911 (Lady Gaga song)

"911" is a song by Lady Gaga from her sixth studio album, Chromatica (2020). It appears as the album's eighth track, preceded by a string arrangement titled "Chromatica II". It was written by Gaga along with Justin Tranter, BloodPop, and Madeon, with the latter two also producing along with Benjamin Rice. It is a Euro disco, synth-pop, and electropop song with influences from funk and techno. Lyrically, it talks about mental health and the antipsychotic medication Gaga takes. On September 18, 2020, "911" was announced as the third single off Chromatica. It was serviced to Italian contemporary hit radio on September 25, 2020.

"911"
Lady Gaga - 911 (Sofi Tukker Remix) (2020) (official single cover).jpg
Sofi Tukker Remix cover
Single by Lady Gaga
from the album Chromatica
ReleasedSeptember 18, 2020
Recorded2019
StudioHenson Recording Studios
Genre
Length2:52
LabelInterscope
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • BloodPop
  • Madeon
  • Benjamin Rice
Lady Gaga singles chronology
"Rain on Me"
(2020)
"911"
(2020)
Music video
"911" on YouTube

Numerous music critics called the track one of the best from the album, praising both its production and songwriting. The "seamless" transition between "Chromatica II" and "911" was also highlighted and was turned into several memes upon the album's release. The accompanying music video was directed by Tarsem Singh and features a surreal dreamscape and a twist ending. It was largely inspired by Armenian film director Sergei Parajanov's 1969 Soviet art film The Color of Pomegranates. Gaga performed "911" at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards as part of a medley.

Background and releaseEdit

 
Madeon, co-producer of "911", previously worked with Gaga on her 2013 album, Artpop.

"911" was written by Lady Gaga, Justin Tranter, BloodPop, and Madeon; production was done by the latter two, along with Benjamin Rice. The song details and describes Gaga's relationship to her antipsychotic medication, olanzapine.[1] Gaga said: "It's about an antipsychotic that I take. And it's because I can't always control things that my brain does. I know that. And I have to take medication to stop the process that occurs."[1] BloodPop further elaborated:

[Medication] is not fun to talk about for most people, but it's a very real part of modern life for those who need it. This was her truth and she wanted to write about it even though she knew it would be painful to "go there". ["911"] hit me particularly hard as well because at the time I had to get on medication for OCD and depression for the first time in my life.[2]

In an interview with Rolling Stone, BloodPop confirmed that while Gaga was recording the song, she insisted that the studio be near pitch-black and that she wear a wig in order to feel like someone else as she wanted to "relive everything she was talking about in the song with every take".[3] Co-writer and producer Madeon added that they wanted to keep production quiet because "there's so much life and impact in those lyrics that you want to let them breathe. You don't need to drown them."[3]

On September 17, 2020, Gaga retweeted a post from 2013 that said, "A POP MUSIC EMERGENCY IS UNDERWAY 911."[4][5] A day later, "911" was announced as the third single of Chromatica.[6][7] The song was released to Italian radios on September 25.[8] Remixes by Bruno Martini, Sofi Tukker, and WEISS were released on December 4, 2020.[9][10][11]

Composition and lyricsEdit

"911" is largely a Euro disco,[12] synth-pop[13][14] and electropop[13] song, which sees Gaga using monotonous,[15] robotic vocal effects on top of industrial synthesizers, a techno-funk groove,[16] and a "trippy" chorus.[17] Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly compared the song to the work of French electronic music duo Daft Punk,[18] while Nick Smith of musicOMH noted similarities to Kylie Minogue's "Speakerphone".[19] Jem Aswad from Variety found a "vocal nod to Lipps Inc.'s 1980 smash 'Funky Town' in Gaga's trademark robo-dominatrix voice."[20] Adam Antar of Medium pointed out the "robotic Eurythmics-sounding beat that mirrors [the singer's] inflection".[21]

Billboard's Nolan Feeney described "911" as "a song about when your brain and your body feel at war with each other."[22] Throughout both verses, the singer describes her battle with mental health and the self-loathing she feels for not being able to deal with the world around her. Gaga also lists the ways her mental illnesses are clouding the way she sees the surrounding world.[21] The lines "I can't see me cry/Can't see me cry ever again/I can't see me cry/Can't see me cry/This is the end" are referencing the decreased emotional responses which are side-effect of her medication.[23] In the chorus, the singer fully accepts and realizes her mental illness and admits her dependence on an antipsychotic to help her survive, with the line: "My biggest enemy is me / pop a 911".[21][24]

