(estimated read time: 6 minutes)
What does “Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga mean?
Lady Gaga released “Perfect Illusion” on September 8th. The song features a backdrop of grungy electric guitar and pop angst, but all soon recedes to leave nothing but a strong emphasis on Lady Gaga’s own voice and simple backup vocals for parts of the song as she tries hard to tell us something. In “Perfect Illusion” Lady Gaga is trying to put a strong emphasis on the important of the lyrics. In fact, according to a BBC interview, Lady Gaga’s voice isn’t auto-tuned to further emphasize her (and the other writers’) attempts at sincerity. The song feels like a throwback to the 90’s but the words, according to an interview we’ll get into soon, are relevant to 2016.
In the first verse of “Perfect Illusion,” Lady Gaga gives us a starting point of fear and chaos: “Trying to get control / Pressure’s taking its toll / Stuck in the middle zone.” She’s not able to know much for certain and wants to be in a place of certainty with “you alone.” There’s this unidentified person she’s singing to, someone who seems to represent sincerity or her own desire to be sincere with others (which we’ll get into in a second).
She sings, “My guessing game is strong / Way too real to be wrong.” She’s good at understanding other people, so she knows that the problem is that this fellow is “[C]aught up in [his] show,” and she says, thankful, “Yeah, at least now I know.” She can move past him and try to find sincerity elsewhere.
In the first verse, she raised the question, “What all does she ‘at least now . . . know’?” She knows that “[i]t wasn’t love . . . / It was a perfect illusion / Mistaken for love, it wasn’t love.” The relationship she had with this fellow wasn’t real. It was an act or a sham. He convinced her he loved her, and she fell for it (at first), but now she knows the truth.
But what are the deeper implications here? The BBC interview explains, “She said the lyrics of Perfect Illusion turned into a commentary on social media, and the risks of presenting an idealised version of yourself.” Gaga goes on further to say that “many of us are wondering why there are so many fake things around us.” She continues, “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.”
Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion” is a request for truth and authenticity. This relationship that she’s describing isn’t as simple as a single romantic relationship. She’s using it as a metaphor to talk about her desire for everyone to be authentic and real. In a video of a talk Gaga gave, she explains that she considered her own life and decided she wanted to stop being just an image that others could use to sell records or feel cool for sharing a picture with.
In the second verse of “Perfect Illusion,” Lady Gaga sings, “I don’t need eyes to see / I felt you touching me.” Essentially, she’s not stupid. She understands what’s been happening. He seems to be “[h]igh like amphetamine” perhaps because he’s “drunk” or “high” on his own image or idea of himself. Drugs produce an unreal, glamorized state, and perhaps that’s as good a negative description of social media as we can write: “an unreal, glamorized state.”
Because he’s so fake, she wonders if he’s “just a dream” that she has “to crush.” But she breaks free, and now she’s “waking up.” It was a painful act to separate herself from the pretense, and she can “still feel the blow.” But she’s glad she did because she’s able to embrace the truth and “at least . . . know . . .” that “[i]t wasn’t love,” as she sings in the chorus.
Here, Lady Gaga sings, “Where are you? / Cause I can’t see you,” to emphasize the fact that the real him is hidden. He’s hidden himself away behind his masks. Whatever image he presented was “a perfect illusion.”
He’s still there though. She can “feel you watching me” as she’s “[d]ilated, falling free / In a modern ecstasy.” “Dilation” can mean that the status quo of the “dream world” (think The Matrix) has been disrupted, and she’s separated herself from it. The “modern ecstasy” she talks about in an interview with iHeart Radio, saying that the entire song is about “modern ecstasy. . . . We found our sweet, simple, ragey way of saying it.” “Modern ecstasy” seems to describe the beautiful pictures we paint of ourselves with social media and other methods of non-personal interaction–the beautiful lies we construct that convince everyone else we have everything together.
The bridge also includes the lines “Where are you?” and “Mistaken for love,” further emphasizing the fact that she doesn’t know the real him and that what they had wasn’t actual love. It may have had more in common with a performance acted out on social media or done under a guise of love that the man is used to using, thanks to his fake lifestyle.
Deeper thoughts on “Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga
I wasn’t expecting much when I started listening to “Perfect Illusion.” Even when I finished listening, it sounded like an angry breakup song. But I found those interviews that I mention above and found that Lady Gaga actually makes a deeper point here. I think that disguising social commentary as a breakup song probably lends to its saleability, and I don’t like that, but it’s hard to argue with a single from a big name pop star that actually has something to say.
“Perfect Illusion” makes an excellent point that who we are on social media isn’t necessarily who we are in real life. If we want to be sincere and honest and accepting of ourselves, we have to stop pretending to be someone else. Social media, thanks to the way it’s constructed, makes it very easy for us to take pictures of only the best moments and ignore all of our worst ones. After all, why would we share our bad hair days and arguments and failures? It would just be weird if we did (for any reason other than getting a laugh out of it). We don’t usually share things we’re truly ashamed of.
Well, in “Perfect Illusion,” Lady Gaga is describing that lifestyle and mindset as man who she finds out was faking love for her all along. She wants sincerity from relationships, and this relationship lacked that.
I like what Lady Gaga has to say, and I think it’s important for us to look at how we present ourselves online and in real life. Do we have friends we can be honest with? Do we still have that desire to be honest with others? I’m looking forward to hearing whatever else she may have to say about this topic and others. What you do think? Leave your comments about this song below.
Thanks for reading! I’m a college English instructor, university writing center director, and online entrepreneur (college for under $15k, anyone?) who cares deeply about TRUTH and MEANING. I’m married to the gloriously beautiful Wife April and love to swing dance and juggle.