Music Review: Till It Happens To You by Lady Gaga

A lot of people can relate to that feeling of despair, and being overwhelmed, when it turns out nearly impossible to relay one’s feelings in a fitting way. In this song, Lady Gaga captures that wild feeling in a gourd and unleashes it in your ears. Her lyrics are poignant with a resounding message that inspires unhypocritical empathy from people.

Till it happens to you perfectly captures these feelings, and paints the perfect picture. Although originally written as featured track for an American Docu-drama that followed the lives of female students that had been raped in the university, the lines could apply to any feeling of loss a person has experienced.

Every line carries this prayer and hope to be one day understood. It perfectly explains the hopelessness that victims and those that have lost someone have to face every day. In many ways than one, it seems to be a cry for help. When I was at my lowest, I turned to music for comfort. I would intentionally download songs on grief and loss, always looking for the one that said exactly what I wanted to say.

I listened to “Till it happens to you” for the first time and had these annoying goosebumps on my neck, hands and feet. It felt like a cold wind had suddenly swept through my room, and I had to pause and take a deep breath. Have you ever listened to a song and thought about the possibility that the artist had one night snuck into your head, read your thoughts and decided to capitalize on it? that is how I felt that day. I listened to it day and night and it evoked a lot of feelings- pain, laughter, misery, and faith.

Now, I have decided to write what every line actually means to me. I always say it means a lot that this song actually exists, but I have never tried to catalogue, in writing, what this song brings out in me. The following paragraphs contain my favorite lines in this song and what I feel about them.

You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I'll pull myself together, pull it together.
You'll be fine. Tell me what the hell do you know
what do you know
tell me how the hell could you know
how could you know

The first stanza just dives into everything. When I lost my mother, I received a lot of condolence visits from friends, families, colleagues and even strangers. Everybody was supportive in one way or the other and I am very grateful for it. If not for my friends and families, the hole I sunk into might have been inescapable. Everybody kept telling me that time heals all wounds and I just needed to bid my time, and everything would be fine. To an extent, it felt like I was being rushed to be okay, when I really just wanted to remain glum for the longest time.

It also felt like I was being encouraged to pull myself together and that everything would turn out right. The problem with this message was that for me to be “Fine”, I had to have my mother with me, and since my mother had started the trek to the afterlife and left me behind, “fine” looked like a stupid dream.

I kept asking for the exact time everything would supposedly return back to normal. 2 days? 2 weeks? 2 months? 2 years? If that time is not enough, then maybe 2 centuries. I wondered if it was not even suicidal to heed their advices and pretend that everything was back to normal.

“Cheer up, we have all been there”. No, you have not Mister.

A deeply malicious part of me wished I could bare my chest and show them my deepest thought, so they would realise that this was not the type of a wound time could fix. I wanted to show them exactly what was going on in my mind and then maybe they would get scared and leave me alone. I would look at them and sigh, because they all had rather complete families but still felt they could relate to that feeling. Empathy would only get you so far.

Till your world burns and crashes
till you are at the end, the end of your rope
till you are standing in my shoes, i don't wanna hear nothing from you
from you, from you, because you do not know

A year before my loss, a friend of mine lost his mother. In the fashion of things, I called and we cried together. He was really depressed about the whole affair, and rightly so. I kept telling him I understood what it meant to lose a loved one in order to stop him from crying so much, so he would not fall sick. To be honest, I never knew what it actually meant to lose someone very close to me.

When I was talking to that friend, I was relying on the pang of hurt in my chest whenever I thought about when my grandmother died. Although I was not very close to her, I felt very sad and I cried for a long time when she died. I thought that was how he was feeling so I told him I understood everything he was going through. At that point, I did not realise I was a big liar. The feeling in my chest when I heard about what happened to my mother cannot be referred to as a “pang”; the word oddly seemed unfitting and trivial compared to my actual feeling.

I kept telling him I understood what it meant to lose a loved one in order to stop him from crying so much, so he would not fall sick. To be honest, I never knew what it actually meant to lose someone very close to me.

It felt like my heart had been yanked out of my chest and repeatedly stomped on. It felt like thorny hands had crawled up my body and kept squeezing my neck. It felt like the ground I stood on had suddenly turned to quicksand, and I kept sinking. I felt like running out of my skin and going anywhere at all. It felt like I was in a 5-storey building that had suddenly collapsed; it felt like my life was suddenly disintegrating and I was forced to breathe while lying in the rubbles. It felt like my skin had been torn away from my body and soaked in hot oil.

I have never known pain like I did at that moment. It felt like my body had been swept up into a hurricane and flung in different directions. It felt like I was thrown into a well and the bottom was nowhere in sight. It felt like hot oil had been poured on my back and I was immobile on the ground with my scalding flesh.

