In the largely homogenous climate of current pop music, Lady GaGa has managed to continuously carve out her own unique niche. From her sometimes confounding fashion choices to her outlandish stage performances, it’s safe to say that whether you’re a fan of the ‘Judas’ singer or not, you’re at the very least paying attention to what she has to say.
Born This Way – the follow-up to GaGa’s (nee Stefani Germanotta) tremendously successful Fame Monster EP – continues to build upon her carefully molded persona of half-woman, half-performance art piece and proves to be provocative, if not rather disappointing in places.
Much of the album’s major downfall is its insistence upon seeming more than the sum of its parts, aiming to be a larger-than-life manifesto rather than the quirky and at times irreverent dance record that it actually is. Lyrics which listeners are meant to take seriously come off as oafish and laughable – take ‘Bad Kid’, a rather catchy ’80s-inspired romp which is ruined by GaGa’s overly earnest crooning of the track’s chorus, which exclaims “I’m not that typical, baby / I’m a bad kid like my mom and dad made me / I’m not that cool and you hate me / I’m a bad kid and that’s the way that they made me”. In ‘Heavy Metal Lover’, she propositions a suitor with the eye roll-inducing rhyme “I want your whiskey mouth / all over my blonde south”.
These are just a few examples of the cringe-worthy content within Born This Way’s fourteen tracks. Rhythmically, the record wouldn’t be out of place coming from the speakers during a retro aerobics class or the club. It’s not a bad thing, really – especially considering that most listeners tune into GaGa more for danceability than poetry. However, it does give pause to much of the critical acclaim which has been piled on her over the past few years from critics who have deemed her to be the equivalent of the second coming.
Born This Way is certainly not without its merits. In fact, many songs contain GaGa’s trademark dose of hope and encouragement, always a drawing point for those attracted to her inspirational anthems. The title track – which also serves as the first single – did phenomenally well in the charts and became such a smash that it’s been performed by the likes of the cast of Glee and the finalists of American Idol.
Still, the album’s weaker tracks – the nonsensical German raver theme ‘Schiße’ to the pulsating strangeness of ‘Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)’ stick out like sore thumbs – create such a distraction that selections which actually showcase GaGa’s true strongwriting ability are often drowned out or simply too easy to ignore.
When GaGa does good, she does amazingly well. ‘Electric Chapel’ is a particular highlight, another bouncy ’80s Flashdance-inspired number complete with jagged electric guitar riffs. Same goes for the Robert “Mutt” Lange and Brian May-produced ‘You and I”, a heady rock number that takes obvious inspiration from the singer’s major musical influence, Queen.
While Born This Way is an extremely listenable album, it lacks the freshness that made GaGa’s past releases so fun. Instead, what was once an almost naive light-heartedness has been replaced by a consciousness of ego, a change which not only visible in the music, but in the star herself. Many of the songs suffer from an almost crippling self-awareness and end up seeming more contrived than convincing. Still, there’s no denying that GaGa is doing something entirely different than anything else currently on the scene, and that alone is worth giving a listen.
Jennifer Still has an overwhelming fondness for pizza, afternoon naps and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. She rarely changes out of pyjamas during the weekdays. Or the weekends. She writes at stilljennifer.com and tweets at @jenniferlstill