Lady Gaga isn't one to walk the fine line between cool and cartoonish. Rather, she knocks it to the ground, gives it a lap dance, and smears its face with make-up. "Applause" is basically an elaborate fashion shoot — concocted by avant-garde photographers Inez and Vinoodh (who previously worked with Bjork) — featuring Gaga in an escalating series of outlandish looks that underscore the magic acts (hey look, a top hat!) and vaudeville necessary when you need applause to survive.
And then, of course, there's the Swan... which brings me to Bjork. If Fonzie could be said to have jumped the shark, well, Bjork wore the swan in 2001 — a moment when cool tipped over to cartoonish. And Gaga plays with that here in one of the more crazed set-ups, placing her head atop the elongated neck of a black swan. It's a risky move, but the kind that's inevitable when you need to pin the fabulous needle into the red zone.