How Lady Gaga’s ‘Chromatica II’ Transition Became Everyone’s Favourite Meme
The biggest song on the internet right now is a thirty second piece of filler. But why?
Chromatica is Lady Gaga’s most furious, frenetic record yet. Except for the parts of it that aren’t.
Wedged inbetween the thrilling dancefloor bangers that call to mind the immediate style of the singer’s early career are a string of short, instrumental interludes. They’re all less than a minute long; they’re baroque; and they build slowly.
Oh, and they’re almost definitely in there to boost the album’s chances of staying high in the Spotify charts. After all, a stream counts as a stream no matter how long a song is, so a couple of shorter tracks help you boost up your overall listens.
Indeed, when the album first came out, the interludes were for the most part ignored — or actively criticised. That’s the line that we took at this very publication, decrying what we saw as a cheap attempt to drag out a record in desperate need of some tightening.
But then, in the weeks since Chromatica has come out, something odd has happened. Slowly, these bits of orchestral filler have become a full-blown meme.
The only question: why?
How ‘Chromatica II’ Became A Massive Meme
The one interlude that has been singled out for particular praise by the internet is ‘Chromatica II’. That song, which starts slow, is most notable for its ending — the thing comes to a thuddering, immediate halt, after which start the blaring strains of ‘911’. It’s a goosebump-inducing moment, notable for its mic drop intensity.
Interestingly, the song was the last piece of the record composed. Gaga and the album’s orchestral titan, Morgan Kibby, knew in advance that it was going to come right before ‘911’ too, which explains why the transition works quite so perfectly.
This is the ONLY way the Chromatica II to 911 transition should make you feel pic.twitter.com/yvNL8dJadZ
— 〄 diggy | ʎƃƃıp ッ (@LiteralEnigma) June 12, 2020
“I remember this moment in the studio so clearly, because she lit up, and without any words I flipped the keyboard around, pulled up the string sound she was envisioning, and she started to play this amazing marcato idea,” Kibby told JustJared. “From there, we massaged it, and I focused on the harmonies and dynamics to make sure it amped the energy up.”
It was an instantly iconic moment. And the internet showed appreciation for it the only way the internet knows how — by making it a meme.
The first and most significant viral clip came courtesy of user Maxwell Fong. They transitioned from one queer titan to another, stitching up the interlude with ‘Can’t Get You Out of my Head’.
Chromatica II but it transitions into Can't Get You out of My Head pic.twitter.com/UXQ7qTGt0M
— Maxwell Fong (@maxwell_fong) June 15, 2020
And so a meme was born, just like that. Within days, the song had been mashed up with Gal Gadot’s horrendous ‘Imagine’ sing-along…
this transition >>> pic.twitter.com/7cgxLFFGrQ
— Snolly (@snollygoster123) June 16, 2020
..Joanna Newsom’s ‘Peach Plum Pear’…
Chromatica II but it transitions into Joanna Newsom pic.twitter.com/rd2g3QfFfD
— Peak, like a mountain ⛰ (@Coconut_Soil) June 16, 2020
..and beloved meme track ‘Todo Mal Con Vos’.
Chromatica II but it transitions into Todo mal con vos 🦋 pic.twitter.com/s9MoNzAfQx
— Mauje (@maujetc) June 16, 2020
And then the meme began to morph and change. Soon, it wasn’t two songs getting mashed up into each other, but the regular old ‘Chromatica II’ transition set to some of the most iconic scenes in video games and movies.
Anyway here’s the scene where Mulan leaves home cut to the transition from Chromatica II into 911 pic.twitter.com/wN8BLQ3usc
— Tom Zohar (@TomZohar) June 11, 2020
Chromatica II to 911 transition in Tomb Raider II 💥 pic.twitter.com/ZjW4Cj6Xet
— Lara Chromatica (@LaraChromatica) June 13, 2020
Basically, what was once a forgotten, brief burst of filler, gradually took on a life entirely of its own.
Memes, and internet culture more generally, have become very useful for music promotion. Artists like Doja Cat have forged their whole international reputation off the back of their songs being used as the soundtrack for TikTok clips, as has New Zealand artist BENEE.
Every artist on the planet wants to become a meme. But the power to become one doesn’t lie in their hands. It lies in the internet’s. There’s almost no way of predicting what will click and what won’t — people online decide what they like, and most of us have become intensely suspicious of any forced virality. Who can forget Justin Bieber’s cringeworthy campaign to get ‘Yummy’ to the top of charts?
As much as marketing execs would like to say otherwise, it’s a matter of chance what sticks and what doesn’t. How else to explain the viral lifespan of a tune like Jack Stauber’s ‘Buttercup’, a tiny indie track that now soundtracks thousands of TikTok clips every day?
To that end, it’s unlikely that Lady Gaga and her management team sat in the studio, manufacturing the ‘Chromatica II’ to ‘911’ transition with viral fame in mind. What they did instead was manufacture the transition with the aim of making good music. Which, often, is the key.
That doesn’t always work — the career of Carly Rae Jepsen proves that sometimes the general public don’t recognise masterful songs when they’re staring them right in the face. But that sudden, abrupt drop was just so perfect, none of us could let it slide by.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.