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Single Review: Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"

Lady Gaga

You've no doubt heard this already: Lady Gaga's new single, "Born This Way," sounds more than a little bit like Madonna's "Express Yourself." But given that Madge's vocals have rarely sounded as rich and soulful than they do on that song, this will probably be one of the few times Gaga's voice sounds like her idol's. Hey, hey, hey.

"I consider myself to have one of the greatest voices in the industry. I consider myself to be one of the greatest songwriters," Gaga says in the latest issue of Vogue. This is, perhaps, the only area where she strays from the template designed by Madonna, who has often said that she's more interested in provoking thought and empowering people than with attaining technical perfection. But as ever, where the Queen of Pop's messages have typically originated from a distinctly female perspective (and then been applied to or adopted by other minority groups, most famously the gay community), Gaga goes straight to the source—despite a "Vogue"-style rap that also makes reference to race and the disabled. Machine's "There But for the Grace of God Go I" meets Glee.

"Born This Way" is an unapologetically queer anthem, one you can already bet will be pumping from floats up and down every gay pride parade from San Francisco to Berlin this summer. It's also hard not to imagine the track playing as the cheesy opening theme to some kooky family sitcom about a brood of dysfunctional misfits. The lyrics, widely snickered at online when Gaga leaked them late last month, work better in this catchy, disco-trash context, but "Born This Way" is still dripping with schmaltz.

In a savvy move, Gaga premiered the single at six a.m. this morning so that all of her "little monsters" could hear it before crawling out of their dens and putting on their armor for another day of battle. In the Vogue piece, Gaga says she doesn't want them to see her as "human," as if that would break some sacred monster bond. But to that point, "Born This Way" isn't about her emotions, or what she's going through. It's about her fans. Which begs the question: When the adoration fades, which it inevitably will, what's going to fuel her? Gaga has set up a creative apparatus that's inherently designed to break down. Until then, though, there's a sense, listening to the song, that Gaga has tapped into something truly special, maybe even important. The song's message is certainly one that the world's youth needs to hear now more than ever. And I can't think of a better messenger.

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8 Responses to “Single Review: Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"”

  1. Duncan on

    This last sentence worries me. As a member of the 'gay youth', I am ready to throw off the shackles of the Diva-Gay relationship. We are always in the inferior position – - – it is time to achieve self-actualization, to trump the diva in her role as Gay Ambassador, accepted as she is for her generally conventional sexuality (I refer to most divas here, not just Gaga). It's time to represent ourselves! I have spoken.

  2. Oddly enough, Duncan, I almost did add "Except a gay man" at the end of this piece, but the song is ostensibly not just targeting gays, but all "outsiders." That said, in an ideal world, you're probably right that a gay man should deliver the message, but in that world, a song like this wouldn't be necessary anyway. I can't think of a gay male artist who has the kind of platform and visibility that Gaga has right now, so I stand by my final sentence. Besides, Gaga does identify as bisexual, however authentic you believe that label to be.

  3. greenpatches on

    The politics are plenty respectable, and there's certainly nothing overtly offensive about this tune – but maybe that's my issue with it? I've never been a huge fan of hers, but even I can see the intellectual decline from her previous work and this new single. Where's the subversion? What happened to the provocation? It's such a safe, innocuous piece of music.

  4. betom81 on

    Dear Sal, i've been reading your reviews since awhile ago and now, for the first time i commenting on one of your often brilliant pieces. I'm not fan, neither a hater, but the song just doesn't live up to the hype. Isn't anything new or prodigial, as everybody labeled it to be. It's just a good pop song, not even a Bad Romance caliber. Maybe she can top the charts, but i really think that from here she's going down. The girl is good, but without doubt she will be remembered as the best Madonna impersonator of all time.

