Hype is an ugly, impossible hump to overcome.
After Perez Hilton named it “one of the best songs of Gaga’s career,” Vogue‘s Jonathan Van Meter described it as an “unbelievably great dance song, destined to be the anthem of every gay-pride event for the next 100 years” and Elton John dubbed it “the anthem that’s going to obliterate ‘I Will Survive,'” Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way” was already mired by impossibly high expectations.
Naturally then, it was almost too obvious that the song would ultimately–or at least, initially disappoint a few (or more) upon its release this morning.
For one thing, it’s a grower. Unlike “Bad Romance,” which supplied me with what I like to refer to as ‘the “Since U Been Gone” effect’ and had me almost literally gasping for air, “Born This Way” felt noisy, underwhelming (a symptom of hype overload, no doubt) and cartoon-ish (my mind somehow went straight to PokÃ©mon).
Additionally, “Born This Way” has arrived late to the party of “It Gets Better” pop anthems; the recent surge of self-empowerment, ‘flaws-and-all’ equality anthems that make up some of the biggest bangers of the past six months, including Ke$ha‘s “We R Who We R,” P!nk‘s “Raise Your Glass” and “Fuckin’ Perfect” and Katy Perry‘s “Firework.”
While all of the above songs were almost certainly scribed with a primary purpose to compete with Gaga’s upcoming single (as she had announced the theme of Born This Way and its title track a long, long ago), the track ends up packing a distinctly less modern, cutting bite than the efforts by her contemporaries.
And then there’s that unavoidable comparison: Madonna‘s “Express Yourself,” a connection so obvious that, at one point, the words “Madonna” and “Express Yourself” were trending on Twitter right along with #BornThisWayFriday this morning.
It’s not so much that “Born This Way” simply sounds similar to “Express Yourself.” (Lord knows, I treasure enough derivative pop to overlook that fact.) It’s that the melody is at times virtually indistinguishable from Madonna’s 1989 hit–to the point where it’s almost impossible to avoid singing the wrong lyrics.
When Gaga sings, “I’m beautiful in my way, ’cause God makes no mistakes,” I want to sing right back: “So if you want it right now, then let me show you how.” And when she sings: “I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way!” I hear “Baby, ready or not / Express what you got!” (And please, if you’re really so mindless to argue that they don’t sound the same at all, I’ll provide the snippets from each song–they are.)
So what does it mean? Everything and nothing, really. You could call it unoriginal, but pop is cyclical. I guess it’s great that “Born This Way” sounds like a song that’s amazing, but it doesn’t really offer a better alternative or improvement either.
Although there’s nothing particularly inventive about this production, the underlying message of the song is positive and praiseworthy. I’m very grateful that Gaga continues to genuinely stress the point of equality–especially in regards to LGBT rights–and that this song delivers the message as promised. If it inspires or encourages even one child to live the way they want to live, then Gaga is nothing less than a saint.
In a related note, the lyrics–as PopJustice’s Peter Robinson rightly assured us in his review–are not as heavy-handed in song form than they are on paper. Instead, they’re great (if not a mouthful) in moments, and a little bit garbage (“subway kid”) in others.
Much in the same way that, say, Kristine W‘s musical output is great, so too is “Born This Way”: It’s campy, fun and flamboyant–from Gaga’s overly theatrical delivery to Garibay’s surging, ’90’s Xenomania-esque club beat. “Born This Way” is a drag queen’s wet dream, which will make it all all the more interesting to see how the song performs to mainstream audiences.
I suppose my greatest issue with “Born This Way” is that, after over thirty plays and counting, I remain hopelessly neither here nor there: I don’t entirely love it, but I certainly don’t hate it either. If it was played at a club, I would probably dance to it. If it was played in my car, I would probably sing to it. But if I never heard it again, would I feel like I’ve missed out on something? I really don’t think so.
Is “Born This Way” the defining theme of a generation? Perhaps, but certainly not one to which I belong.
In the end, hyperbole is hyperbole and pop is pop. And just because “Born This Way” isn’t actually the new “I Will Survive” doesn’t mean it’s not, at the very least, enjoyable.
So, just dance…it’ll be okay.