"Chromatica II"Edit

"Chromatica II"
Composition by Lady Gaga
from the album Chromatica
ReleasedMay 29, 2020 (2020-05-29)
Length0:41
Songwriter(s)
  • Lady Gaga
  • Morgan Kibby
Producer(s)
  • Gaga
  • Kibby
Audio video
"Chromatica II" on YouTube

"911" is one of the three songs on the Chromatica album which are preceded by an orchestral interlude. Gaga wanted to emphasize the "cinematic" feeling of the record and felt that it had distinct acts, "such as the sharp right turn it takes when '911' kicks in."[2] The interludes were composed by musician Morgan Kibby, who assembled a 26-person orchestra to record the string arrangements.[2] Talking about the creative process of "Chromatica II", the interlude preceding "911", she explained:

"Chromatica II" was the final piece we composed, and at that point it was clear to Gaga that it should fall right before "911", which was already complete. I remember this moment in the studio so clearly, because she lit up, and without any words I flipped the keyboard around, pulled up the string sound she was envisioning, and she started to play this amazing marcato idea. From there, we massaged it, and I focused on the harmonies and dynamics to make sure it amped the energy up.[2]

Upon the album's release, the seamless transition between "Chromatica II" and "911" became a fan-favorite and was discussed as an album highlight.[2] It generated several memes, with people editing the transition into classic scenes from movies and TV,[25][26] other internet memes, phrases, and videos,[27] and recreating the transition with similar sounding songs, most notably with Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head".[28] Annie Zaleski of Time magazine found the strings of "Chromatica II" a "delight", as they "crescendo and swerve" into "911".[29]

Critical receptionEdit

Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic found "911" a standout moment of the Chromatica album and described it as a "playfully robotic" song which "reveals new intricacies with each listen."[30] Stephen Daw of Billboard ranked the track as the third best from the album, with "deeply satisfying production" and "some ridiculously clever songwriting", while saying that Gaga "is in her element when she is delivering camp."[31] Kory Grow from Rolling Stone thought the song "splits the difference between the Buggles and Kraftwerk, filtered through Gaga's kaleidoscope" and noted that "she's at her best... when taking musical risks", like with "911".[32] Jeremy J. Fisette from Beats Per Minute named it the "strongest song on the record".[33] Tom Johnson from The Line of Best Fit also found it an album highlight, saying that along with another track, "Replay", they are both "honest and thoughtful, brilliant dance music."[34]

Writing for PopMatters, Evan Sawdey thought that even though "Gaga is still hiding behind vocoders and numerous filtered vocal effects", the song is one of the best moments of the album as her "real life and experiences are seeping through the gaps in the 4/4 rhythm chains".[12] Caryn Ganz of The New York Times listed the "winking monotony" of "911" as one of the moments she enjoyed from the album.[35] Los Angeles Times's Mikael Wood called it a "catchy, fist-pumping song".[36] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine thought that Gaga's "distorted vocals" and the "euphoric swoon of the track's pre-chorus" create an "effective contrast".[37] Alexa Camp from the same publication found "911" reminiscent of the singer's past singles, "LoveGame" and "G.U.Y.".[38] Dan Weiss from Spin criticized the song for being "so breathlessly wordy you can't remember (or even find) the hook".[39] Mark Richardson from The Wall Street Journal thought that "911" along with another song, "Enigma", "find Lady Gaga deploying the more bombastic style of her earlier hits to lesser effect."[40]

Music videoEdit

Background and productionEdit

 
The song's music video was directed by Tarsem Singh (pictured in 2011).

The music video was directed by filmmaker Tarsem Singh and was shot in August 2020,[22][41] in Valencia, a neighborhood in Santa Clarita, California.[42] The sand dunes for the opening scene were photographed at San Luis Obispo by Tarsem, who removed the sea and changed the color of the sand to white in post-production.[42] He originally wanted to shoot the desert scenes in New Mexico, and use a real city location instead of a backlot for the final scene, but they didn't get the necessary permissions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.[42] Because of the pandemic, everybody on the filming location in Valencia were required to have solid tests and stand completely away from each other. The shooting was also made difficult by wearing tight clothes in the desert, with 118 °F (47 °C) heat, which caused some of the people to pass out.[42] Nicola Formichetti outfitted the video, with many pieces designed by Russian-Armenian artist Karina Akopyan.[43]

The concept for the story of the video came from Tarsem, who shared the more than 25-year-old idea with Gaga as her "life story spoke so much to him."[44] He once considered using the idea for a video to Massive Attack, but that did not work out due to scheduling conflicts.[42] Talking about the video, Gaga said she "felt so alive making it, maybe more than at any other point during the making of Chromatica."[22] She also added that filming required her to "revisit the kind of dark hole she was in when she wrote it", though "she didn't slip back down; she shook it off and went back to work".[22] Gaga later posted the following on her Instagram:

