Let me set the scene: You're a Little Monster, and like any addict, you had your glory years. You can't even count the late nights spent watching the "Telephone" video on repeat, maniacally glueing cigarettes to your favorite sunglasses, your hand frozen in a paw position. You knew you had problem, but you didn't care. GaGa was your God now, and it all just felt so right.
After a raucous three-year bender, though, your GaGaddiction swerved. The shimmering highs of "Alejandro" gave way to the messier trips of "Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)." The rush wasn't the same and yet, you couldn't stop. When a new dose of GaGa hit the streets, you'd race out, praying for that "Just Dance" blitz that felt just out of reach. Things got dark. Real dark.
Finally, sometime around GaGa getting vomited on for attention, you'd lived on the edge (of glory) for one album cycle too long. It just wasn't fun anymore. What were once wonderful thrills were now overwrought, impotent, and hookless. You knew it would be hard but you were ready to face your demons. You were done with GaGa.
As of two weeks ago, you've been clean for three whole years and you know what? You've never felt better! You've had time for yourself, for your friends, and for other, more reliable pop stars like Beyonce. Sure, you'll always remember the great times. The Fame Monster was the thrill ride of your life! But you're clear: if you pick up GaGa, if you let yourself care, even just a little, it's gonna be "Born This Way" all over again. You simply cannot go through another ArtPop.
But then, like a cold slab of meat dress to the face, temptation strikes. After some tepid jazz duets and fitted with a weird new mouth, Mother Monster announces her latest pop comeback. You stare at your Instagram feed, salivating. This year's drug is called "Perfect Illusion" and man, does it look tasty. It's even got a potent new recipe: There's Tame Impala and Mark Ronson in the mix. "Ronson? And Impala? AND GaGa!? On my!" you think, glaring at your LED screen, twitching ever-so slightly and scratching your lower arm.
The harsh memories of the "Do What You Want" video slip away. You even forget all about the horrors of "Aura." You want "Perfect Illusion." You need "Perfect Illusion." "This time will be different. She seems like she's really gotten her shit together!" you lie to yourself. "She's wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt. It's a whole new GaGa!" You reason: Just one listen can't possibly hurt.
You hit play. And the Five Stages of "Perfect Illusion" begin:
Stage 1 of "Perfect Illusion": High Like Amphetamine
It's Stage 1 of "Perfect Illusion" and you have just made the absolutely horrid decision to throw caution and years of GaGa rehab to the wind. And as the song plays for the first time, there are about thirty glorious seconds where it feels as though you're crawling back into the sweet cradle of your mother's womb.
The overly-compressed synths rip through your earbuds and GaGaloo wails in that charming, earnest, theater kid-auditioning-for-Rent way that only she can. The whole thing almost comes off like a bastard stepchild of "Bad Romance," if you squint a little. Your adrenaline gushes and your eyes dilate. You're ready to marry the night.
Then come the drums, four-on-the-floor, just like they should be. Sure, they're a little less punchy than you'd expect, but what are expectations? Everything's fine! This song is definitely happening and GaGa came to slay, bitches!! Your heart begins to pound in time.
The verse starts. "Trying to keep control / pressures taking it's toll..." Okay.... OKAY! She's singing in that fussy, Kidz Bop Springsteen voice she coined on Born This Way's worst tracks but you know what? It's kinda cool! I mean, who else is brave enough to sing without autotune?! "Have a tour bus full of seats, Fifth Harmony!!" you scream into the abyss, "GaGa, take the wheel!!" You reach for the slime green wig you've had stashed in your desk drawer for six years.
Now "Perfect Illusion" is coursing through your veins and you're amped like Colby O'Donnis for that one month in 2008. As you moshpit alone with yourself, you start punching yourself in the chest, just for extra charge. You're positive that that epic GaGa chorus is right around the corner! "Here it comes!" You leap into the air in anticipation. "'Poker Face Part 2,' baby!!!"
Stage 2 of "Perfect Illusion": Modern Ecstasy
Now, you're about thirty seconds into your GaGa relapse and everything's been going pretty sort-of greatish so far! She's doing the rock thing, which is definitely the path you'd have chosen for her at this stage of career, and her vocals sound solid. You're jumping up and down in your gross studio apartment and sweating buckets. You feel young again, like the college junior who'd kissed another boy for the first time while "Starstruck" played in the background.
Your phone buzzes. Your eyes dart, suspiciously. It's your mom checking on you. Buzzkill. "Fuck you, MOM!" you wail. " You don't care about me like Lady GaGa does!" You throw your phone out the window.
Now, it's time for the hook, once so effortless for GaGa that she'd pile about seventeen into a single song. It comes roaring through the mix. "IT WASN'T LAAHHHV. IT WASN'T LAAAHV. IT WAS A PERFECT ILLUSION!!" You surge into the air, and let out a guttural moan, "UHAAAHHHHHHH," years of hard, disciplined treatment and therapy released in a single burst of CO2. You're fist-pumping like you saw GaGa do in the music video preview she posted on the 'gram last night. You begin hallucinating. It's 2009 and you're prancing across your apartment in a white bearskin coat and McQueen heels. In your mind.
