Category Archives: Lady Gaga
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.
Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster [EP]
Released as Gaga Fever was beginning to peak, The Fame Monster (sold as its own EP but also packaged with a re-release of The Fame) is darker, weirder and better than her debut. Expanding on the more sinister songs in her catalog like “Paparazzi,” Gaga meant for this EP to complement The Fame, exploring the negative side of celebrity. Oddly enough though, there is hardly a mention of the material culture displayed on its predecessor. Instead, The Fame Monster is full of songs about dysfunctional relationships and hook-ups that should never have happened, a sort of regretful come-down after a hard night clubbing. As such, the lyrics here are a step up from The Fame because she sounds both more provocative (“Bad Romance,” “Teeth”) and personal (“Speechless,” “Dance In The Dark”). But of course, as it is with the dance genre, it’s the music that draws the most attention.While The Fame Monster doesn’t deviate much from Gaga’s previous formula, it’s a little richer and more unexpected this time out. This isn’t to say it is unpredictable exactly—it all follows the same sort of pattern: seductive verses, flamboyant choruses, a ballad thrown in for good measure—but the EP takes a few more left turns, such as how “Teeth” touches on gospel and “Alejandro” is prefaced by faux-French film dialogue. Plus, song for song, The Fame Monster is stronger and fresher than its sister record. “Bad Romance” may just be the best song of her career so far: a mess of nonsense chants, aggressive come-ons and a glorious hook set to a pulsing four-on-the-floor beat. Elsewhere, the updated synth-pop of “Dance In The Dark” and the glitchy rush of “Telephone” also rank with Gaga’s finest. The Fame Monster is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about the pop star, but her fans aren’t listening to her detractors anyway—they’re too busy dancing.
Lady Gaga – The Fame
Lady Gaga has been so omnipresent in the years following the release of The Fame, it’s easy to overlook that the album only made a modest, though relatively formidable, impact upon its release (debuting at #17 in the U.S., peaking at #4), only gradually turning Gaga into a commercial juggernaut. Back then, it wasn’t immediately apparent she would be any different from the other flash-in-the-pan pop artists of the late 2000s, releasing a couple of songs before disappearing from the public eye. Of course, as The Fame stayed on the charts month after month, churning out single after single, it became clear what made Gaga unique. Rooted in musical theater as much as the underground clubs, Gaga (whose real name Stefani Germanotta doesn’t roll off the tongue as well) crafted herself as a postmodern Madonna, positioning herself as a performer as much as a musician, complete with over-the-top stage shows and costumes. Moreover, she conceived The Fame as a collection of songs both celebrating and mocking celebrity culture, all the while infusing it with an assertive sexuality that’s slick, if sometimes forced. (“Got my ass squeezed by sexy Cupid”? Really?)
While the album is, on one level, a concept album, it certainly doesn’t play like one, particularly since lyrics about a party-hardy lifestyle lend themselves well to dance music anyway. But as many references as there are to clubbing and taking rides on disco sticks, there are also images of instability (“Just Dance”), obsession (“Paparazzi”), deception (“Poker Face”), and superficiality (the title track, “Money Honey,” “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich”). While these themes grant The Fame some focus that it otherwise wouldn’t have, Gaga unfortunately never offers any biting commentary, leaving many songs (especially in the latter half) disappointingly lightweight. This isn’t a huge issue, though, because the emphasis isn’t on the words—it’s on the thick, club-ready beats and dance rhythms.
This is where the comparisons to Madonna start to overshoot. The Queen of Pop ushered in a new sound during the post-disco era—the dance-pop that has existed in some form or another in the decades since her debut. The thing about The Fame is that it offers no such revolution, not sounding incredibly different from the legions of other pop albums of the 2000s. (It also doesn’t help that, while an able singer, Gaga shares similar vocal tics with Gwen Stafani and Christina Aguilera.) Gaga and her producers use the same sort of template as other recent pop records, borrowing from electro, house, disco, glam and hip-hop, so synths, pulses, beats and vocal manipulations all predictably make their appearance throughout the album. Of course, this doesn’t discount the record since albums don’t necessarily need to be innovative to be worthwhile, especially when pop music is concerned. And The Fame does have its share of fine songs, particularly in the first, single-heavy half, where the music is edgier and the hooks cut deeper. There are a few missteps here and there though—the dated Euro-pop redux “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” for example—which causes the record to lose some steam in the second half. The Fame is far from essential, but it does establish Lady Gaga’s sensibilities, the same sensibilities that would come to shape the face of dance-pop in the late 2000s. And though the album isn’t hugely inventive, half of pop is having the style and charisma to sell the music, and with this record, Gaga showed she had style for miles and miles.