Even though its ubiquity on the Billboard charts has shrunken in the streaming era, and the COVID-19 pandemic has left dance floors empty worldwide, 2020 has been a pretty decent year for pure pop music. British pop star Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia is shaping up to be one of the year’s landmark albums, while Harry Styles’ California-kissed Fine Line zoomed past worries of a sophomore slump with the biggest hit of his career thus far, “Adore You”. Tik Tok (and a last-minute assist from Nicki Minaj) elevated Doja Cat’s shimmering “Say So” to the top of the charts two weeks ago, and I’m desperately waiting for the same viral treatment for “Joan of Arc on the Dance Floor”, an 80’s synth dream from Aly and AJ, believe it or not.
And yet this pop uptick can’t really prepare you for the deluge that is “Rain on Me”, Lady Gaga’s highly-anticipated collaboration with pop princess Ariana Grande and the second single from her upcoming album Chromatica. “Stupid Love” was the diva’s formal re-introduction to the pop scene after her Oscar-winning detour, but the single stalled at #5 on the US charts, likely because it lacked the urgency of past era openers like “Bad Romance” or “Born This Way”. “Rain on Me” more than makes up for the deficit, with a powerhouse opening, featuring one of Gaga’s purest vocals to date, that leads into a full-blown 90’s house extravaganza. You’re already dancing by the time Grande joins in on the fun, making her first foray into dance-pop since “Break Free”. One could cynically speculate about the forces that brought Gaga and Grande together, but they have excellent chemistry, Grande’s honeyed, effortless range squaring nicely with Gaga’s impassioned theatrics. It’s so easy to get caught up in the euphoria of their performances and the production that you may miss the poignancy of its lyrics, which were reportedly borne from their respective traumas. Similarly to Grande’s “no tears left to cry”, the pop stars would rather celebrate their resilience instead of dwell on their pain, finding catharsis on the dance floor. “Rain on Me’s” message is simple enough to work at any point, but feels especially resonant as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19.
It’s criminal that “Rain on Me” can’t be enjoyed in its natural habitat, but the song’s uplifting spirit and boundless energy is enough to turn any living room, or bedroom, or bathroom into a club floor. It’s a gift of a song for these troubled times, celebrating our collective need for danceable euphoria and signaling that pop might have some chart life in it yet.