The title of Lady Gaga’s fantastic new single, “Stupid Love,” riffs on a concept she’s sung about many times before. A “stupid love” sounds like it could be a “bad romance,” diseased and vengeful. It might be the fleeting roar of a-p-p-l-a-u-s-e. “All I ever wanted was love,” she now croons, but listeners know that in the past she’s accepted a perfect illusion, a hit of dope, and the kiss of Judas: a love that leaves.
Gaga’s career has, in fact, shown that the best pop can be the neediest kind, the most insistent, and the most superficial. Her early visual aesthetic glinted and changed with the restlessness of a video-slot display, and her whirling synthetic sound matched. It was pop, on some level, about pop, and how its rush resembled and could even replace other sensory rushes. The culture inevitably got a hangover. “We’re far from the shallow now,” Gaga announced on the hit from 2018’s A Star Is Born, culminating her years-long correction into stately jazz, show tunes, and rock.
During that same late-2010s period, the Hot 100 became a zone of hauteur, burnout, and paranoia. To the extent that dance pop has survived, it’s been with post-Chainsmokers divas such as Dua Lipa performing chilly, come-hither coyness. Gaga’s attempts at that sort of affect, as with the 2017 single “The Cure” or the songs of her A Star Is Born character’s sellout phase, rang as parody. She’s just too much of a ham to pull off anything other than big and bold. At some point, she’d either have to retreat from aiming for nightclubs or—as her fans have been rooting for her to do—make a brash last stand for music that interrupts vibe-y playlists rather than fits in with them. So here she is now, red hot and panting, trying to jolt the national mood.
The prismatic arpeggios, assertive kick drum, and wait-is-this-Madonna? chord progression of “Stupid Love” will be called a return to form for Gaga. But the song, the first single off her sixth album, is no mere clone. For the first time in her career, Gaga is working with the superproducer Max Martin, the architect of many of the defining smashes of the past three decades. He’s fallen off a bit with regards to chart success in recent years, and so has Gaga, but their sonic matchup makes a ton of sense: Even if each note feels perfectly calibrated for catchiness, Gaga’s voice is so big and personable that a sense of humanity remains intact. Rather than chasing the operatic chaos of “Bad Romance” or Artpop, “Stupid Love” is light, sweet, and orderly, which is to say, it’s ineffably Swedish.