Anyone that denies the similarities between Lady GaGa and Madonna are deceiving themselves. Both ladies have so much in common with their backgrounds and their musical styles that only a fool could miss it. However, anyone still relying on such a comparison is also incredibly lazy. A lot of the sounds on Born This Way are reminiscent of various periods of Madonna’s career, from her mid-90’s R&B infused Bedtime Stories, to 2000’s house-based Music and of course her late 80’s pop classics. What Madonna has done over two decades lends itself to this single record by Lady GaGa. Of course, pushing that comparison out there has become as overdone as the claims that GaGa herself is overdoing the Madonna inspirations. And such, those comparisons are becoming a caricature of themselves to the point where people are looking for things to compare to Madonna that make little, if any sense at all.
There’s more to Born This Way than being inspired by Madonna’s discography. There’s an overwhelming sense of time-travel on the tracks that fuse pop, rock ‘n’ roll, dance and techno from the 80s to the 2000s. GaGa explained time and time again what the sound of the record would be and as much as she said it, the idea was still unimaginable and yet, she’s exactly right. Arena rock ‘n’ roll meets heavy dance beats. As it is, the sound of the record is very heavy on the first listen when compared to 2008’s The Fame and 2009’s The Fame Monster. The closest anything comes to those records might be with Heavy Metal Lover, which lends its production to the Fernando Garibay sound from Dance In The Dark.
Garibay is the producer behind a majority of the album, including the first single Born This Way and the latest radio release The Edge Of Glory. RedOne, the guy whose production on her biggest hits Just Dance, Poker Face and Bad Romance made him a household name, is also present on a number of tracks including Judas and Scheiße, two songs with similarities to the distinct layout that Bad Romance has. Those tracks are also the heaviest sounding on the record. Sacrificing any sort of sonic buildup and just diving right in to the hard, sweaty, thumping beats that tend to be restricted only to the club.
Despite there being an obvious advance in her overall sound that goes beyond the norm for today’s pop standard, the record is almost entirely pulled from the 80’s. From the production to the heavily reverbed snare that was so evident in 80’s hair metal and rock ‘n’ roll, the influence is clear. Hair lends itself to Cyndi Lauper meets Tiffany, complete with the distinct snarl that was apparent in so many of the decade’s pop hits that has since vanished. Listen specifically to the line in the bridge “don’t wanna change and I don’t wanna be ashamed” to hear this. Bad Kids sounds like it could have come from a blended Pat Benatar/Jane Child/Kim Wilde-like session. Single-worthy Marry The Night soars while Electric Chapel has a slightly more ambience to it likened to Bronski Beat.
One of things I personally would have done differently was with the recording of Yoü And I. Perhaps it’s due to my absolute hatred of Queen‘s We Will Rock You, which is sampled in the Robert “Mutt” Lange produced track, or perhaps it’s the mostly lacking piano that gave the song a certain charm when GaGa unveiled it during last year’s Monster Ball tour. Either way, Yoü And I doesn’t quite meet my expectations. Still another standout track on Born This Way, with its country flare and huge drums, it’s not the southern piano rocker I imagined it to be but an 80’s rocking anthem rock which admittedly probably better suits the record anyway. Of course, I wouldn’t let my own expectations effect whether or not I think the final result is worthy. Yoü And I is classic GaGa as she shows the musician side of her that often hides beneath the beats and synths of the rest of the album. This song is as close as the record gets to the GaGa people see in concert and therefore might be the album’s most magical recording. It’s biggest weakness, though, may be that GaGa’s vocals aren’t showcased as they should be. They’re buried beneath the huge production and aren’t as strong as they normally are when she performs it.
Cover for the extended version of Lady GaGa's Born This Way
Not to be completely boxed in with the 80’s label, GaGa does mix things up a bit with Americano, a spanish-flavoured recording that goes beyond what Alejandro contained. While it barely fits in with the rest of the record, it’s sound makes it stand out as one of the highlights. Government Hooker is a mischievous song that oozes sex placed over an irresistible mid-tempo thump. The Edge of Glory, the record’s closing track, serves as a grand finale for a musical journey that doubles as a life well lived. The song, which she wrote after the death of her grandfather, is about the final moments of life before death when you conclude that life was full and complete. Despite the repetitive chorus, the lyrics here are the album’s best as far as being emotive and heartfelt. The E-Street Band‘s Clarence Clemons provides an incredible saxophone solo that extends to the end of the song, reminiscent of a flat-lining heart monitor, signalling the end.
The songs on Born This Way have soaring choruses which are very melodic. So much so that they would most likely work convincingly in bare bones versions as they do with their full-sounding album counterparts. It’s obvious with such strong melodies that these songs were written on the piano as GaGa has admitted to doing with much of her previous work. In addition to the aforementioned 80’s sounds, some of the melodies in the choruses are often throwbacks to the 90’s Europop sound such as in Scheiße and Bloody Mary, the latter of which sounds like GaGa spent some time listening to Ace of Base‘s The Bridge record.
Coming full circle with the Madonna linkage, Born This Way is not without its faults. Despite the “rip-off” criticism directed at the single Born This Way that I still don’t hear, even after listening to both it and Express Yourself back-to-back and trying to find suitable mashups that compare the two, there is a track on the extended edition of the record that does sound eerily similar to it. Fashion Of His Love is definitely the most 80’s-influenced song in the Born This Way project with verses so similar to Madonna that it is impossible to ignore. (The Fernando Garibay remix takes off some of the edge making it sound more modern.) Some may say that it’s a purposeful “you want Express Yourself? You’ve got it!” but it’s a major misstep that will most likely be misinterpreted rather than a cheerful Hell Yeah! Unfortunately, the similarities are also present, though not as obvious, in another of the bonus tracks Black Jesus + Amen Fashion.
It wouldn’t be a GaGa product without a host of one-liners that will likely enter the consciousness of pop culture. “I want your whiskey mouth/all over my blonde south”, “Put your hands on me/John F. Kennedy” and “Jesus is the new black” to name a few. Otherwise, it’s too early to tell the impact that Born This Way may have on the pop stratosphere in the months and years to come but judging by the massive promo campaign prior to its release, GaGa has again raised the bar for future projects by her contemporaries. Musically, Born This Way may not be entering new territory but GaGa has made the decision to move onward by relying on influences from decades ago. If successful, her fellow pop stars will follow. She raised the bar with her music videos and again with this project’s promotion, whether her music can have that same influence is the open question. The end result is a record you have to work with before it cements itself into your brain but it’s very rewarding. Born This Way will likely one of the most exciting records of the year because of the hype built around it, incredibly catchy melodies and intense production.
1. Marry The Night
2. Born This Way
3. Government Hooker
8. Bloody Mary
9. Black Jesus + Amen Fashion*
10. Bad Kids
11. Fashion Of His Love*
12. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
13. Heavy Metal Lover
14. Electric Chapel
15. The Queen*
16. Yoü And I
17. The Edge Of Glory
1. Born This Way [Country Road Version]*
2. Judas [DJ White Shadow Remix]*
3. Marry The Night [Zedd Remix]*
4. Scheiße [DJ White Shadow Mugler]*
5. Fashion Of His Love [Fernando Garibay Remix]* * song on extended version only