Classical References in Lady Gaga’s Applause

Lady Gaga’s new video has hit the scene and it is as weird as ever. I’m a fan of some of Lady Gaga’s music, but I am really not for the whole over-the-top, attention seeking, randomness that is found in her videos or her VMA dresses. This isn’t a blog about Lady Gaga, though, it’s about Classics. I watched the video because I have friends who are huge Gaga fans and because let’s be honest all that attention seeking really works. I immediately picked up on two classical references. I read the Buzzfeed article and don’t know that I believe all of the references that sight pulled out of this video, but I do agree with the two classical ones. They are the myth of Icarus and the myth of Venus’ birth.

In short summary, Icarus was the son of the inventor, Daedalus. Daedalus invented wings made of wax so that they could fly, but warned his son that if he flew too high the wax would melt and he would fall to the sea. Icarus flew too high, the wax melted, and he died. I liked Buzzfeed’s explanation for the reference to Icarus saying that maybe Gaga became “too consumed in her own art.” The problem with this is that they are not taking into account what the song is about. The song repeats over and over that Gaga lives for applause. That is why she chooses the use of Icarus. He flew too close to the sun and she is saying that she may be doing the same. She lives to fly higher and higher and be more and more loved by her fans. Gaga who we know is obsessed with duality, as mentioned over and over in her career, knows that wanting to more love from her fans constantly and being addicted to that fame is a catch 22. There are good and bad things about fame and flying high.  Gaga, clearly, loves the stage, the show, the attention, and she craves all of these things. That’s what the story of Icarus is about. When it comes to a good thing, don’t get greedy.

Now Icarus was not fortunate enough to be reborn the way Gaga is in her video. Her birth is very obviously a reference to the goddess Venus. Of course, Venus, is all about love and sexuality. These are not uncommon themes in Lady Gaga’s music or videos so it’s no surprise that this is the goddess she chose to be reborn as. Venus was born from the sea which some people take as a purifying experience, however, the creation myth of Venus/Aphrodite most commonly accepted in the classical world is that she was born from Uranus’ sea foam when Cronos cut off Uranus’ genitals and threw them into the sea. That’s a myth twisted enough for Lady Gaga.  Her rebirth as Venus might be simply a reference to the sexuality for which Venus is known or if I’m going to take things as deeply and reach a little the way Buzzfeed has, it might be her return to love and passion for her music and her art which the Icarus reference has shown us has gotten away from Gaga a bit.

Not my style when it comes to videos, but I am happy to point out the classical references and even more happy that they are there. Classics is thriving in popular culture as much as ever. In this case Lady Gaga, surely, knew what she was doing when using them. In other cases they pop up inadvertently because these myths and themes are more ingrained in our world than most of us realize. For more about these references keep an eye out for more posts. As always comment with your thoughts or suggestions for what you want to read about.



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6 thoughts on “Classical References in Lady Gaga’s Applause

  1. Pete Laberge says:

    Thank you. Your post taught me quite a bit about Gaga’s, ah, er, psyche… and modus operandi….

    Although, I notice that when you compare her lyrics to her videos, it seems to me there is some incredible truth to her lyrics. Not just in these 2 songs, but many of them. This may explain her popularity: She sings/speaks of basic things that happen to everyone, and she speaks/sings from the heart.

    If you explore the links that can be found below (as well as branching links), you will discover that several Gaga songs have been translated into educational parodies…

    The French Revolution (“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga)URL

    The home link is:

    Also, there are some songs, no videos yet, here:

    And this young lady has also done some amazing things with a couple of Gaga songs:

    This might cause you more thinking into the Gaga phenomenon. I admit I was no fan of hers until recently. I had no interest in her. But French Tevolution, caused me to be interested in Bad Romance… Once I got past the crazy video, and looked at/listened to just the lyrics, I found that her songs have a lot of redeeming features. I do know young people adore her. I am 57, so it is harder for me to make sense of her.

    One thing I have learned though: She is very shrewd, not crazy, and incredibly creative.

    Thanks again for your enlightenment. PM Laberge

    • Thank you for this wonderful comment and for reading the post. I will definitely check out these links. First let me say just because I’m not a fan of the theatrics does not mean that I don’t respect the art. Lady Gaga is a genius and an amazing musician (musician is not a word I throw around, but she is excellent). I have performed her songs on a few occasions. The music is good although I don’t particularly care for Applause. I love Bad Romance, You and I, Telephone, and a few more. Her musical talent can easily be heard when you consider performances such as the one linked below in which she simply plays the piano and sings. That voice gives me chills every time. Also one cannot forget her Born This Way Foundation which just added to the respect I have for her.

      • Pete Laberge says:

        Sir: It is I who must thank you: It was a very good post!

        I thank you for it, as you made me think, and appreciate her quirkiness even more. Like you, I can be a bit abhorred of some of her wilder theatrics, and still respect the art! (I would say “Great Minds Think Alike”, but that would be giving myself some very high honours that I do not merit!)

        There is one link I forgot. On youtube, Gaga’s appearance on Ellen Degeneres’ Thanksgiving Show. She starts out incredibly softly, and smoothly, and romantically. I warn you: She uses her magnificent voice to it’s full power. Her “oh, oh, oh’s” are incredible. Seductive too…. Throws me into ecstasy each time. I have come to realize, she has about a dozen versions of the song, depending on where she sings it. She does this with some other songs, too. What would one call that? “Re-use and re-Cycle?” She is clever. And ecological? ;-}’ I am forced to admit it: I am slowly becoming a Gaga fan.

        Here is the Ellen show link:
        (I warn you: She could drive the Pope to his knees, here.)

        If you are more interested in the History Teachers, consider these links:
        1) Google Amy Burvall & Herb Mahelona of Hawaii.
        2) A “Readers Digest” of their story:
        3) If you want the lyrics to their songs see the Facebook pages of:

        Indeed, you may want to do a post on THEIR creativity, and their influences and influencers. You would have quite a story…. I promise.

        Another person that may interest you is Keith (Hip) Hughes. Though he does not sing, and his lecture style is a bit “machine-gunnish”, he has some very excellent videos. See here:

        A very good young Australian singer is:
        Siany @:

        And also a Malaysian student named Gloson Teh:
        He is also on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.
        His abilities and varied interests will stun you. He’s some kind of wunderkind.

        You may mention my name anywhere, though it will likely not give you much influence. If I may be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your time, attention, and kind reply. Take care.

        Sincerely, PM Laberge

      • The history teachers are awesome. I have passed their videos on to a bunch of colleagues and my nerdy friends always love them. I particularly love the Trojan War video and my students will be watching that video as soon as we start the Trojan war.

      • Pete Laberge says:

        I wonder if you would agree with me that when Gaga simplifies, and just uses her natural voice, and as in the case you just showed, plays the piano and merely sings, (Or as in the Ellen show link I gave, which was a “Gaga” performance, but you will admit was considerably toned down….) she can be quite intriguing. She can play the piano well. And she has a powerful voice. In your example, had she put less effort into the volume, and sang more softly…. Is is odd, but when she tones it down a bit, she is just as attractive as in her pumped up to the limit efforts. I wonder what a Gaga, Nena, Blondie concert would be like? I think it might violate some laws of physics, though….

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