Lady Gaga's Twitter account went largely silent from February until the end of last month, when she announced the release date for her new single, "Applause," which has now been dropped a week early due to a "pop music emergency." During her hiatus from public view, Gaga underwent hip surgery, commissioned a 24-karat gold-plated wheelchair, and somehow found the time to finish work on her latest album, ARTPOP. Though critics already have their claws out, expectations are comparatively low this time around, and that's probably by design. The promotion behind the release has been decidedly low-key compared to 2011's Born This Way, which had the unenviable task of living up to hype that rivaled the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.
Which probably explains why "Applause"—a love letter to Gaga's fans, or rather, a love letter to her fans' love—lacks the bigness of "Born This Way" or even "Bad Romance." It's a surprisingly straightforward dance-pop song, neither forward-thinking nor retro (despite a lyrical reference to nostalgia), existing in a sort of nondescript limbo. Musically, it's a throwback to the simpler productions of 2008's The Fame, while lyrically the song perpetuates Gaga's reputation for self-aggrandizement, complete with an affected British accent. It proves she can still craft a catchy hook, but another track from the album, "Aura" (or "Burqa"), which leaked last week, is everything we've come to expect from Gaga: messy, self-absorbed, overly ambitious, and downright weird—while still being undeniably infectious. Hopefully the rest of the album follows suit.
Lady Gaga will perform "Applause" live for the first time at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 25th. ARTPOP drops November 11th, or possibly sooner pending another pop music emergency.