First Spin Saturdays: Lady GaGa’s “Born This Way”

Pop Culture, Soundtrek

If nothing else, a new GaGa release means new blood #literally… check out my friend, fellow music writer, and connoisseur of #prettykewl things, Corey Bell’s “At First Listen” of Lady GaGa’s Born This Way…


We all know that Lady GaGa has a pretty wild and vivid imagination.  This is quite obvious when it comes to her sense of fashion and her elaborate music videos and stage sets.  It is also very prevalent in her music, as we, her adoring and yet often puzzled fans, hang on her every lyric and note.  So it should come as no surprise that her new album, the heavily awaited and almost excessively promoted Born This Way, does not yield boring results in terms of being imaginative.

In my opinion, it borders on the bizarre.

Born This Way is comprised of an odd variety of songs that show an incredible range in musical style, depth, and lyrical prowess.  It’s a collection of powerful and hopeful messages that are often shrouded in dark, almost harrowing sound.  The lyrical content of the songs ranges from borderline superficiality to religious fantasy, creating a vast spectrum of music and poetry that she bounces back and forth across mercilessly throughout the album.  It starts off with the fuck-this-I’m-going-dancing anthem “Marry The Night”, in which she cries ‘Love is the new denim or black’, and not four songs later she enters into an entirely different realm with “Americano”, a Latin-infused political love odyssey set against the violent backdrop of today’s harsh immigration mandates (just to give you an idea of how all over the place this album really is).

Now, for weeks and months, GaGa has been teasing us with little snippets of Born This Way, beginning way back in February with the release of the title track, a romping, hopeful and inspiring song about loving yourself and letting your freak flag fly.  This message runs rampant amongst the albums fourteen tracks, skipping a few but landing hard on many.

Sometimes the musical accompaniment can be as cheesy as the message itself, such as in the beginning of “Hair”, another song about loving yourself for who you are, backed by tacky 90s-style synthesizers and thumping percussion.  However, in the second verse the sound takes a pleasing and unexpected turn and at times sounds like old-school video game music played through a tank of water.  “Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)” sounds almost as cheesy as the title itself, as GaGa bounces between encouraging us to be strong on the road to love and describing the mythical Highway Unicorn, a beast capable of universal love and understanding ‘with the fury of a saint in her eyes,’ but the music stays strong and yet somewhat terrifying.  Same in “Scheiße”: the message is a strong front for feminism (‘If you’re a strong female, you don’t need permission’), but the monotone, digitized German that is spoken in the beginning is almost off-putting,  as are the screeching howls that periodically punctuate the song.  “Bad Kids” carries the same message (again, I know) of loving yourself and blah blah blah, though it almost sounds like she is speaking to those who have been abused or put down by their parents.  I could be totally wrong on this, but I’ve only listened to the song like twice. Open for discussion.

There is a ton of religious subtext folded into the album as well, which is quite obvious in the fourth track “Judas“, which was the album’s second pre-released single, but is also very strong in the electro-ballad “Bloody Mary”, in which GaGa takes on the role of a prophetic Mary Magdalene pining after Jesus in a rave setting, cleverly tying in “Punk-tius” Pilate as a supporting character. Lots of shrieking in this song too, and similarly dark instrumentation.

Some songs are just like the GaGa we know and love.  The terribly infectious “Government Hooker” is perhaps the best song on the album, and it sounds like New Order is jamming with the Chemical Brothers behind GaGa’s call-and-response singing with herself and a man that I am assuming to be her producer RedOne, and silly lines like ‘Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy.’  It still carries a somewhat dark element though, as did much of the new wave music this track is almost certainly inspired by, as the life of a hooker, government or not, is definitely not always a happy one (‘I’m gonna drink my tears tonight’).  “Yoü and I” is a wonderfully heartfelt rock ballad about a love that got away (in Nebraska, apparently), and is one of the strongest tracks on the album. “Electric Chapel” is probably the closest to classic GaGa, as she praises the sanctuary that a dance-club can provide.  This track may indeed be an homage to the Limelight club, best known as the unofficial home of Michael Alig’s Club Kids in the late 80s and early 90s, which was located inside an actual church on 5th Avenue in NYC.

I’m pretty sure “Heavy Metal Lover” is about an orgy.  That’s all I have to say about that.

The whole thing ends on a peculiar note: the song “Edge of Glory.” The third pre-released single, it almost sounds like a love song: meeting up, going home, and being taken to the ‘edge of glory,’ which sounds like an orgasm (or almost one, I guess).  However, apparently the song is about something much deeper: the end of life, the moment of truth and revelation before death.  Written after the death of her grandfather, “Edge of Glory” beautifully illustrates a yearning to understand the experience of life, though the pain of not being able to do so is systematically hidden behind the epic dance beats and merciless bass-line, as most of us similarly will hide when tragedy strikes and we are left to ponder our own mortality.

Basically, I don’t know if I really understand this album yet.  I’ve only listened to it two or three times, and this is what I’ve gathered:  it’s a celebration of life.   It’s about celebrating who you are, from start (“Born This Way”) to finish (“Edge of Glory”), and everything in between, the good and the bad.  There is so much hope and optimism and encouragement woven into this album, though it is often hidden by unsettling, haunting, and often frightening music, because that’s how life is.  It’s dark and scary, but we’re gonna get through it, one way or another.  She’s just letting us know that she’s on our side, and that’s pretty damn cool.

Check out Corey’s blog at http://www.70milestoempty.com

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