Album: Born This Way
Artiste: Lady Gaga
Released: May 23rd 2011
Reviewer: Raymond Mpubani
With Lady Gaga, it’s very difficult to separate the personality from the music. If you listened to her music without knowing the person behind it and liked it, coming to know her would change that; you’d either love her more, or feel a disconnect with her larger-than-life, contentious personality. Obviously there are people who care little about the personality and more about the music but with Gaga these are very few.
Her outrageous, all-eyes-on-me fashion sense, extravagant and drawn-out music videos, and just about every public statement she makes demand that you pay her attention. And just in case you ever wondered what drove her, what all those antics and carefully choreographed personality were supposed to accomplish, the names of her first album and subsequent EP have your answer: The Fame and The Fame Monster.
And oh my, hasn’t she succeeded? According to Forbes she’s the most powerful celebrity, ahead of Oprah, Justin Bieber (gosh!) and Lebron James. Her influence stems from her 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million twitter followers. Those loyal fans crashed the servers of online retailer Amazon when it released her newest album, Born This Way, on May 23rd. 288,000 copies of the album were bought that very day, making it the fastest selling album of 2011.
The brilliant self-promoter she is, Gaga has tossed aside creativity on Born This Way and decided to tap into this hyper-loyalty, delivering a bland and very ordinary album. The only difference between the songs and those sung by Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Rihanna, and the rest of the rote electronic dance-pop crowd are the triumph-laden lyrics lionising unorthodoxy and overflowing in freedom exhortations. After two very similar but brilliant albums packaged with delicious hooks (Poker Face, Bad Romance) and tromping melodies (Alejandro, Telephone), the logical expectation was something different, probably a more subtle and reflective record.
Instead, it’s her loudest album so far, musically and thematically. With fame, her holy grail, in one hand, she knows that all she has to do is push a few buttons and everyone else will converge towards her. She ups the synthesizers and drums, resulting into a migraine-inducing house and techno-heavy record; “sledgehammering dance beats” was the phrase used by Gaga herself to describe the album.
On the thumping, strident lead single Born This Way, she’s not so much protesting as she’s reassuring one of her core audiences, the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals) community. Openly bisexual herself, she proclaims that “I’m beautiful in my way, Cause God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track, baby,” and continues the same theme on Americano where she describes meeting an immigrant woman in Los Angeles and falling in love. Marry the Night, the opening song, is conventional disco and sets the tone for the rest of the album— lifting up a finger to loneliness and declaring that she “won’t give up on my life” but will instead “live passionately tonight.”
Lady Gaga has been accused before of overly referencing other artistes, especially Madonna and Queen, and on The Edge of Glory she backhands those concerns by bringing on Bruce Springsteen’s collaborator Clarence Clemmons to do exactly that. Judas and You And I are just about the only two bearable songs, the former because it could belong on any of her first two records; inescapable chorus, hollers à la Bad Romance and cheesy sing-songy rapping, the type that Ke$ha excels at. She slows down on the second last song, You And I, a beautiful piano ballad you’d have no trouble believing was sung by Shania Twain.
Techno lovers, and those who belong to the LGBT camp, this is your album: don’t listen to those who judge your lifestyle but rather take heart because that’s what God wanted you to be. But, those looking for a sound that deviates from the noise that modern pop has morphed into will have to keep looking. Born This Way is Gaga’s loud reminder to other pop stars that they can’t top her; she has outshouted them and consolidated her pulpit as the most credible “weird” preacher. The thing is, you’ll have to hold tight as she whirls you through her sermons.