dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

If I Said I Like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," Would You Hold It Against Me?

NOTE: I wanted to post my thoughts on Lady Gaga's new single yesterday. Alas, I've been traveling since last weekend. Anyway, back to business! In the Phoenix airport—here are my thoughts.

This, folks, is the point where we're all supposed to provide Lady Gaga with the inevitable backlash. She's simply become far too big, far too over-hyped, far too fast. And, besides, isn't this Britney's year?

But first off, I'm not going to play the Gaga Vs. Britney game. It's pointless, cheap and it's the lazy way out. Yeah, both broads put lead singles from their upcoming albums out within a month of each other. And, yes, this will be the first Britney album to arrive in the Age Of Gaga. So?

To really comment on "Born This Way," we have to look back to the very inception of the mountain of hype touting the song, when The Lady appeared on CNN's Larry King Live last June, jibber-jabbering about how her third album was already in the can. She took the opportunity to tell her Little Monsters that the set of jams would not, however, be released until the new year.

And then there was the MTV VMAs, where Gaga continued to fire up her followers when she revealed the title of her forthcoming album by singing a few lines from "Born This Way." Other hype tactics were employed: release dates for the single and album tweeted on New Year's Eve, lyrics posted across various websites in January, news that the single would be bumped up two days.

And that, Lady lovers (and haters), brings us to now. "Born This Way," the single, is here, and it was #1 across the digital retailer board within hours of release. Alright, already—so what the hell does it sound like?

Well, as I briefly noted yesterday,  my first impression was that it sounds like old-school Madonna mixed with '90s-era Erasure. I've not had much access to the Internet over the past 24 hours, but I've seen here and there that some folks are comparing "Born This Way" to Ye Olde Vampyre's "Express Yourself."

I can kind of hear that. The way Gaga talks in the beginning can maybe come across as similar to Madge's "Come on, girls!" rally cry. And the vocal melody is sort of like that in "Express Yourself." But let's get real about something—it's not like Madonna herself wasn't the artful queen of ripping off other musicians.

Personally, "Born This Way" did nothing for me the first time I played it. I wasn't overly disappointed, but I wasn't blown away, either. In fact, I couldn't help thinking that there might have been more of a "wow" factor if so much g.d. hype hadn't been shoveled to the masses in the lead-up.

But later in the day, I sat down and played it a few more times. And suddenly, those lyrics—which I found to be highly cringe-worthy and, frankly, quite a turn-off when they were revealed—seemed to work. And I began to think, so what if "Born This Way" sounds like Erasure or old Madonna? At least someone in mainstream pop is using those influences! It beats having to hear, say, Rihanna channeling vintage Iron Maiden.

Likewise, why shouldn't Lady Gaga be able to sing about drag queens and transgendered folks? Would it be better if she used homophobic lyrics?

The more I listened, the less I heard Madge. And what became apparent was that this is the first truly "happy" Lady Gaga single. There's no desperate stalking, one-night stands or tortured love that plays out in the lyrics. Sure, subtlety appears to have flown out the window. But "Born This Way" is just a fun pop song with a positive message. And in that respect, the 24-year-old songstress has shown that she is truly evolving as an artist.

I will mention Britney one more time, though, and just say that, like "Born This Way," "Hold It Against Me" took a few listens to truly click. But I'm glad I gave both songs the chance.

As we navigate this rapid-paced world where absolutely nothing in entertainment really seems new anymore, let's not get so jaded that we forget that there's room enough on Planet Pop for both Lady Gaga and Britney Spears—and it would be a much drearier world without them.



  • At 12:29 PM, Blogger Adam said…

    I've listened a few times already, but I couldn't hum a bar of this if my life depended on it. It's something like "Express Yourself," only indistinct and strident. We anticipated this before months because...?

  • At 1:06 PM, Blogger bomitoni said…

    i actually thought it sounds like 'same 'ol fucking story' by cyndi lauper. that being said. i heart cyndi. but loathe caca. this is so contrived it's not even funny.

