Fanfare
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Fanfare

“Hold My Hand” Has the Power To Heal

Lady Gaga Hold My Hand cover image: Lady Gaga in a white tank top and dog tags spreading her arms against the wing of a fighter plane
Credit: Interscope Records

I never imagined I’d be so emotionally wrecked by a song written for a Top Gun reboot, but here we are. All kinds of music fans remember where they were and what they were doing when they listened to certain songs for the first time. Like when I turned on my work computer one morning in my cubicle in 2013 and realized Applause had just dropped. I went out in my car on my lunch break, in a warehouse parking lot off I-94 in Sturtevant, WI, and blasted it with warm sunshine coming through the windshield. Last Thursday night was one of those nights — I felt frazzled and overextended and needed some time to recoup at home. And then I realized the new Gaga song just dropped, so I paused the movie I was trying not to watch with my blue light-strained eyes and pulled it up on my phone.

But this time was one of those special times. I’d wager that most dedicated Gaga fans know the distinct pleasure of weeping tears of elation, catharsis and pure love upon first hearing at least one of Mother Monster’s soul-wrenching power ballads. How you feel seen and understood and blissed out and emotionally obliterated all at the same time. Edge of Glory. You and I. Joanne. Gypsy hits all the right notes except for the unfortunate slur.

That’s grandiose feeling is what Hold My Hand evokes through these lyrics:

Hold my hand, everything will be okay

I heard from the heavens that clouds have been grey

Hold me close wrap me in your aching arms

I see that you’re hurting why’d you take so long

To tell me you need me? I see that you’re bleedin’

You don’t need to show me again

But if you decide to, I’ll ride in this life with you

I won’t let go ’til the end

So cry tonight

But don’t you let go of my hand

You can cry every last tear

I won’t leave til I understand

Promise me just hold my hand

How could your heart not swell, or at least stir just a little, hearing these powerful words and sentiments in her triumphant, expansive Italian opera singer voice, resounding with unconditional love for you, the listener? I think it’s a hit for the ages, and in case you’re skeptical, I’ll explain why.

A Love Letter, From Someone Who Understands

Credit: Interscope Records, @ladygaga and @topgunmovie on Instagram

On Instagram, the Chromatica singer said: “This song is a love letter to the world during and after a very hard time.” It means so much coming from her, especially to the fan who has listened to her read letters and take phone calls from others just like them onstage in sold-out arenas. The fans who have been there through the tough shows and watched her bare her soul in slivers, one tiny facet of her diamond heart at a time. She knows what it’s like to feel lost beyond saving, desperately alone. She’s already shown us that. Knowing that she can come back from where she was is really encouraging.

Gaga writes songs about the pain of being told your love is less-than (Americano), the often painful process of individuating from your parents (Hair, Bad Kids), longing for independence, autonomy and power that’s been denied to women for centuries (Scheiße), being used and manipulated (Monster), flat-out betrayal (Perfect Illusion) and of course, the sweetness of forbidden fruit (Bad Romance). She writes about the numbness of addiction and the determination to tough out sobriety for the ones you love (So Happy I Could Die, Dope). She wrote Til It Happens To You for Kirby Dick’s 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground, about the rampant sexual assault on college campuses, a timely balm for survivors during the Weinstein trial. When you look at her oeuvre as a whole, it becomes apparent just how intentionally she has woven in affirming, compassionate messages for all those who battle invisible demons.

Mother Monster has been an outspoken advocate and activist for mental health issues in more traditional ways since early in her career. She launched the Born This Way Foundation in 2011 and has shared more and more about her experiences with sexual abuse, PTSD and fibromyalgia in the years since then. Fans get a close look at this in the documentary Five Foot Two, and her anthology collection Channel Kindness is another example of art created with the intention of collective healing. Speaking openly about the challenges of living with traumatic stress and developing co-occurring addictions underscores these issues that have been the main focus of so many of her creative projects, from recent singles to A Star is Born. Her work calls for acceptance, empathy and love in each new iteration, and these sentiments are there for those who listen.

Love Hurts…And Heals

I’ve been on my own trauma healing journey since about 2007, and in the past couple of years, I’ve been writing marketing copy for trauma therapists and behavioral health care providers. From what I’ve learned about how trauma heals, how stigma works and how we communicate, I know this song has the potential to help a lot of people start on the road to recovery and get the care they need. For starters, it’s what anyone experiencing an episode of depression, suicidality or other mental health crisis needs to hear at the moment when they consider reaching out for help. From the perspective of someone who loves you authentically, getting something off your chest will never be too much of a burden.

Difficulty controlling emotions is a hallmark of complex trauma, which is tangled up in the developmental challenges that can result from growing up in a “dysfunctional family.” This condition is notoriously underdiagnosed, partly because it’s still not listed in the DSM-5, and it’s difficult to find effective treatment. While it can be hard to put a finger on specific Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) in many complex trauma cases, being told you’re “too much” or emotionally invalidated often manifests into a deep lack of psychological safety. Eventually, you learn not to ask for help, and it makes for a very lonely existence. Combine that with sexual assault trauma and you have a perfect storm for explosive trauma responses (aka wicked crying jags).

Being assured that someone actually cares to listen and “won’t leave til [they] understand” enacts the kind of allyship that people with C-PTSD deny themselves, so sharing this message in a pop song (of all places) is a powerful way to normalize this therapeutic expression of human connection. We can all understand that this kind of love is needed and do our best to emulate it with the people in our lives, especially when they need it.

The Gaga Saga (Love, Love, Love)

The beating heart of pop music itself, love is a theme that Gaga has returned to many times throughout her discography, and I’m not the only person on the internet who has noticed.

Credit: @elienxgaga on Twitter

Throughout this recurring theme, Gaga backs up from pop music’s intensely myopic focus on romantic love to honor the personal growth journey everyone goes through in their personal lives, the bohemian’s noble quest to figure out how to “love and be loved in return,” by lovers, aunties, parents and grandparents, Grigio Girls, fans, Christ himself — anyone and everyone. Even though the L-word doesn’t appear in the lyrics of Hold My Hand, it’s clearly and obviously modeled by the singer herself. It’s like she’s dropping the act, transcending the hyper-saccharine genre of infatuation to give fans what we actually need.

Finally, holding hands is a simple gesture of love that has received nods in pop music mega-hits from The Beatles, Hootie and the Blowfish, Justin Timberlake and countless more. It’s a performative act of unity that’s still a brave (proud) statement for queer lovers to make in public places. It’s a universal symbol almost everyone can invoke regardless of education, culture or creed. It’s a tool for justice and healing that you have in your pocket at all times.

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Kelsey Hoff

Kelsey Hoff

Poet, freelance writer and blogging enabler in Chicago. Sharing my experiences with mental illness along with some thoughts on how we can be better.

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