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Lady Gaga’s new single “Perfect Illusion” was released on Friday to much buzz and excitement. The singer’s fans have been waiting to hear her latest work since she announced she was working on her fifth album with such collaborators as Mark Ronson, Beck, Florence Welsh, and others. Whether you like the repetitive beat or not, I think this song signifies a noteworthy development in Gaga’s career. A development away from past shenanigans and toward a more real sound, if you will.

During her three-year hiatus from producing a full solo album, the singer did release, in 2015, the Oscar-nominated single “Til It Happens To You” for the documentary Hunting Ground. At that time Gaga revealed that she was a survivor of rape ten years prior. “I didn't tell anyone for I think seven years,” she explained in an interview. “I didn't know how to even think about it, I didn't know how to accept it, I didn't know how to not blame myself or think it was my fault. It was something that really changed my life. It changed who I was completely. It changed my body, it changed [my] thoughts.” But Gaga appears to have finally found healing saying around the same time: “Women provide a wisdom to music that is very unique and special. It is a perspective no one else can have because we bear life. And because we go through things no one else goes through.”

At that time it began to make a little more sense to me why I hadn’t seen Gaga’s over-the-top image in a while. No more meat dresses or blood-spurting stage performances or pseudo-pornographic music videos or rapey-lyriced songs as of late. During the past three years, Gaga appears to have been reevaluating her image, a great part of which has shown an angle toward focusing more on her actual talent.

Novel, right?

It all started when Gaga was invited to sing a medley from the Sound of Music for the 2015 Academy Awards. What may have initially seemed like a producer’s gimmick to reach younger viewers ended up being an occasion for everyone to wake up to Lady Gaga’s remarkable vocal talent. Her sound was nothing like her pop-music voice, and we learned later that she had trained for 6 months to get the musical voice just right. And it worked; Gaga couldn’t hide her emotions when the entire Oscar attendance rose to their feet and Julie Andrews personally gave her a hug.

Not long after that, the world heard Gaga’s talent sans silly additives once again, this time alongside Tony Bennett in their collaborative album and PBS special, Cheek to Cheek. Gaga also performed straight-up tributes for such performers as Stevie Wonder (I actually compiled all my favorites here which you can watch). The vibe was palpable: it was becoming, more and more, music for music’s sake—more creative energy at play, less shock value.

When Gaga was awarded the 2015 Woman of the Year Award at the Billboard Music Awards it was no longer a question. “I really put it upon myself to focus on being mindful and being present and fighting for my existence in nature. Because once I start to fight for that, the stuff that I write about is deepest desires and objectives in life,” she said in an informal Billboard interview. “I’ve really spent time reflecting and doing things exactly as I want to do them. I’m most powerful when I’m following my heart and my instincts, and so that makes it feel like I have a grasp, a little bit.” The singer was distilling her motives and work, and everyone was starting to notice. 

“Is it just me or is Lady Gaga, like, fully LIVING right now?!?” Taylor Swift tweeted.

Which brings us to this moment: Gaga’s return to the airwaves with a new hit song. “Perfect Illusion” is described by Gaga as a “ragey” response to modern ecstasy—something of a ballad for waking up and seeing things for what they are:

Maybe you're just a dream / That's what it means to crush / Now that I'm wakin' up / I still feel the blow / But at least now I know / It wasn't love, it wasn't love / It was a perfect illusion / Mistaken for love, it wasn't love / It was a perfect illusion.

In anticipation of Gaga’s latest song, I was curious how it would sound: would it be a return to her previous stoic-aggressive, highly sexual, shock-value chic? Or would it sing a different tune? Whether one likes the melody or not, the lyrics suggest a something new—a distinctly good message, in fact. Warning against mistaking the wrong things for love, whether in relationships or in unhealthy activities, is an apt message for this generation and time. I couldn’t help but notice a distinct sense that this song, instead of pushing the envelope toward the more and more outrageous, focuses more on not falling for fleeting appearances.

Will the rest of Gaga’s forthcoming album continue in this same direction? Only time will tell. But I, for one, will be watching and listening.

Photo Credit: Gaga Daily