Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Depending on who you ask, Lady Gaga is either the epitome of art or everything that’s wrong with the music industry. Neither are true, of course, but the important part is that you have to be a damn phenomenon to evoke opinions like that. Certainly no other pop star in recent memory has commanded so much attention or cultural influence (you aren’t voted 2011’s most powerful celebrity in Forbes Magazine for nothing). But at some point, Gaga decided to exert that influence in two different ways. On one hand, she became an activist, rallying for gay rights and defending the disenfranchised. On the other, not-so-good hand, she started pawning off half-assed ideas—wearing a dress made of meat, “hatching” from a prop egg at the Grammys—as major statements. The problem with Born This Way, Gaga’s second full-length, is that the former provides the motivation for the record but the latter provides the execution.
The Fame and The Fame Monster dabbled in the concept album idea, but the songs on Born This Way wear their meanings like badges on a glitter-drenched leather jacket. Essentially, the record is a series of anthems about self-love, liberation and religion—in other words, an album written specifically for her Little Monsters, her rabid fanbase of supposed misfits and outcasts. There’s nothing wrong with this, but her statements feel like rough sketches. She means well but there is zero wit or grace to her words, never developing her thoughts enough to say anything new or clever. For instance, nearly every line on the title track sounds like it was stripped from an inspirational poster or public service announcement, and all her many, many references to Christian figures throughout the record never amount to anything substantial. (Remember: just mentioning Jesus doesn’t automatically equal profundity.) Unsurprisingly, her words work the best when Gaga avoids trying too hard, such as on the sweet, nostalgic “Yoü and I,” the rebel anthem “Bad Kids,” and the dancefloor bangers like “Scheiβe” and “Marry The Night.”
Luckily, the music is just as extravagant, able to make even her most questionable lyrics easier to swallow. While Gaga doesn’t try anything astonishingly new, she definitely tries more here than ever before. “Americano” pulses with Latin flavor; “Yoü and I” flirts with country-rock, and “Bad Kids,” arguably the album’s best track, successfully merges metal and disco. She even gets veteran E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons to play on a couple of tracks, perhaps in the hopes of creating her own “Born To Run,” to which the album closer “The Edge Of Glory” clearly pays debt. And though it may be too easy to compare her to Madonna, Gaga is certainly asking for it: she uses Like A Prayer as a template for her record, right down to the religious themes and the way she lifts the melody from “Express Yourself” for the title track. The difference is while Like A Prayer coupled an artistic statement with some of Madonna’s greatest songs, Born This Way‘s songs simply just aren’t as strong as what we expect from Gaga. Gaga’s great gift is that she’s been able to shape her rhythms and hooks into full-blown pop songs, but here too often she’s content to let them be, thinking that the new elements of her sound are enough to carry the songs, rather than the compositions themselves. As a result, there’s nothing here on the level of “Bad Romance” or “Poker Face,” even if much of this music is quite entertaining in its own right. There was no way Born This Way was going to live up to the enormous expectations placed on it—expectations that Lady Gaga herself helped foster, touting the album as the best of the decade—but it still can’t help but feel disappointing. She’s already proven herself savvy enough to pull something like this off, but next time if she has something to say, she needs to find a better way to say it.