Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lady Gaga's Born This Way

I know as of late it seems like all I do here is pimp Lady Gaga, rather than talk about movies as this blog was originally intended to be about. But I didn't name it The Entertainment Junkie for nothing, and the fact of the matter is that lately I've finally full-heartedly joined the ranks of the Little Monsters. Why? Well, I've written about a few tracks before, but now having heard her second full-length album, Gaga has finally, truly arrived as a singular pop star who has plenty of imitators, but no true contemporaries.

I've discussed before the different influences Gaga brings into her music, and how it's not all just Madonna-lite. In the months preceding the release of Born This Way, she stated in interviews that the album would have a strong rock influence. The obvious assumption here is that there would be less thumping 808s and more guitar-shredding, but that's not the case: Gaga's still in dance-pop mode, only it's much different from the sounds of The Fame or The Fame Monster. But the rock influence can clearly be heard in the music. Rock, at it's core, is all about big emotions: it's how the Beatles, U2, and Guns 'n' Roses became some of the biggest acts in the history of music. Soaring sing-along choruses, massive cathartic guitar riffs, lyrics that are simple yet immediately relatable; these define just about every subgenre of rock, at least in some sense. Gaga's taken this fundamental understanding of rock and applied it to this batch of songs, resulting in a record that's incredibly sincere for modern pop. Songs like "Marry the Night," "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)," and "The Edge of Glory" are unabashedly bursting with big emotion, and the result is pop nirvana. Sure, her lyrics may not be sharp or complex, but she more than makes up for it with sheer emotion. More rewarding, it's a complete 180 from the "Poker Face" alienation of her first two albums, inviting us into her life without actually providing any personal details or confessionals.

A problem I had with Gaga's first one-and-a-half albums is that her musical personality and her public personality were two separate entities. While Lady Gaga, human being, would dress provocatively in gloriously absurd fashion statements and spit out bon mots about how her creativity comes from her vagina, Lady Gaga, musician, created relatively safe pop songs that didn't really subvert or take many risks. She was doing things that no one else was as a star, but musically it was standard, if somewhat-above-average, pop. Born This Way brings these two separate personalities together, as her music is now as completely weird and wild as she is. There are operatic bits, the bouncy Latin exhuberence of "Americano," the German prologue to  "ScheiBe" (German-speaking readers: translation?), and the truly bizarre "Government Hooker," which name-checks John F. Kennedy, as well as two songs on which the E Street Band's Clarence Clemmons lends his wailing sax ("The Edge of Glory" and "Hair"). You genuinely will not find a huge pop star with an album this crazy, and that craziness only makes the music better.

In addition to the genre influence, there are several artists that immediately come to mind as well. "Hair" sounds incredibly theatrical, and would probably fit well within the Queen catalog. "Fashion of His Love," on the other hand, is vintage Michael Jackson, the kind of song that the King of Pop easily would have recorded during his Thriller years. And one of the album's standout tracks, "You and I," sounds like barroom-Elton John, with a slow country saunter that works surprisingly well (it's really the album's closest thing to a ballad). 

Ultimately, Lady Gaga occupies an interesting place in pop. She makes dance music, but there's a darkness to it that makes it difficult to dance to. She's not interested in getting your ass on the floor, nor is she interested in sweet romanticism for a lover's mixtape. Instead, she's making music about the underbelly of love and being yourself, and Born This Way is the summation of these two ideas in a loud, sincere, and delightfully weird pop masterpiece. She's legitimately one-of-a-kind now.

No comments: