Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Lady Gaga with Ariana Grande – Rain on Me

A collaboration of two raining pop stars…

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: When was the last time you felt queer joy? a friend recently messaged me. It’s not the only message that I’ve gotten like it, coming from someone reflecting on how hard it is to find love in our queer identities when the spaces and support networks we’ve spent our adult lives creating are no longer easily accessible. Lockdown is hard for everyone, but queer people have it especially rough. I have friends who chose to stay alone rather than return to uncomfortable family situations; friends who chose to find shelter in other countries rather than go home; friends in nominally progressive, loving environments who still feel constantly micro-aggressed against. Due to COVID, I’ve been forced to live with my parents for four months now, during which time we’ve managed to avoid a huge confrontation about my sexuality–but I still feel so lonely and unseen. “Rain on Me,” however, sees me. This song is big and dumb and flawed, and probably designed as fan-service, but it is so, so gay. The more-is-more sound, the delightful camp aesthetic of the promos, the millions of memes, the outrageous Chromatica merchandise are all as extra as I wish I could be. For God’s sake, at one point, Ariana literally sings the words, “Gotta live my truth, not keep it bottled in.” Two of the biggest gay icons in the world coming together to sing about their traumas in the pouring rain would have been cathartic pop under any circumstances, but under these, it feels like nothing short of triumphant, torrential queer joy.

Tobi Tella: For the Gay Event of 2020, that beat drop is cribbed right from 2013. The two work well together, and the result is hard not to like, but I’m also finding it hard to love.

Will Adams: “Stupid Love” worked as a return to form for the maximalist Gaga of yester-decade. “Rain On Me” works even better for the sweet surprise at how much energy she injects into filter house, a genre whose recent re-emergence has often felt lifeless. The growl she adds to the “RAIN on me” that punctuates the instrumental break does plenty on its own. The presence of Grande and the alternate chorus at the very end implies that there could have been more but what was left on the cutting room floor doesn’t really matter when the final 3-minute product is this electrifying.

Joshua Lu: At times “Rain on Me” feels like two separate dance tracks spliced together: one with Lady Gaga’s hefty vocals serving as the backbone for a groovy instrumental, and another with Ariana Grande’s lithe voice adroitly dancing on the pounding synths. Either can succeed on its own, but when they mix, they hamper one another. It’s most evident on the bridge, where Ariana’s breathy delivery clashes with Gaga’s campy deep voice, which shouldn’t be used there regardless — hearing it for an entire section makes it less powerful when it pops up as the pre-chorus.

Edward Okulicz: This Lady Gaga single is okay to pretty good, but the chorus is basically just “Rain Over Me” by Pitbull.

Scott Mildenhall: Not everything has to be “Telephone,” but Gaga’s statements about “Rain on Me”‘s personal significance hit home how run-of-the-mill the song feels compared with something so conceptually walloping. The deep personal connection Gaga felt with Grande is sadly inaudible, and the boldest it all gets is with her spoken delivery of the title, an appreciably camp touch in a song that is content and perhaps correct to colour within the lines, however brightly.

Katherine St Asaph: Did not expect my first thought upon hearing a Gaga song to be Shut Up Stella. This shrinks a bit after hearing Chromatica, which has more massive tracks.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Gaga and Ari are pop music’s two greatest theater kids. Every note, every line on “Rain on Me” is perfectly calibrated to demonstrate this, to make clear their skill at acting out the role of the pop star. The musical frame of the song is sturdy enough (it’s not “Fade” or “Electricity” in terms of ’90s house pastiche, but it grooves deeply enough to not seem lightweight), but “Rain on Me” is driven by their performances. It’s most obvious on the song’s bridge, where the combo of Gaga’s imperial declarations and Ari’s upper register meld together in kitschy glory. “Rain On Me” isn’t a perfect song– it’s a bit underwritten, and the water metaphors don’t fully come together– but it’s a near-perfect performance.

Ryo Miyauchi: “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive.” It’s a hook that’s surely, and most likely unintentionally, informed by post-COVID life, but it also reminds me of the apocalyptic pop that flourished about a decade ago when dubstep was in full swing. That subgenre’s structure still lives on at a elemental level, with the chorus devoid of lyrics, just now swapped for a chic, Justice-style electro-house. While any hint of doom might be more the beckoning of the current time, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s eager sense of abandon taps into now as much as it does to a recent past, and I hope it will speak to us in a similar way in the future when our world seems to be collapsing again in whatever context.