A few weeks later, when my fried reached out, amidst tears, I apologised for lying to him. He was confused so I told him the truth. “I am very sorry for lying. I never understood what it felt like to lose a mother. Nothing can be compared to this tightening in my chest”. At that moment, I realised that it is impossible to know a person’s exact feelings even if you have been in the same situation. Everyone kept insisting that I did not need to be so gloomy, and that I should hurry up in the healing process, because everyone had been there before. Everyone had lost someone and we are still alive. I kept hearing stories of people that found out about the death of a loved one after the burial had already been done. Was I supposed to feel better?

Now that time has passed, I realise that back then I did not need anybody promising me that it would be fine. A lot of people promised a lot of thing. Right after my mother’s church promised to bring her back to life, they disowned her a few weeks later saying that they had consulted God and their church leader and were of the belief that my mother had caused her own death. They promised that my mother was not happy to be dead, and the pastor even went as far as saying he talked to her on a daily basis.

In my naivety, or rather desperateness, I bought into all the things he said and went berserk on the burial day when my mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground. No, I did not need promises. One aunty promised that one day I would look back on that day and smile. Till today, I have not found one reason to smile at my mother’s death. I did not need fake unrealistic promises. I just wanted someone to understand how I was feeling, I needed someone to see this feeling of hopelessness and disbelief that was rooted in my spirit. I wished someone would understand that I kept looking at my phone because I was hoping the handlers at the mortuary would suddenly hear a sound and discover that my mother is now alive.

I wished someone would understand that I kept looking at my phone because I was hoping the handlers at the mortuary would suddenly hear a sound and discover that my mother is now alive.

I wished people would stop saying that they understood when they really did not. I wished people would see that this is not just an event that I could sweep under a rug. I cannot just pretend that my mother is not dead and that everything is actually fine. Nobody understood that whenever I looked at a bowl of food, I thought about my mother that would never have a chance to eat again, and I would lose my appetite.

I felt like my feelings were invalidated when everyone kept urging to stop crying. How do I tell my body to stop crying? One lady even went as far as asking me “Preye, you are still crying?” The day she asked me this, I was walking back from a junction my dad had dropped me at before going to work. We had gone to the hospital to pay for my mother’s mortuary bills and that was the first time I was seeing my mother’s dead body. Dear madam, I have to keep crying. The tear works are not stopping anytime soon. I am sorry to upset your sensitivities.

till it happens to you, you won't know
it won't be real
no, it won't be real
won't know how it feels

In this song, every verse literally echoes the same message. It is not possible, as an outsider or an independent third-party to claim to fully understand the plight of other individuals. This puts me in mind of an episode of “The Simpsons” I watched recently. Mr. Burns, the business mogul and apparently the only CEO in the community, finally managed to chase his personal assistant, Smithers, away for good. Smithers then approached Mo, the owner of the rundown bar Homer and his gang frequent, to upgrade the club to attend to clientele of a different fashion. Smithers is gay while Mo is not. However, in order to sustain this new wave of gay patrons, Mo decides to put up an act and pretend he is gay, much to Smithers’ disapproval.

Eventually, the gay customers decide to vie for political seat and pick Mo as their representative, seeing as he is the only supposed homosexual with enough clout to garner publicity for their cause. Smithers’ tries to dissuade the business-oriented Mo from contesting, on the basis that he would not be able to properly articulate their causes since he cannot relate fully to them. Eventually Mo is disgraced out of the race and loses favour within the gay community of Springfield.

Smithers’ main objection to Mo’s acts was the fact that he did not understand a struggle he has never been part of. Mo even went as far as asking the gay community why they felt marginalised and dubbed it an “imaginary struggle”. When people elect politicians, they vote the ones they feel properly understands the struggle of the poor majority of the society. Personalities that come from old money are always the object of people’s scorn whenever they make a careless remark on poverty.

 It is not possible to talk on or represent something you do not know properly. Like lady Gaga said “it won’t be real”. It would just be like an abstract concept hanging way out of reach. It would be like a curtain has been draped over your eyes and you can only get a rough silhouette of the problem. You do not know how hot fire is until you have touched it yourself.

“Preye, you are still crying?”

If I say this is a good song, it feels like such an understatement. Good is plain, bland, and rather dull. This song is a road with smooth and rough paths. It has the power to leave you totally shaken and trembling. It has the power to tear you apart and stomp on you. It could wrap you up like a warm blanket and be the silent companion that always understands you; the one that feels the rhythm of your breath the same way you do. On the other hand, it could be the one pushing you into the flames, screaming and yelling all your fears. If you have not listened to this song, I advise you do.


Hello! My name is Preye and I am a 2nd-year law student at the University of Porthacourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. I love writing, reading and Korean dramas. When I am doing neither of these things, I can be found manifesting my inner Tina Snow on the dance floor.

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