I Live for the Applause

This week several "news" reports have informed me that Katy Perry's new single "Roar" is for some reason up against Lady Gaga's "Applause" in the court of public opinion. God forbid both songs exist simultaneously in the same world without colliding into each other. We need the competition to keep things spicy, so PICK! PICK NOW! WHICH ONE?

Just kidding, I don't care. I mean, the songs are fine. In terms of merit Perry's is a little catchier, Gaga's a bit closer to high art (a bit), but really the only grounds for comparison is they are both by female artists. And we as a culture keep women subjugated (as we always have) by constantly pitting them against each other. Way to go HuffPo.

It's interesting, the last time I even thought to compare the two singers was when I wrote a blog post about the Christian imagery in "Judas" by Gaga and "Who Am I Living For?" by Perry. I lauded both women for their presentations of honest, Christian struggles, for telling the hard truth about holding onto faith in a hostile world. I gave two big thumbs up to a couple celebrities who often catch flack from conservatives, Evangelicals and musically-snooty types alike.

And now, "Applause" really has me thinking.

And not just because of this.

This time around Gaga (whose song I will focus in on for the purposes of this post) has again hit on something profoundly true and human, but this time I'm less on board. This time I praise the honesty but am a little wary of the message.

"I live for the applause, applause, applause
I live for the applause-plause
Live for the applause-plause
Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me.
The applause, applause, applause."

Yeesh. Tell us how you really feel.

I've no doubt any day now the Christian watchdogs will join and together raise the flag on her self-centered, attention-seeking worldview. I'm sure they'll tear her apart for it. And I understand the criticism to an extent; living for the applause, for the screams and cheers, isn't exactly noble. Not much to celebrate.

The trick is, while Lady Gaga might be the only one of us brave enough to admit it, we all live for the applause. We all go about our days in a perpetual state of performance, each trying to earn our place and prove our worth by beating out our peers for top scores on the applause-o-meter. In a culture of instant and persistent validation we lose ourselves if we go too long without it.

And while it has been, of late and perhaps for some time, the Evangelical subculture's self-appointed task to blame and judge the larger culture, I will try to skirt that trend by offering instead a bit of solidarity: I live for the applause too Gaga. I feed off it. I feel like I need it, feel empty without it. It seems my worth is so inextricably enmeshed with how others, peers, relatives, friends and strangers perceive and approve of me. I need somebody to tell me I'm good at what I do, fun to be around, funny. Lord help me I need to hear I'm funny.

Not such a pretty confession, huh? It's true though, just as Gaga's truth is a petty, unfortunate one.

Better an ugly truth than a beautiful lie.

Better an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie. Always.

So, we live for the applause, applause, applause. We all do. Each one of us dances through life silently begging for approval, for claps, cheers and whistles. There is no real point in shaming anybody for it, least of all for being honest about it. Still, one has to wonder if there might be a better way. Maybe there's a way to experience that same sense of belonging, or perhaps a superior one, outside the context of external, utterly contingent human approval.

Maybe humans ache not for the temporary high of approval, but for the lasting embrace of love.

By some providence my favorite author Donald Miller tweeted a picture this week of the author's note to his upcoming book. Take a look and see him speak to this very issue in a way I could only ever hope to:

I think sometimes we crave God's applause too, because that's how we're used to sussing out worth in our human interactions. The trick is, listen all you want, I doubt you'll hear it. And while you are busy waiting for applause you may well miss the rich, lavish love God would rather pour into you if you would only raise up your hands up to receive it.

The applause game is a no-win situation. Fame is hollow and crumbles when you hold onto it too tightly. Celebrity is a weak, caustic facsimile for belonging. Love, on the other hand, is stronger the more you squeeze it, and more abundant the more you stretch out your arms to give it away. 

Let me say it to you the way my youth pastor once said it to me, and it changed everything: let God love you. 

Let God love you.

You're worth it.

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.


  1. Great stuff. I wonder if the applause (or whatever it was) that Miley Cyrus got after her VMA concert was worth it. Sometimes, attention of any kind is all we want, but at the end of the day, we might have just made of fool of ourselves. Either way, it never makes us feel better about ourselves.

    The only way is via love. Great post.


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