Lady Gaga surprised London clubgoers with a performance of “Perfect Illusion” two Fridays ago, less than 24 hours after the single’s official release. It was the first time that she had ever performed the song live, and the set could not have looked any more different from the debut live performance of her last lead single as a solo artist. “Applause” had opened the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards with multiple costume changes, multiple wig changes, flashing lights, Jeff Koons-inspired props, and more than a dozen backup dancers. The “Perfect Illusion” performance on Sept. 9, by contrast, found a ponytailed Gaga alone on the Moth Club’s stage in a pair of frayed silver hot pants and a heather-gray crop top, stomping around and swinging a microphone over her head by the cord.
“This is the real me,” the performance seemed to broadcast, a message consistent with how “Perfect Illusion” co-producer Mark Ronson had described his collaborator’s upcoming album, Joanne (Oct. 21, Streamline/Interscope) earlier this year. “It’s really great to make this very honest, authentic, kind of analog record with her,” Ronson told Charlie Rose in March. Watching the “Perfect Illusion” performance at home two weeks ago, thanks to some low-res front-row footage uploaded to YouTube, I couldn’t stop thinking about authenticity—not because I thought Gaga’s set was raw and authentic, but because I was intrigued by how masterfully precise her performance of authenticity was. And that same Wildean interest in the artifice of authenticity is on full display in her new music video for the Joanne track.