  • At 2:13 PM, Blogger Joshua said…

    I love it! I'm not trying to expect too much because it's going to be impossible soon enough for Gaga to keep topping herself (heh) but it's a great, catchy, happy song.

  • At 3:18 PM, Blogger Woody said…

    Well?? We're waiting for your review :)

  • At 3:45 PM, Blogger Eric said…

    Exactly @Joshua!

    Only really dumb people would have expected Gaga to make the greatest song of the decade of something like any close to it. In terms of production and vocal performance the track deserves a lot of credit and loathe. The lyrics have a great message about equality, they're catchy and simple to understand (it's a pop song, not Shakespeare).

    Also I really like how the song changes states (from sinisterly dark, to warm, then light-hearted).

    My only problems are the cheesiness of the chorus and the 8-count baseline...

    Now I really want to watch the Grammys, I'm sure she will make more justice to the song there (I really hope so).

  • At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Matthew Finn said…

    ugh - this shit blew UP all kinds of drama today! Please dear - cap it off

  • At 3:59 PM, Blogger Paul said…

    oh how typical - the first gaga song i like from the off and it's the one most reviled by everyone else. i give up.

    PS i get the Express Yourself references, but everyone knows pop achieved perfection with EY initialed songs - Express Yourself, Enjoy Yourself (Kylie), Electric Youth (Deb Gibson)!!!!

  • At 5:02 PM, Blogger Diva Incarnate said…

    I'm in agreement with the strident comment - it is VERY Utah Saints-ish meets Geri Halliwell's Bag It Up. I like that it's so frivolous and that her over-reaching lyrical agenda is somewhat buried. I'm enjoying the thrill of how deliciously knock-off it sounds, but as mentioned Cyndi Lauper did this message with far more credible conviction and much less attention-seeking motives. I don't want to enjoy this as a protest song - it's naff, camp and embarassing so why try to make it something it's not. She could have had more fun with the concept of sticking to fingers up at people, but nevermind.s

  • At 1:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with the Diva, this is so naff, it makes me want to cringe. It's obviously meant to be some glam protest anthem for gay subculture, but... Gaga isn't a gay man. She literally wasn't 'born' the 'way' she's singing about. So why doesn't she just get over herself and stop trying to glorify herself in such a role? Because THAT'S why it sounds insincere, she isn't what she's singing she is, she's just singing it to sell the album to gay guys and drag queens, to make money- sincerity all thrown out the window in a puff of glitter and corniness. She kept talking about this album like it was going to change the face of music, like it was some kind of miraculous pop-music mesiah album... but this is generic, cheesy, want-to-be-what-I'm-not-so-you-guys-will-finally-love-me CRAP. And why does this remind me so much of MIKA's We Are Golden?? I guess celebratory cheese-anthems that are so vague and frothy you can't sing them five minutes after hearing them all sound alike... and the disappointment is also equal.

    (Dear Gaga, Kylie never had to be this simperingly insincere and 'please love me' to HER gay fanbase :P And there are plenty of worthy ACTUALLY gay artists to sing about what they have ACTUALLY experienced... The Feeling's Strange is pretty awesome, for example)

  • At 3:06 AM, Blogger Jonathan said…

    It's kinda of boring. The video and the grammy performance might help the song. Everyone is saying she is copying everyone else, but too me she is copying herself. The song reminds me to much of Dance In The Dark. Born This Way could have been on the Fame Monster.

  • At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Pranav said…

    I don't like this woman at all but I got sent the promo of this song yesterday morning and the closest parallel I can draw is to the early Madonna material (prior to "True Blue").

  • At 3:17 PM, Blogger duanemoody.com said…


  • At 5:06 PM, Anonymous sean said…

    sell out!

  • At 6:13 PM, Blogger xolondon said…

    A once in a lifetime comment from me: TEAM BRITNEY!