Jessica Doyle: The more I listen to this the less it hangs together. Is the rain heartbreak or guilt? Is Lady Gaga the victim of it or using it for her own destructive ends? (Rain can be healing; tsunamis never are.) Why does she throw that cold, commanding “Rain. On. Me.” refrain into a song that’s supposed to be about vulnerable acceptance? And why isn’t it “I’d rather be drunk, but at least I’m alive”? (Darn it.) I’ll cede some power to the image of Gaga and Ariana Grande, both wounded and relatably self-aggrandizing, stomp-dancing around together in the rain, but stripped of pop-gossip context the song won’t stick around.

Leah Isobel: Lady Gaga is pop Jenny Holzer. She doesn’t write lyrics, she writes slogans. I’D RATHER BE DRY, BUT AT LEAST I’M ALIVE isn’t quite on the level of I WANT YOUR WHISKEY MOUTH ALL OVER MY BLONDE SOUTH, but the contrast between her severe consonants and Ariana’s airy open vowels provides enough scaffolding that it works anyway — and it doesn’t hurt that the bass hurtles around that line like a Ferrari. If Gaga’s oeuvre is a monument to the power of sheer determination, “Rain on Me” is what happens when she wills her sadness into release, her trauma into mere prelude; it’s American pop myth-making at its purest. In that sense, it’s an old-fashioned kind of triumph.

Oliver Maier: Lady Gaga is too much of an auteur to really relinquish control. This is why her me/us-against-the-world cowboy songs suck, because she is at her best when she rules the reality that the music inhabits. On the strongest of her imperial-era singles, desperation and desire are either crystallised into museum exhibits or performed with such dark melodrama that they feel more like elaborate theatre for which she plays both director and lead role. “Rain On Me” is about giving in and letting herself cry, but the drop hinges critically on the spoken command that opens the floodgates; it’s catharsis issued with total precision. Ariana, the reigning pop queen of emotional honesty, is at home on her confessional verse and then, having run out of stuff to do, sticks to ornamentation (it’s funny that she gets a “with” credit for what is very much a “feat.”). There are smart decisions — the compact runtime, the way that the aqueous filtering drives the imagery home — and then there’s the simple, house-beats-go-brrrrr monkey brain joy of dance music that sounds this sure of itself; what it’s doing, where it’s going, how hard it slaps.

Alex Clifton: Was this designed to get me through my next run? Through the next time Louisville is pelted by rain for days at a time? Through the pandemic? I’m not sure, but I’ve sold my soul to Gaga and Ariana for the above reasons and am more than happy with the results.

Jackie Powell: I didn’t really understand how this collaboration was going to work until I remembered the similarities that Grande and Gaga share. Besides the obvious, that both are Italian, both have witnessed trauma in real-time, in front of the world. “Rain On Me” is a conversation that manifests in the music itself but also in all of its accompanying media, such as the promotion for its Robert Rodriguez-directed video. Right as Gaga forcefully hauls the knife out of her thigh, Grande begins her verse. We can’t move through pain and trauma alone; that invitation into conversation and togetherness is part of the healing. Gaga begins singing as we expect her to, with a deep darker belt in her sweet spot. But once we hit the pre-chorus going into the chorus, she switches into bright head voice, which is where we expect Grande to be. Grande then sings deep in her chest, around the pre-chorus and into the chorus. There’s a pattern: During the bridge, they switch again, and then again in the outro. As to what’s going on with Gaga and her vocal fry in the bridge, some say it’s just classic The Fame Monster Gaga. While that’s correct, she uses it as a tool with multiple functions. It serves as a “c’mon, let’s go to #Chromatica” statement, but it’s also a transition that facilitates the journey. It sets up the glorious bassline, which interpolates Gwen McCrae’s “All This Love That I’m Giving and explodes directly into the ears. But back to the pre-choruses: They give the listener the track’s thesis and its heart. When Gaga belts that she’s ready for the rain, she’s not fighting it anymore. It’s not comfortable, but we need to just let it out, let it fall, and let it be felt. “I’m ready. Rain on me.”

Reader average: [6.73] (23 votes)

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3 Responses to “Lady Gaga with Ariana Grande – Rain on Me”

  1. Wayne <3 <3 <3

  2. ugh love all of you and you’re such good writers

  3. Wayne. On. Me.

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