Six or seven months ago, I thought I hated this album.
Well, ‘hate’ is probably a strong word. I liked many of the tracks. Maybe ambivalent is a better word. Great singles, but perhaps dull overall. A disappointment from one of my favorite pop artists.
But since I heard it right before I went on tour with The Contraptions (who, by the way, have a Kickstarter up now), I didn’t have chance to properly think about what I really thought of the album, nor did I have a chance to write my thoughts about it down or to listen to the album deeply more. After that, I just listened to the singles and went on my way.
Until I listened to it again recently on a sleep deprived trip back to Atlanta.
Ladies, Gentlemen, and those out of the bianary… Let’s talk about Born This Way.
The sleep deprived listen came after I decided to listen to newest single ‘Marry The Night’ before skipping around to other songs. But when you’re sleep deprived, skipping around doesn’t sound appealing. So instead of skipping around, I just let the special edition of Born This Way play all the way through. To my surprise, instead of a dull mess of an album with a few standout songs, I actually found a very intricate and complex album that easily fits into the GaGa mythos.
GaGa’s career has been in phases that coordinate with the material of the album she’s releasing. While this isn’t an unusual thing to do, it’s a thing that plays an essential part of GaGa’s ever evolving image. In the days of The Fame, GaGa was the polished pop star chasing after what she thought fame and fortune was. She built her career from what the public perception of pop music is.
Then came The Fame Monster, which is where the title of ‘Little Monster’ started. An eight song EP that was intended to be a re-release of The Fame, it was actually a very intricate reflection of the things GaGa had encountered since achieving the fame she so desperately wanted before. It’s not a “I wanted to be famous, but it sucks, so now I want to be normal” record, but rather the dark side of getting what you wanted. This is reflected in both lyrical tone and the more Gothic and Industrial overtones of some of the songs. The album includes the singles ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Telephone’, but also my favorite piano ballad of hers, a Bowie-esque number called ‘Speechless’ that was written for her father when he was close to giving up on his life. It’s probably one of the most honest songs she’s written and The Fame Monster is probably my favorite GaGa release to date.
So where does this leave Born This Way? I know GaGa has claimed that it’s her being reborn, but after a few listens, I feel like this is GaGa looking back on what got her here and her declaration that she’s proud of her roots. This is obvious in songs like ‘Born This Way’ and ‘Hair’. ‘Born This Way’ still has some… awkward… lyrics, but ‘Hair’ feels like the more honest declaration of being yourself. I know that some people (read: Amanda Palmer) have interpreted the song to mean that GaGa is telling you that your hair is your only means of expression, but I feel like that’s wrong. GaGa has said that the song is easily something her 15 year old self could have written after being made fun of at school. For GaGa, it’s a declaration of personal expression. She finds her freedom in changing her hair and she encourages her fans to stick to what makes them unique. I prefer the acoustic piano versions, but after a few relistens, I realize it’s a song I wish I heard when I was 15, though I don’t think I would have listened.
This reflection also comes across in songs like ‘Judas’, ‘You and I’, ‘Bloody Mary’, and ‘Schiesse’. ‘Judas’ and ‘Bloody Mary’ very obviously call back to GaGa’s Catholic upbringing, but also parallel it to being in love with someone who is bad for you. ‘You and I’ as well as ‘The Fashion of His Love’ is about the one person you keep coming back to, even if they are bad for you. And ‘Schiesse’ is about… well… the bullshit women have to go through, especially to make it in music. As for the music, the previously mentioned ‘Marry The Night’ is all about the moment GaGa decided to devote herself completely to her music. While this might not be obvious in the song itself, it certainly is in the video.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that GaGa strays away from getting a little political in her way. ‘Americano’, which is my third favorite song on the album, is her take on Gay Marriage. It might not come across clearly at first, but the story is about GaGa meeting a girl and running off to Mexico to get married because she can’t get married in the US. It’s a catchy song that makes a good point and could easily fit into her ‘Paparazzi’ saga if she ever decided to make a video for it.
As for my two favorite songs, they’re ‘The Edge of Glory’ and ‘You and I’. ‘You and I’ is this grand old school rock number that just stirs up so much nostalgia and memories of love for me. It also shows that sometimes, the best combination in GaGa Land is her and her piano. And ‘The Edge of Glory’, it’s the ultimate song of triumph, but it also a wonderful remembrance of life. GaGa wrote it for her Grandfather to remember his life, and it reminds me of mine, whom I lost earlier this year to Lung Cancer.
The album isn’t just a lyrical reflection, but a musical one as well. Songs like ‘Fashion of His Love’ and ‘Black Jesus – Amen Fashion’ sound like they were plucked from the 90s. Especially ‘Fashion of His Love’. I swear it sounds like the Gloria Estefan songs my father in this dimension enjoys. ‘Hair’ and ‘The Edge of Glory’ feature the classic saxaphone songs of Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band, who passed away shortly after ‘The Edge of Glory’ was released as a single. They bring a certain element of the past to the futuristic sound of those songs, which is appropriate for the material. ‘You and I’ exercises this the most. While most people say that the song is very Shania Twain due to the influence of producer Mutt Lange, I feel like the song has a very Queen like feel to it. And I don’t say that because of Brian May’s excellent guitar work on the song. This sounds like something Freddie could have sung. Man, he would have loved her…
Now, this record isn’t perfect. Some parts of it feel overproduced, and there are some songs I still have a hard time getting into, such as ‘Electric Chapel’. However, it is much better and deeper than I thought it was before. I should know better than to take GaGa at surface level and I’m sorry it took me so long to realize this.
Plus, it has some REALLY good grooves. ‘Government Hooker’ especially. Say what you will about Lady GaGa, the woman can write a damn good dance song.