    I will chime on more on my blog soon enough, but I am already sick of Born This Way. Had it been Alejandro, I would be jizzing all over your comment field.

  • At 7:27 PM, Blogger countpopula said…

    I totally agree with everything you said Robbie, excepting that I thought the song was great from the first time I heard it. Honestly, I don't get these hater comments all of a sudden--we sure like to build our idols up just to tear them down tomorrow. I've actually only heard the song two times, it's been 24 hours now, and I can still remember the melody. I think that speaks for itself.

    I think the media saturation on songs like this has begun to reach a fever pitch level, that the best way I find to deal with it is to stop reading the bickering forums, go out of my way NOT to look for constant updates, and not play leaks or previews ad nauseum. That way the songs seem much fresher when they finally arrive, without all the baggage of expectation.

    As for the Britney vs. Gaga debate, RIDICULOUS! How is this even relevant? I can't believe Billboard Magazine even lowered themselves to the mud-slinging devoted to this topic. They are two different songs by two VERY different artists, and each can be enjoyed on its own merits. Seriously, there should be enough space for all good pop music to shine. It's not like they're cutting each other down in the press (sorry, Xtina who?).

    I am glad to count myself as someone who will be buying both albums on their respective release dates.

  • At 10:31 AM, Blogger C. Paul Keller said…

    I actually was concerned that I wouldn't like this song because there isn't any way to top "Paparazzi", "Bad Romance" or "Poker Face" in terms of haunting dark love songs. So I like that she's tried a new lyrical tack. Also, while I can hear "Express Yourself" I stopped noticing a few listens in. It's fun to dance to, too.

    Most importantly, to release a song with such obvious in-your-face lyrics on mainstream radio is ballsy as hell. While Kesha, Pink, Katy Perry all released "be yourself" anthem in the last year (and Cyndi and others did the same in years past) I don't remember ever hearing someone outright speak my truth on the radio, no secret language or candy coating so Christian soccer moms will approve. The lack of subtlety might not be artistic, but it's beautiful in its fire.

  • At 12:24 PM, Blogger Dan said…

    I will admit the song didn't grab me at first, but it has now. Who gives a shit if lyrically it's a bit contrived? As another commenter said, I give Gaga credit for having the cojones to release this song with so obvious a message in these increasingly reactionary times for LGBT rights. If the lyrics are clunky, I advise people to look back at Madonna's catalog to find examples of even clunkier lyrics.

    I resisted Gaga for a long long time and finally gave in with "Bad Romance." She is the most obvious heir to Madonna's throne (there, I said it.) I hear a passing resemblance to "Express Yourself" but I think that it the similarities are, ironically, more obvious to non-die-hard fans.

    All that said, I don't care for Britney. Talk about someone that is completely manufactured.

  • At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gaga is getting the backlash all artists get when they set a new standard. Comparisons are silly - her biggest competition is her. I'd compare her more to a real artist like Pink than Britney (and I love Britney, but come on).

    Not my fave Gaga jam, but it's okay. It may grow on me. The melody and rhythm don't remind me of Madge. I am hearing more of a Scissor Sisters influence than Madge.

    And who cares if there is Madge influence? She grew up on her.

    And it's not like that old street walker didn't 'borrow' or draw influence from her peers and others before her.

  • At 1:03 PM, Blogger Joshua said…

    "Likewise, why shouldn't Lady Gaga be able to sing about drag queens and transgendered folks? Would it be better if she used homophobic lyrics?"


  • At 3:53 PM, Blogger lutz said…

    The fact that a song with those lyrics about "gay ,bi,straight, lesbian, transgendered life , born to survive " is Number One WORLDWIDE, that millions of people all over the world are subjected to this 20 times daily on the radio- how can anybody not love her for it? This has literally NEVER happened before. Honestly , this makes me so happy, and it makes me love her more than anything she had done before.

  • At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Godfrey said…

    The chap is absolutely just, and there is no question.
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  • At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Douglas said…

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