The Song on Lady Gaga's New Album That Perfectly Explains PTSD
For most of my life, I have found great solace in music. My Google history is filled with searches like “songs about depression,” “songs for when you lose a friend,” “songs for self-love” and “songs about forgiveness.” I have found many of my favorite songs that way, as well as lyrics that described feelings I could not verbalize. Singing along is an outlet to release them if not just express them; simply listening reminds me that I’m not alone.
Being raped and dealing with the aftermath of it is an isolating and extremely emotional experience. “Songs about rape” are few and far between.
Lady Gaga is an exception, and a big one. She is an outspoken rape survivor and mental health advocate. She has songs overtly about sexual assault as well as more vague lyrics referencing all-too relatable feelings survivors go through. This Friday she released her new album, “Chromatica,” and with it some powerful messages that resonate with me as a survivor. I connected more with the first half of the album than the second half, with the exception of “Replay,” which is my favorite song of all.
“Chromatica” features three instrumental overtures which set and shift the tone. The first lyrical piece is “Alice,” which seemed to me like an introduction to the search for healing and love that follows — “sick and tired of waking up screaming at the top of my lungs” — while also acknowledging that she understands the impact her own music has with lyrics like “DJ, free my mind” (a theme that is further fleshed out in “Sine From Above.”)
The moment in “Alice” that stands out the most to me as a trauma survivor was, “Where’s my body? I’m stuck in my mind.” One symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which Gaga herself admits to experience, is intrusive, recurring memories of the trauma. This lyric painted a vivid picture of a moment I’ve been stuck in many times before in the most perfectly simple way.
“Stupid Love” hits me on another level. In the aftermath of my abuse, I struggled with sexuality. Allowing myself to open up to another and be vulnerable physically took a lot of work. The first verse of this song says, “nobody’s gonna heal me if I don’t open the door.” This can apply to all kinds of healing. We don’t have to heal alone, but nobody can help us heal if we aren’t willing to open up about the hurt. “All I ever wanted was love,” calls forth a past scar with love, while “I want your stupid love” reclaims the desire despite that pain. That transition plus the lyric “it’s time to free me from the shame” marks a turning point in the healing journey that began at the beginning of the song.
“Rain On Me” is an anthem by two undeniably talented pop queens (Lady Gaga, of course, and Ariana Grande) who have both dealt with trauma. The coping mechanism my therapy often comes back to is called radical acceptance, and the message of “Rain On Me” is one I’m sure my therapist would approve of. “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive” repeats over and over again throughout the song like a mantra: This isn’t what I would have wanted, but it is what it is. Like this entire album, despite the seriousness of the lyrics, the song comes with a beat that makes you want to dance and celebrate this aliveness. It is a powerful message of hope and acceptance that I’m happy to have stuck in my head.
“Free Woman” is a song Lady Gaga has said herself is a response to her sexual assault. In an interview with Apple Music, she said, “I’m no longer going to define myself as a ‘survivor’ or a victim of sexual assault. I am just a person who is free that went through some fucked up shit.” It’s an extremely empowering song and message about allowing herself to wholeheartedly enjoy her life and recognize her strength. I expect to sing along to every word of this song in the shower and channel my own strength.
“Fun Tonight” reminds me that healing is not a linear journey, that there are setbacks, and they happen when they happen whether it’s convenient or not: “Feeling something I can’t explain, think it’s a wound I still entertain,” “This moment’s hijacked my plans.”
“911” tells a story of Gaga’s relationship with her mental health and medication. She has done a lot of work to fight the stigma around mental illness and invisible illness, and it’s only natural she would sing about it, too. Talking about these things removes the shame associated with them. It makes a huge impact when role models like Lady Gaga share their struggles.
The themes in “Plastic Doll” are largely about having to fit into a mold of expectations, in Gaga’s case as it relates to the music industry, yet the feeling of needing to change to be ‘good enough’ is one I’m sure most of us can relate to. “Sour Candy” doesn’t particularly resonate with me as a survivor, although it does have a proud feminist overtone, and it’s one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Enigma” doesn’t stand out to me in any way besides being a classic Lady Gaga song.
“Replay” to me is the standout song of the album. Like “Free Woman,” it’s hard to pinpoint a single lyric that stands out when the whole song is about PTSD. In her own words, Lady Gaga described this song as “an abstract explanation of what it’s like to be triggered if you have PTSD.” It talks about triggers and being triggered, “the scars on my mind are on replay, the monster inside you is torturing me”; grappling with blame, “does it matter? you had the gun”; and resilience and strength that comes from trauma, “I hate to say you’re the worst thing and the best thing that’s happened to me.” This is the exact kind of song I have searched Google for, one that articulates my experience, makes me feel understood and gives me hope all at once.
When “Chromatica” dropped, Lady Gaga tweeted, “Please listen from the beginning to the end, no need to shuffle, it’s my true story,” and I can see why. When listened to in order and in full, what you can see is although there is lasting pain, strength and freedom grows from one song to the next. In “Sine From Above,” Gaga recalls how music has always healed her and illustrates how writing music now continues to do that — and I can safely say not only for herself but for people like me who need someone to sing her message. Gaga said she wrote “1000 Doves” as a cry for help; the song demonstrates that it is an act of strength to do so. And in the album’s closing number “Babylon” we hear Gaga brushing off the gossip and likely many of the expectations she once was controlled by.
Gaga has made it clear this is an album to dance your way through, despite some of the heavier themes, and that message in itself is an impactful one for people like me dealing with pain that endures the test of time: keep on dancing, know your power, claim your freedom, it gets better.
Screenshot via “Rain on Me” music video =