This short film is very personal to me, my experience with mental health and the way reality and dreams can interconnect to form heroes within us and all around us. [...] Something that was once my real life everyday [sic] is now a film, a true story that is now the past and not the present. It's the poetry of pain.[41]

The video premiered on September 18, 2020, on YouTube at 9AM PT.[45] Tarsem revealed that it was supposed to be released earlier but was pushed back because it was "too close to 9/11, and that wasn’t being sensitive enough."[42] In addition to "911", the video includes the orchestral interludes "Chromatica II" and "Chromatica III", the preludes to "911" and "Sine from Above", respectively.[41] LG Electronics later included an exclusive edit of the music video, along with commentary by Tarsem Singh, on its FOMO channel which is available on the company's smart TVs.[46] On December 12, 2020, Gaga released the forty-ninth episode of her web series Gagavision, showing the behind the scenes of the music video.[47]

SynopsisEdit

 
Gaga, in a yellow dress, with two characters who are guiding her through the video. The painting in the background foreshadows the twist ending of the clip, and is reminiscent of some of Frida Kahlo's work.[41]

The video begins with Gaga in a desert sprawled out next to a broken bicycle and pomegranates spilled on the ground. Gaga's eyes are concealed in a red fabric blindfold. A figure dressed in black riding a dark horse lures her out of the dunes and into a mission. As the song starts, she enters the mission filled with oddly dressed people, including a man banging his head onto a pillow and a woman resembling Santa Muerte cradling a mummy.[4] Additional characters call a man dressed in black and a woman dressed in white, who float down from the sky using an umbrella, as they watch Gaga move throughout the mission's courtyard. The two characters try to engage with Gaga, but she continues to drift away from them. When Gaga is trying to fly away, with a glory around her head, the man pulls her back down to the ground with a rope. Later in the video, Gaga wears a full-body floral suit, and an item resembling an ambulance spinal board is brought in behind her. Everyone gathers inside the mission to watch Gaga, as the woman in white opens a wooden box akin to a defibrillator.

Gaga begins to cry and scream, waking up in the real world, where she is seen lying outside of a movie theater. The marquee reads, "Armenian Film Festival". Paramedics shock her back to life after being hurt in a car-bicycle accident. After she is revived, the doctor asks if she's on any medication, for which she replies, "I didn't have my pills." All the imagery from the fantasy world appear as billboards on the street where the accident occurred, along with the people surrounding her.

Inspirations and analysisEdit

 
Actress Sofiko Chiaureli in The Color of Pomegranates (1969). The music video for "911" was heavily inspired by the imagery and outfits of the film.[48][49]

Throughout the video, Singh visually references The Color of Pomegranates (1969), an Armenian Soviet art film by Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov.[49] The more obvious nods to the film include pomegranates scattered around Gaga's wrecked bicycle, and the film's poster appearing on the street scene at the end of the video.[41][48] Gaga's video presents the film's symbols in her own allegory of pain.[41] Some of the outfits are inspired by painter Frida Kahlo's style, and the accident scene is reminiscent of the traumatic bus collision that inspired some of Kahlo's most famous work.[41] Its reminiscent visuals were also inspired by Singh's 2000 film The Cell.[4] Other references include Federico Fellini's (1963) and Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (1973).[43]

Similar to The Wizard of Oz (1939), the characters appearing in Gaga's imagination are portrayed by the same people who she saw in reality, the victims and first responders who are at the site of the accident.[38] For example, the man seen earlier banging his head into a pillow, is a driver with a head injury who lays his head on a deflated airbag, while the man and woman chasing Gaga throughout the hallucination represent the EMS personnel who are attempting to revive her.[48] The video utilizes a wide array of symbolism used to indicate real world objects, such as Gaga's bracelet representing a tourniquet, and the mirror that flashes a light into Gaga's face representing the medical penlight used by the paramedic to check real-life Gaga's responses.[6][48] The blindfold on Gaga's face at the beginning of the video symbolizes how her character is unconscious in real life.[48] In the final scene of Gaga's hallucination, there are several symbols - the same symbol from the cover art of Chromatica - and scars on her forehead, representing "things that she's gotten through in her life", the singer's makeup artist Sarah Tanno explains.[50] It also makes reference to her song "Replay", which contains the lyrics "the scars on my mind are on replay".[51]

ReceptionEdit

Justin Curto from Vulture wrote that "Lady Gaga is back to being her fully indecipherable self in her new music video [...] with an instantly iconic cast of characters and a twist that demands hours of rewatching and theorizing."[52] Gil Kaufman of Billboard pointed out the music video's homage to The Color of Pomegranates, saying that it similarly "eschews traditional narrative in favor of dramatic, colorful scenes packed with eye-catching symbolism."[49] Jon Blistein of Rolling Stone described the clip as an "eye-popping fever dream".[53] Charlotte Krol from NME wrote that the singer "taps into her superb acting once again" with the music video.[7] Writing for Variety, Jazz Tangcay stated that "there's so much to unpack" in the video, saying that "it's filled with symbolism and that twist will start many discussions."[4] Entertainment Weekly's Joey Nolfi also noted the "heavy symbolism" in the video, saying "the video itself defies classification."[54] Janelle Okwodu of Vogue called the video "a stunning tribute to surreal style", adding that "the pop star goes to great lengths to make her music videos original, and [...] she raised the bar with the surprise release of '911', a [...] mini-film chock full of arresting imagery."[43] Jenna Ryu from USA Today called it "artistically arresting" and highlighted that it contains strong colors, with many details and a catchy storytelling.[55] Pitchfork's Eric Torres ranked the video as the third best one of September 2020, claiming "all the head-scratching symbology slips away, revealing a twist ending that should probably come with a trigger warning."[56]

At the end of 2020, Billboard named it the fourth best music video of the year.[57] It was also nominated for Best Make-Up in a Commercial/Music Video at the 2021 Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards.[58]

Live performanceEdit

On August 30, 2020, Gaga performed a medley of songs from Chromatica at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, which included "911". The performance started with Gaga laying on a couch, watching a '90s throwback VMAs ceremony. She then slid down a pole to a room full of naked mannequins while "Chromatica II" was playing. As the instrumentals segued into "911", she joined her backup dancers for the choreographed performance.[59][60] Gaga was wearing a bright green two-piece bodysuit, along with a sound-reactive LED face mask.[59][61]

Track listingEdit

Digital download and streaming (Bruno Martini remix)[9]
No.TitleLength
1."911" (Bruno Martini remix)2:46
2."911" (Bruno Martini extended remix)3:40
Digital download and streaming (Sofi Tukker remix)[10]
No.TitleLength
1."911" (Sofi Tukker remix)3:46
2."911" (Sofi Tukker extended remix)4:17
Digital download and streaming (WEISS remix)[11]
No.TitleLength
1."911" (WEISS remix)5:43

Credits and personnelEdit

Credits adapted from Tidal.[62]

"911"Edit

  • Lady Gaga – vocals, songwriter
  • BloodPop – producer, songwriter, bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, percussion
  • Madeon – producer, songwriter, bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, percussion
  • Justin Tranter – songwriter
  • Benjamin Rice – vocal production, mixer, studio personnel
  • Tom Norris – mixer, studio personnel
  • Elias Inácio – guitar[A]

"Chromatica II"Edit

  • Lady Gaga – composition, production
  • Morgan Kibby – composition, production
  • Ian Walker – bass
  • Giovanna M Clayton – cello
  • Timothy E Loo – cello
  • Vanessa Freebairn-Smith – cello
  • Amie Doherty – conductor
  • Allen Fogle – French horn, horn
  • Dylan Hurt – French horn, horn
  • Katelyn Faraudo – French horn, horn
  • Laura K Brenes – French horn, horn
  • Mark Adams – French horn, horn
  • Teag Reaves – French horn, horn
  • Nicholas Daley – trombone
  • Reginald Yound – trombone
  • Steven M. Holtman – trombone
  • Andrew Duckles – viola
  • Erol Rynearson – viola
  • Linnea Powell – viola
  • Meredith Crawford – viola
  • Alyssa Park – violin
  • Chart Bisharat – violin
  • Jessica Guideri – violin
  • Luanne Homzy – violin
  • Lucia Micarelli – violin
  • Marisa Kuney – violin
  • Neel Hammond – violin
  • Shalini Vijayan – violin
  • Songa Lee – violin
  • Mike Schuppan – mixing, studio personnel
  • Randy Merrill – mastering, studio personnel
  • Gina Zimmitti – orchestra contractor
  • Whitney Martin – orchestra contractor

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Elias Inácio is only credited in the Bruno Martini remix version.[63]

ChartsEdit

Release historyEdit

Release date and format for "911"
Region Date Format Version Label Ref.
Italy September 25, 2020 Contemporary hit radio Original Universal [8]
Various December 4, 2020 Bruno Martini remix Interscope [9]
WEISS remix [11]
Sofi Tukker remix [10]

ReferencesEdit

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