With hours to go until Obama gives his leaving address in Chicago, it would be prudent to pay attention to Lady Gaga’s most recent hit, “Perfect Illusion”,as it deals with the questions of Obama’s legacy in a very veiled way. I decided to lift the veil and observe Gaga’s well placed criticism.
It should be noted that Gaga’s career followed a similar trajectory to Obama’s. Fame, Fame Monster, and Born this Way made her a superstar while Obama was widely acclaimed in his first term. They both supported a broadly the same ideals: equal rights (especially LGBT and Transgender), presented themselves as rebels in a staid industry and had cult social media following. Like Obama she had a weaker showing during Obama’s second term with Artpop. Finally in 2012, she also supported Hillary Clinton.
Tryin’ to get control
Pressure’s takin’ its toll
Stuck in the middle zone
I just want you alone
Gaga opens the song with the reference to the financial crisis of 2008 when Obama blew onto the political scene, amongst the chaos enveloping financial markets, as well as increased corporate failures and foreclosures in the US (“pressure’s taking its toll”). Middle class (“middle zone”) was taking a beating then and they flocked to Obama for his charm and promise of hope and world peace. Indeed, even the Nobel Prize Committee awarded him the Peace prize for 2009. The harrowing music, however spells that things may have gone a bit sour.
My guessing game is strong
Way too real to be wrong
Caught up in your show
Yeah, at least now I know
Like many liberals around the world, Gaga took some time to realise that Obama’s promises may be far-fetched. Mobilising grassroots democracy? End to hawkish foreign policy and meddling in other countries especially in the Middle Easy? Affordable health insurance for all in the US? Making Wall Street accountable? Closing Guantanamo? End to racial tensions in the US?
It didn’t help that Obama’s personal charm and very well stage managed public persona projected realness. Think of all the photo-ops he took and the memes you shared with his inspirational quotes, while many of his promises fell through. At the end, Gaga realises that things in 2016 may not be like Obama promised in those hopeful days in 2008: any president is surely limited by the administration, not to mention the Senate and Congress. Then there is a certain political inertia and not to mention special interest who did invest in his campaign?
It wasn’t love, it wasn’t love
It was a perfect illusion (Perfect illusion)
Mistaken for love, it wasn’t love
It was a perfect illusion (Perfect illusion)
You were a perfect illusion
Gaga realises that much of what Obama promised was too far-fetched and that his persona was a bit too doctored. Obama projected warmth (“love”) to the world in all the various photo-ops and truly funny comedic performances, but let’s face it: they were product of hiss very well managed social media persona. One can even say there was a bit of personality cult, with serious media obsessing over Obama and his family, rather than inspecting his actions in a level headed manner. Anyhow Gaga sees though this.
Although he did ensure that civil rights agenda was promoted (marriage equality! First black president!) and he did stop the global economy melting down in 2008/9, he fell short on his many promises, especially in terms of foreign policy: drone strikes, Libya mission creep and implosion are sure crossing her mind at this point. Furthermore, while the top earners returned to strength, middle class in America, felt their standards decreasing. Not to mention that no Wall Street big-wigs ended up in prison. Or, the awful state of racial relations that led to Black Lives Matter protests. Gaga is not impressed.
I don’t need eyes to see
I felt you touchin’ me
High like amphetamine
Maybe you’re just a dream
In the first part of this verse Gaga once again laments over the lack of scrutiny and criticism of Obama from the media and their focus on his symbolism and persona. Think about all the touchy feely articles on BuzzFeed and the like.
She infers that the common defence used by Democrats that Obama was tied by Republicans does not stand to logical scrutiny is a product of their overconfidence (“high like amphetamine”). If you are a transformational president in a democracy you surely need to continue campaigning with your constituents and ensure a broad support for your ideas, rather than blame the people for not accepting them?
That’s what it means to crush
Now that I’m wakin’ up
I still feel the blow
But at least now I know
Here, Gaga tackles the end of Obama presidency and Trump’s shocking victory (“crush”). Who would have thought that Obama will be followed by a billionaire reality-star with a penchant for twitter feuds? Although, Gaga shares many a liberals’ lingering warm feelings for Obama, who is the embodiment of Wisdom and Decency compared to the Donald, she realises that past eight years were a missed opportunity to make sustained change. Now Gaga will have to see that even good things Obama did be torn up because he did not ensure broad-based support and lost credibility as a leader through hypocrisy (e.g. lack of criticism of Saudi Arabia for slaughter in Yemen).
Where are you?
Cause I can’t see you
It was a perfect illusion
But I feel you watchin’ me
Dilated, falling free
In a modern ecstasy
Bridge continues to deal with the post-Obama world: after establishing that Obama and his vision of neoliberalism-with-a-human-face is over, Gaga braces for the fall towards a more unstable, right-leaning era ushered in by Trump.
However, she delivers a one last damning blow to Obama’s legacy: its increased intelligence capabilities (“But I feel you watchin’ me”). As Snowden and WikiLeaks have shown, in Obama years NSA increased its ability to access private information online, with little outside scrutiny. This undemocratic and worrying practice was bad enough in the times of a relatively benevolent president like Obama, but in the times of Trump one may be more concerned about its nefarious uses against people in the US and abroad (even Merkel, a US ally, is tapped!).
… or maybe the whole thing was about falling for someone at a drug-fuelled rave? Who knows..