The problem with being continually talked about is that, eventually, people expect you to weigh in with your own contribution to the writing of your legend. No one in the world of pop is more talked about than Lady Gaga and as a result ‘Born This Way’ comes under a heavy weight of expectation. Given the mysterious, ‘conceptual artist’ caricature that has developed around her over the last two years, it’s easy to forget that Lady Gaga got famous by writing pop songs - very normal pop songs at that - songs about wanting to dance rather than answer the phone, about being in love with the wrong guy etc...
So, the real question facing ‘Born This Way’ is whether Gaga is able to marry her, now massive, reputation for being, for want of a better word, a bit weird, with the public’s desire for straight forward, easy to relate to, pure enjoyment, floor fillers? The answer is yes. Just about.
The album’s best song, ‘Schiebe’, illustrates just how she does it. Most of it’s in German so I’m not entirely sure what it’s about, all I know is that it somehow manages to turn the trashiest euro-trance, happy house influences into something enjoyable. It sounds like a preened pop star being forced to do a gig on the back of a Staines-bound bus, resolutely crooning over the clashing blare of various Gatecrasher endorsed ringtones, which, if it’s possible, I mean as praise.
Other ‘grimey’ tracks like ‘Government Hooker’ pull off the same trick, appropriating the dress code of another genre, before ripping it off to reveal that the costume underneath is nothing other than the plain grey, highstreet maxi dress of AM radio pop. In the end it’s the bog standard stuff that she does best, and this is where the album’s appeal lies.
The reversion to a rigorous normality, which, almost aggressively, permeates each song (generally in the chorus) is Gaga’s biggest strength, as it allows her to simultaneously cultivate her brand, whilst making the most of sometimes anonymous sounding musical moments. ‘Judas’, already, is a perfect example. The intro, with its overtly twisted cries of “ju-das-ju-ju-da-das-ga-ga” serves almost as a Craig David style ID. The chorus however, taken on its own, could be anyone, singing about anything.
Gaga started her career trying to write material for Britney Spears, and if you had your eyes closed this could be her, or any number of people. This chameleon quality allows Gaga to cover a lot of ground on ‘Born This Way’. The fame monster becomes shape shifter.
‘On You and I’ she is seemingly possessed by the spirit of Shania Twain, adopting a faux country twang which inexplicably gives way to a guitar solo that see’s Brain May relocate to the confederacy. On ‘The Edge of Glory’ she’s Bruce Springsteen, complete with god-awful saxophone. On ‘Americano’ she steps into Ruby Wax on Broadway territory. ‘Bloody Mary’ leans towards dark electro, but they, and the rest of the fourteen tracks her assembled, all give way to inoffensive pop hooks.
Even when the lyrics touch on sexual liberation, rebellion or blasphemy, there’s no feeling that you’re on dangerous ground. It’s to Gaga’s credit that ‘Judas’ probably won’t make any believers feel threatened, that ‘Government Hooker’ has about as much political intent as Nicky Wire’s toe nail clippings.
It’s fairly widely accepted that The Beatles made some of the most well crafted, innovative and enduring pop music ever made. It’s often forgotten that at the time their young fans didn’t care about any of that. At most of their gigs their music couldn’t even be heard, the fans were appreciating it so loudly. This state of affairs prompted the group to complain that the world was using their music as an excuse to go crazy.
The Gaga phenomenon is basically an inverted version of the same formula. She acts crazy as an excuse for the world to enjoy her, relatively straight forward, pop music. It works perfectly.
Those at home in the shallow end of pop are led into some slightly choppier water, whilst having their hands firmly held (“it’s like art or something!?!”); those that want to be shocked in a completely harmless way are regularly obliged (“a suit made of meat, my god!”), whilst those too pompous to listen to anything from the charts are readily invited to invent some post-modern validity to it all (“her almost mechanical costumes put one in mind of the Dadaist paintings of Francis Picabia!”) allowing all concerned parties to grind about on the dance floor together, a confused, amorphous – yet often exciting – mess.
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