Born This Way: Lady Gaga's Newest Unholy Affair
NEIRAD enilno edition
Summer’s almost here, school’s almost out, and Lady Gaga has a new album.
Released on May 23rd, Lady Gaga’s third studio album Born This Way promises to be just as controversial as everything else the NYC-based pop star has done over the last three or so years. It includes teaser singles such as “Judas” and the album’s title track, along with 15 other glimmering-shimmering, brand-spankin’-new pop anthems.
So as soft-top wranglers emerge from their winter caves, what are the chances that all will hear Mrs. Stefani J. A. Germanotta’s voice (yes, she has a real name), booming all the way down to Weed Beach? Going by reputation alone, maybe the chances aren’t so good.
For all her financial success, Lady Gaga is one of the easiest figures in the biz to hate. She seems to piss everybody off. Music buffs despise her as the face of everything wrong with the commercial music industry. Many guys are afraid to associate with such perceivably girly music, fearing loss of their man card. Just about everyone else seems to think she’s a joke because she wears meat dresses.
So who, besides our immature 13-year-old sisters, is going to buy this new album? Well, maybe you are.
For all the spectacle and chatter, there is no getting around the fact that Born This Way is a mind-boggling pop masterpiece. Yes, I said it. No, I’m not ashamed.
Let me qualify that statement: There is nothing too radically new about this album. It follows standard pop structure (intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, catchy interlude, and repeat)practically to a T. Whether you know it or not, the chord progressions are all ones you’ve heard before, sometimes even in previous Gaga tracks (Compare the chorus of Judas with that of Bad Romance). All pretty standard. In this sense it’s just another pop album. But...
...And here’s the but: It’s among the most masterfully constructed modern pop albums I’ve ever heard. Its instrumental arranging is creative and its production and finishing are flawless. Its subject matter (lyrical material) is intelligent and consistent, almost to the extent of a concept album, creating a unique aesthetic vibe that is dark, expansive, and captivating. Most important, the album is supremely danceable and catchy as hell.
When you preview the songs of Born This Way on iTunes, you really don’t get a good sense of what the album represents. Its tracks are each long, fully developed opuses, containing multiple sections that drastically vary in instrumentation and feel from intro to verse to verse.
For example, the preview of “Government Hooker” sounds like the theme music from the video game Midnight Club LA–to say, fairly low-key, minimalist house/techno. Nothing special. Imagine my surprise when I listened to the full piece, which opens with an intro that sounds like a night at the Metropolitan Opera gone wrong: vibrato soprano lines over obtrusively dissonant and dark synthesizers.
I couldn’t believe my ears. It really sounded like a different piece. Eventually, the track morphed to match my original impressions, but just as soon it did, it mutated into a thundering instrumental freak-out. The changes through the piece are jarring. Somehow, though, they add up to one honking Song with a capital S, a coherent thesis, and a big fat chunk of attitude.
Each song seems to have a fascinatingly different intro that contrasts with the rest of the piece, yet illuminates its purpose some way or another. “Americano,” for instance, opens with Italian-sounding strings à la Moonstruck, then explodes into a dance anthem that is half electro-pop and half My-Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding. In the middle, you can almost see your hot blooded relatives from the old country circle dancing and smashing crystal glassware. You might not have really gotten this image, though, without the different-but-clever intro.
As these first two tracks show, Gaga samples practically every kind of music to build her own blend of pop in Born This Way. “Fashion of His Love” sounds as ‘80s as Whitney Houston in her “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” days. “Schiesse” draws from German Club music. Indi-pop Micro-Korg synths make cameo appearances here and there.
It’s not even all electronic. Songs “Road to Love,” “Heavy Metal Rocker,” and “You and I” even dare to fuse country/rock elements, with grungy guitars and pounding americana drums. Beach-boy inspired vocals even find their way into the latter track.
Possibly the most notable new source of inspiration for Gaga’s new album is, of all unholy things, Dubstep. “Hair” and “Black Jesus/Amen Fashion” unleash wobble on poor unsuspecting listeners, and other tracks feature Dubstep’s trademark fuzzy bass growl as an underpinning for Gaga’s pop melodies.
Some may call this selective sampling a cheap way of attention-wh****g, but to me this just proves to me how well versed Gaga is in her pop music history. It’s one thing to recognize all the genres she references, but it’s an entirely different thing to be able to write a song in each style. Remember, Gaga writes, arranges, and produces most all of her own songs.
The most interesting thing on the album to me besides the music itself is Gaga’s extended association between religion and gothic romance. Remember how in practically all of Gaga’s love-song music videos someone ended up dying? Her message is still the same: gruesome love, forced love, scandalous love. Only now, it’s unholy love too.
Judas was only the start. Now add songs like Bloody Mary, which ominously professes that “when you’re gone, I’ll tell them my religion’s you…I’m ready for their stones.” Add songs with titles like Electric Chapel and Black Jesus + Amen Fashion and the message is clear. This thematic thread even runs into more upbeat songs like “Born This Way,” which opens with the line “it doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M.”
Whatever you make of this connection–from artistic creativity to devil worship–you have to give Gaga credit for having an idea (any idea) and stringing it through an entire pop album. Most artists these days can’t hold a thought for three seconds, let alone a 1.6 hour major release. (Not to mention her social conscious–Gaga spouts LGBT support through the entire album as well).
None of this artsy crap matters if you can’t dance. Rave fans will be pleased, then, to know that Born This Way has an abundance of simple, danceable beats and catchy hooks. Even if you hate Gaga, it’s impossible listen to a track without swaying a bit, and even harder to walk away from a song not humming it.
This, above all else, is why Born This Way will be a commercial success—it’s tailor made for radio play and for clubs with subwoofers. The fact that it is relatively artistically creative and surprisingly legitimate will probably go unnoticed. She will continue to be a lightning rod, and she will definitely continue to make money.
So when those Wranglers go whizzing down to the beach, listen closely. Any track on this album could be a hit, but listen especially for “Americano,” and “Heavy Metal Lover” to break out this summer. And if you do choose to buy the album, or any of its tracks, don’t be ashamed. You were born that way.