Public Service Announcement-type songs can go one of two ways. The wrong way can cause them to become overly-dramatized to the point that the message gets lost and they become ‘another song about bullying, domestic violence, etc.’ But when done the right way, a PSA song can be extremely powerful and inspire those to make a difference on the issue being discussed. Lady Gaga follows the latter formula in her contribution to the soundtrack for The Hunting Ground, a documentary discussing the issue of campus rape in the U.S.
To give a little background on the film, The Hunting Ground focuses on two former University of North Carolina students on their journey of filing a Title IX complaint against their school in 2013. Lady Gaga was approached to record “Til It Happens To You” due to her prominence in the music industry and her own experience as a survivor of sexual abuse, which causes the track itself to have a heartbreakingly emotional tone that drips with pure honesty.
Instrumentally, “Til It Happens To You” has an obviously somber tone that consists of orchestral-style pianos and strings in order to not overpower Gaga’s vocals and lyrics (think Lana Del Ray‘s “Young and Beautiful” or Rihanna‘s “Stay”). Vocally, there is a clear sense of sympathy and experience in Gaga’s delivery, with a necessary hint of frustration needed to really get the point across that some things you just can’t understand unless it’s happened to you too (“Tell me, what the hell do you know?/What do you know?/Tell me how the hell could you know?/How could you know?/Til you’re standing in my shoes/I don’t wanna hear a thing from you”).
The lyrics are the glue that ties this entire emotional roller coaster of a song together. “Til It Happens To You” strives to force listeners to really try to understand the distress that the victim may be experiencing (“Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels/Till it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real”). Gaga tries to tell us that saying things like “it gets better in time,” “pull it together/you’ll be fine,” “hold your head up and be strong,” and “you gotta get up and move on” doesn’t show as much support as you think it does. Overall, she becomes the voice of those who are afraid to speak up.
Gaga used the music video (directed by Catherine Hardwicke) to serve as a PSA-like spotlight on the taboo subject matter and successfully created that in the most artistic and chillingly real way possible . All scenarios depicted in the video are easily recognizable (i.e: studying in a dorm, changing in the bathroom, having fun at a party) and really hammers home Gaga and Hardwicke’s goal to push it into people’s heads that there is no such thing as a ‘typical rape’ scenario. While somewhat disturbing and hard to watch, the video for “Til It Happens To You” delivers that powerful message of how sexual assault can happen at any time and place.
“Til It Happens To You” is a special song that doesn’t just relate to one particular life experience. While it was written for a film focusing on sexual assault on college campuses, its lyrics can resonate with those who have experienced severe bullying and even coping with the loss of a loved one. It reminds us that no matter what horrible things have happened to us in our lives we are never alone and we are not victims, but survivors (which is showcased in the video’s final scene of the victims’ loved ones coming to support them and pick them up at their lowest point). Mother Monster picked the absolute perfect time to release a song with this kind of emotional vulnerability and successfully commands our attention.
NOTE: A part of the digital sales for “Til It Happens To You” will be donated to organizations supporting victims of sexual assault.
Pop | Interscope Records