  5. Mike321 on

    I think I'm even more surprised by her arrogance. Once a singer reaches that stage where she says she's one of the best, it worries me. It's one thing to think it, and use it to fuel your own craft (Beyonce and Alicia Keys, for example, have an understated confidence in knowing their own greatness); it's another thing to tell people that you are, or should be, one of the best that's out there. I can name 10 singers (Christina, Fantasia, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce, Adele, Alicia Keys, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, and Charice) who can all outsing Gaga, even on their worst days. Gaga is amusing, in a temporary, ephemeral sort of way. We only bear her because we expect her to be gone soon, despite her frequent cries for attention.

    The song is ok at best. On one end, we have a singer who probably really does care about her gay fans and people who are different. And she wants to be the voice of the marginalized. But on the other end, we have a singer who is catering to the gay community while simultaneously milking them for everything they've got. Madonna and Cher have built a career on a gay demographic, and this is simply Gaga following in their footsteps, to secure a few more years at the top.

  6. ogqozo on

    "I consider myself to be one of the greatest songwriters", says Gaga, who's promoting her new album with a Madonna rehash even more repetitive and uninspired than everything she'd done before.

  7. Carrie on

    "I consider myself to be one of the greatest songwriters" I LAUGH OUT LOUD! I can't totally get when a normal person says that, but not a singer. Lady Gaga needs to go beyond top 40 to see how mediocre she is. She's not the top female of today and not the top of tomorrow. "Bluffin with my Muffin" might be grammy material but is just awful and not shocking or groundbreaking compared to what other females already did 20 years or more ago. Can't believe music critics are actually buying this song hype. It was so overhyped and didn't deliver it. Joanna Newsom was right, Gaga is great in dealing with her image, but she her music is average and derivative. It's the truth. Nothing that Gaga did hasn't been done before. Music wise, which is what music critics should care, not buy Gaga's image. This song has awful cliched lyrics a-la Firework and Christina Aguilera's Beautiful, though the later was saved by one of the few great deliveries of Aguilera (she likes to oversing). Not only this song is poor lyrically, but the instrumentation is a rehash of Madonna's Express Yourself meeting TLC's Waterfalls. And people rave about it? Honestly you people are so crazy for having a new Madonna that anything this chick does will be praised now and honestly i don't need a New Madonna, a Madonna of my generation. I need someone to do what she did and break boundaries, not break what was already broken or follow footsteps. People in pop like Robyn, Janelle Monaé, M.I.A. and Annie that deliver the goods and people in other area of musics doing things different and actually original and groundbreaking.

    Stop the Gaga overhyping and give the attention to next week when PJ Harvey releases masterpiece #8, now that is a singer/songwriter among the best of all time and of the industry. 20 years and counting, not a bad album and shaking England and music. And you tell me that a a Madonna copycat rehashing her songs in 3 years is the best we got and what we need? I am bored this way! NEXT and better be original!

  8. No-Personality on

    I was thinking when I was listening to The Fame some time ago that "cherry cherry, boom boom" had been a legitimate recurring theme (and I do believe "I'm a free bitch" was the "cherry, boom" of Monster). Is "put your paws up" the new one we'll hear throughout Born This Way?

    The raps are very embarrassing, but damn this song is catchy. There are a lot of but's to every good thing that could be said about what I assume this song suggests ahead in Gaga's new direction. The second I heard "Born This Way" was the title of the new album, I was afraid that would signal a laziness to her new material. Like Sal says, now her fanlove is fueling her. Is that why she's singing better now? Is she going to try as hard as she did with Monster? Either way, keeping us waiting so long for this might wind up being a mistake. I mean… didn't she consider that the first single might be more important, so she could have let this rest on its' heels instead and delivered a real heavy-hitter as the album's premiere?

    Maybe I'm jaded, but I'm not sure I buy the message whole-heartedly. I'm not talking about her convinction in it. That's not something I'd ever question. She's got the passion. I question the fruit it bears. Whether it's ripe enough. Or, if maybe she waited too long to serve it and now it's too soft (as greenpatches suggested). I'm not kidding about the wait, it's been too long. If only there were some promise that if Born This Way is cold on arrival, there might be a Born This Way: Monster standing by to lift up the sagging ends.

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