But as the first refrain ends, you feel the familiar anguish of the comedown crawling into your happy place, sorta like that time when GaGa performed "You and I" in guy drag for no reason and you knew things were falling off the rails. The second part of the hook hits: "Mistaken for LAAAAHHV, It wasn't LAAAHHV. It was a "PARfect Illooosion!!! OOOOOOHHHHHHHhhhhh...." it whimpers to its conclusion.
Without warning, your leaping halts. You gaze forlorn and address your Spotify player. "Wait, wait, wait... That was it? That minor-key mess was the chorus of the fucking song!?!?" The second verse speeds past you, but you're too bewildered to notice. Was she seriously speaking in a British accent, just cuz? No. NO. This isn't happening!! Not again!!!!!
Could it be? Was this whole thing... A huge mistake?
Stage 3 of "Perfect Illusion": Somewhere In All The Confusion
It's Stage 3 of "Perfect Illusion" and you're frantically smacking the play button on "Perfect Illusion" over and over and over again, hoping it will open up for you somehow. Maybe you just didn't get it the first few times. After all, "Judas" took some spins and now it's one of your all-time favs!
You try screaming along to the chorus with GaGa, but your attempt to match her belt just bursts the vessels in your eyeballs. A trickle of blood drips for your nose. You take a stab at shaking your hips but realize attempting to dance to, or expecting to feel any sort of joy from this song is an utterly futile exercise.
Then, oh then, you register the third chorus key-change for the first time. "What in holy monster hell is that!? Her larynx is about to combust!" You burst out laughing, not from happiness, but because your high is turning in on itself like a funhouse mirror. Are you in purgatory? Are you stuck in this eternal hellfire!?
The laughter dies down and you glance at the Monster Ball Tour poster hanging on your wall. Your mood shifts abruptly. Your eyes well up. "You have so much potential! We loved you! Why are you doing this to us!!!" You pick up a half-drank can of Diet Coke and chuck it at the wall as you collapse in a heap on the floor, tears pouring from your bloodshot eyes.
As the outro plays, you gaze out the window. You would do anything to get your cellphone back because you could really use your mommy right about now. "At least it's better than 'Applause'?" you try to reassure yourself. But you know this isn't true.
Stage 4 of "Perfect Illusion": Maybe You're Just a Dream
It's three days later and you have not left your apartment. You're certain Interscope Records has wiretapped the place, so you've spread mayonnaise all over the windows and are having paranoid conversations with your great-grandmother Sylvia who's been dead for twenty years. "What even is 'modern ecstasy,' Grandmama!? HELP ME UNDERSTAND!!"
Your laptop is on the floor next you. "Perfect Illusion" is still playing on loop. You'll do anything to make it feel good, to make you feel good again. You haven't eaten. Your body is numb. You prick your finger and write a list of possibilities on the wall in blood.
1. It's a grower.
2. It'll totes make sense in the context of the album.
3. The production is thin on purpose. She is making a self-aware comment on the overblown pretentiousness of some of her earlier work.
4. Maybe not liking the song is the point. It's a "Perfect Illusion"! Form and content, right!? She's a mad genius! Hahahahahahahahaahahhahha!
5. DO I HATE "PERFECT ILLUSION"? OR DOES IT HATE ME?!
You pass out.
Stage 5 of "Perfect Illusion": It Was A Perfect Illusion.
You wake up to the sound of sirens and a beautiful, fresh-faced blonde medic staring over you as he loads your limp body onto a stretcher. "Perfect Illusion" has finally stopped. You are free, at least for a moment. Your mom, who's been crying in the corner, comes running over to you and strokes your blood-stained hair. "Oh my god, my baby! Are you okay, honey?! We were so worried about you!"
"I'm okay, Mom," you reply with a faint smile, "I love you. Thank you." The medics wheel you out to the ambulance. "Don't worry, Sweetie" your mother yells as they load you in. "We're going to get you the help you need!" She blows you a kiss. You regain feeling in your toes.
As the ambulance speeds off towards the hospital, the cute medic comes over to you with an ice pack for your head. "You gave us quite a scare there. I'm glad we found you in time." He smiles. You smile. "Oh, and by the way, we found this in the dumpster outside your apartment. We think it's yours and figured you'd want it." He reaches into his blue scrubs and pulls out your iPhone. Somehow, it is still on. "Wow, thanks," you reply.
You glance at the cracked screen. 53 missed calls from your mom and numerous texts, including one from your friend PeeJay days ago. You slide to open. Then, you gasp in horror.
"Hey! What's good?," PeeJay's text reads. "Have you heard the GaGa single? It's pretty good!"