Gaga’s “Stupid Love”
So I don’t have a comprehensive theory of Gaga’s new return-to-EDM-pop single “Stupid Love”–or at least I don’t have one yet (it’s kinda hard to do big-picture thinking while I have to redesign all my classes and generally freak out about an unfolding global crisis). But I do want to note two interesting sonic features:
ONE: That distorted bass synth is a direct nod to recent trends in techno, which have prioritized industrial-leaning sounds of artists like Perc, Paula Temple, Rebekah, and Helena Hauff. Compare the bass in “Stupid Love” to, say, Berghain resident Phase Fatale’s 2019 remix of industrial techno OGs Fixmer/McCarthy’s “Let It Begin.”
Creatively, this choice makes sense for Gaga, who’s always been referencing Marilyn Manson at least as much as she references Madonna. This is a Max Martin produced single, so it’s likely that “Stupid Love” is one of the first indications that this strain of hard techno that’s popular in blue-chip clubs and festivals is about ready to cross over into Top 40 pop and be piped in over speakers at H&M.
TWO: The drop returns on beat 2 rather than the downbeat. If you listen from 2:54-2:55, you hear the pause drop where the instruments are tacit and there’s only vocals. Traditionally, instruments return on the downbeat of the next measure, but in this song they don’t come back till beat 2 of that measure. This is somewhat novel for pop songs, but having a musical idea hit or resolve on the offbeat rather than the downbeat is both a very old idea in Western music and like the eponymous case study in the first book in feminist musicology. Because in Western musical traditions the downbeat is perceived as a “strong” beat and the offbeat (beat 2) is perceived as a “weak” beat, there is a convention of referring to strong-beat endings as “masculine” (bc masculine = strong, stereotypically) and weak-beat endings as “feminine” (bc feminine = weak, stereotypically). Musicologist Susan McClary talked about this in her 1991 book Feminine Endings; it’s a case study of how patriarchal ideas of gender impact the way we hear music. Given that the whole “Stupid Love” video is about revaluing traditionally femme things like the color pink (s/o to Janelle Monae) and “kindness,” this compositional choice could be a deliberate and strategic one on Gaga and Martin’s part…I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Gaga encountered McClary’s book when she was a student at Clive Davis.