I’ve documented my shameful and yet devoted adoration of contemporary Pop Music. I love all music! Really I do. From trance to drum&bass, from country to world, from alt-rock to folk-rock, from classic rock to just plain classical. I don’t think there’s a single genre that I don’t like, and I can have one window open with Blackmore’s Night while another right beside it is paused in the middle of a Kanye West B-side, and meanwhile I’ve got Allie X playing on my phone.
But despite my eclectic tastes, well… there’s just something that keeps me coming back to that Hot Top 100, year in and year out.
I’m not saying it’s good music. I’m saying that oh my god I love it.
And today, I want to talk about one of my favourite songs, which barely cracked top 40, by one of my favourite artists, who isn’t seeing much top 40 success these days. So take a minute and listen to that modern classic… Applause by Lady Gaga.
Oh hell yes.
Are you still here? Have you closed the window in disgust, yet? Because I’m actually going somewhere with this, other than just publicly shaming myself!
As the release date of my debut novel draws closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about Applause. I’ve been thinking about the truth of Applause. The song has a very simple message: Lady Gaga likes it when you like her. When you click the little thumbs up under her Youtube videos, that makes her happy. When you tweet her to tell her that you like her album, that makes her giddy. When she walks out on stage and the audience erupts into applause, that’s the best feeling in the whole wide world. It’s an uncomplicated sentiment that’s been said a thousand times before, and yet…
It’s not a popular one. We like to think of artists as altruistically placing their creations in front of us so that we can either like them or not at our leisure. We don’t like the thought of them watching us, breathing down our necks, waiting impatiently for our reactions, and then being filled with joy if we smile and devastation if we frown. We want to think of them as proud of the creation for its own sake, willing to stand by it and by unswayed by either praise or criticism.
Well, bullshit. I think every artist is breathing down necks. I think we all live for the applause.
Since the time our first cave-dwelling ancestor told a story instead of keeping it in her head, creative people have sat with bated breath waiting for the cheers or boos to follow. Homer didn’t fictionalize the siege of Troy in the Iliad because he wanted to keep his ideas to himself. Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet so it could play to empty theatres. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby to prove himself a literary giant and was devastated when it was poorly received at the time. And Lady Gaga lives for the applause.
(Oh, yes. I just compared Homer, Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald to Lady Gaga. I can always be relied upon for casual literary heresy.)
I’m not afraid to admit it. I want people to read my book and I want people to like it! Everytime I get any positive response from anyone, even my mother, it’s like a perfect dumb flower of joy bursts into bloom right in my heart. And anytime someone says they they hated one of my characters, it’s like a kick in the crotch. And why is that bad to admit? I don’t think I’m different than anyone else. I maintain a professional bearing and don’t go after people who don’t like it. I try not to get upset by negativity, because it’s unavoidable and inevitable. I won’t be one of those authors clambering all over the Goodreads statuses of their readers. My mantra for my career is: “Be cool, Kate. Be cool. Come on. Just be cool.”
But inside I’m a roiling storm of READ IT, LOVE IT, AND THEN TELL ME IN EXPLICIT DETAIL WHAT YOU LOVED ABOUT IT AND WHY. The same as, I believe, Homer and Shakespeare and Fitzgerald and the honorable Lady Gaga all did before me. I don’t think I’m different than anyone else.
I think we should stop being ashamed of it. I mean, by all means: be cool. Act like a civilized adult. Do not stalk your readers. Do not let yourself be destroyed by criticism. While as a writer, I’m struggling everyday not to turn the most annoying person in the world, as a reader I find desperation as unpleasant a trait as anyone does. But acting mature and admitting that you love being appreciated for your talents are completely different things.
If artists didn’t want their work to be admired, we wouldn’t have art. It would exist in basements and backrooms and hard drives, where the humble creator hides it from human eyes and doesn’t need anyone’s appreciation and the act of creation is its own reward.
I say it again: bullshit.
I feel you, Gaga. I live for the applause – applause – applause, too. We all do.
And no one can convince me otherwise.