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Snap Judgment: Lady Gaga, 'Born This Way'

Kx5e63nc In pop, liberation is often the linchpin in a marketing plan. Whether or not personal conviction compels an artist to tell stories that inspire listeners to strive toward greater compassion toward themselves and others, pop stars and their producers know that fan loyalty is most predictably earned by generating good times: A sad song usually gets its hooks into listeners one at a time, but with a party song, you can acquire the jumbo pack. The savviest crowd pleasers perfectly balance danceable music that sheds inhibitions like so many jackets thrown off on a dance floor with bearably pious lyrics that make getting down feel like a form of moral uplift.

Ladies and queens, Gaga gives you "Born This Way."

Notable not only because it's the first single from her upcoming album of the same title, but also as a statement of purpose for the monster-diva at this phase in her career, "Born This Way" is a freak anthem (one of the basic formations in Gaga's double playbook of dance music and classic rock) that directly connects to the most powerful trend in current liberation movements -- which doesn't necessarily point toward the joyful subversion of norms that Gaga seems to otherwise champion.

"This belief in a predetermined sexual orientation is most visible in the emerging conservatism in the gay rights movement," the communications professor Robert Alan Brookey has written, noting that "assimilationists attempt to show that homosexuals can embrace the same values they are supposed to threaten." Instead of embracing pacifism, gays and lesbians fight to participate in the military; the dream of building new, polymorphous versions of sex and family gives way to the fight to have a matching-tux or white-gown wedding.

Gaga's new song serves as the perfect expression of this bold mainstreaming of cultural outlaws. "Don't be a drag, just be a queen!" she chants in her fierce voice, pointing her fans away from the incendiary trickery of the flamboyant transvestite and toward a more feel-good form of individual celebration.

She imitates Madonna's deadpan rap from "Vogue," but where Madge's song celebrated the way Harlem drag artists (and stars like herself) made posing into a defensive warrior stance, Gaga offers a clever update on the Benneton ad concept of marketable variety -- "You're black, white, beige, chola descent, you're Lebanese, you're orient," she intones, her clever if odd list ending on a pun that invokes both "Orientalism" and "orientation." When Madonna recorded "Vogue" and "Express Yourself," which "Born This Way" also recalls, intense arguments about what shape liberation should take dominated liberal circles. Gaga's moment is different: "Born This Way" never hints that outsiders should remake the world in their image, instead invoking God and mommy to suggest that society's frameworks need not change, only open their doors a little wider.

This is the same glass ceiling smasher's dream of liberation promoted on "Glee" and through projects such as the It Gets Better Project; it's pragmatic and focused on personal epiphanies rather than sweeping social change. Gaga's clear embrace of this stance reinforces her status as the ideal rock star for a world struggling to center itself -- for all her flash and grotesquery, she means to be a steadying force, not a revolutionary.

Yet "Born This Way" does unsettle things through one reliable route: its production. Whether its sound comes too close to one or another Madonna song seems beside the point; what current pop hit doesn't go green by recycling something familiar? More intriguing is the unstable sonic base created by Gaga and her co-producers, Fernando Garibay and DJ White Shadow.

Though nowhere near as compelling as the work Gaga has done with RedOne, "Born This Way" throws a lot into its four minutes: a clacking hint of dubstep, the thump of Hi-NRG disco, a breakdown that borrows from the Latin dance floor that Garibay has previously visited with Enrique Iglesias. Mainstreaming diversity may be Gaga's favorite political cause, but it's something that music effortlessly accomplishes -- at least in the good old utopian space of the sweaty club.

-- Ann Powers

Photo: Lady Gaga at the 2010 Grammys. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (65)

The song is great. Been on repeat all day. I do, indeed, feel a sense of self-acceptance each time the hook plays.

i really love this song

Love this song! It is so fun and has great energy. When I heard it on my computer the first time (with poor speakers) it didn't sound half as good as it did on my car's sound system.

Best played LOUD!!! ;)

"Don't be a drag, just be a queen?" Really? As a gay man, I wish Lady Gaga would find some other group to speak for. I am not a "queen" and don't strut around like a West Hollywood diva. I don't need someone to keep telling me that I'm "okay" because I'm different, while simultaneously implying that I'm some sort of outlandish freak that wears ridiculous outfits all the time.

Why doesn't Lady Gaga instead make an album for the spoiled narcissistic rich girls who exploit other people to acquire fame and fortune? That's something she can relate to.

This is an amazing song! I like this style of Gaga! LEss electric and you can actually tell that gaga is singing the song! AMAZING and a NOTHER hit! LOOK OUT BILLBOARD, NUMBER ONE COMING SOON!

There was absolutely no way this song could have ever lived up to the amount of hype it was given. Yes, it rehashes older pop tunes, but what modern pop song doesn't? I mean, the Madonna-esque "Hey, hey, hey!" was clearly a deliberate choice. Gaga knows exactly what she's doing here. Both the lyrics and the music have been shamelessly siphoned from the fuel tank of gay history, polished and reworked for a broader audience. Right on par with current mainstream culture (see Katy Perry, Kesha, NoH8, Glee, etc). Is it a spectacular track? No, but it's catchy enough. Gaga, like Madge, is a very savvy businesswoman.

I was really pumped up about this song, but then i actually heard it. The lyrics to it are amazing and unique but the production of the song was poor, and overworked, and the pace was to fast for the lyrics. Whenever she would start to sing born this way it quickly would jump to the next line i wish she would hold that cord for a while, and slow it down. It would also be better if they took off some of those beats in there, I know its like a disco song but its a little too much. But i don not blame gaga for this i blame the producers. Even though i think this song was not worth the wait if you continually listen to it, it will grow on you and you will still listen to it. I just think she could of done a lot better.

This song makes me feel GREAT! Love it, Love her!

I'm kind of surprised by the positive (major) press this song has gotten today. The Los Angeles Times is really give it a thumbs up? Snap judgment indeed. I haven't heard a more derivative song in ages, and where pop music is concerned, that is truly saying something. One step back.


Self acceptance from someone who exists only because she strays from being herself? Okay, whatever....

I agree with you when you say; "what current pop hit doesn't go green by recycling something familiar?"

There has been so many songs over hte past several decades and you know what, many songs will be simmilar and comparable to previous productions

Regardless of it, i love it!!! thats all that matters.

Let's face it. This song is crap - so preachy with cheesy PSA message lyrics that I cannot believe are actually being sung aloud. And I liked the production the first time, when it was called Express Yourself by Madonna. Time for Lady Caca to slap on the heavy makeup, large sunglasses, and the world's most tacky hat forged by man, and then distract us with a shiny and random video that has nothing to do with the lyrics... again.

Terrific review and analysis.
Terrific song too.

Literally sitting here crying. I love her so much. She makes´╗┐ me so happy. She makes me want to love myself. I love her. I love her so much.

It sounded very similar to Madonna's Express Yourself. This isn't about some new artist making new music for a new generation, rather this is about some new artist rehashing some old melodies to make money off of a population with no long-term memory.

That's just my opinion. I think it's important for people to be individuals and express themselves, just like everybody else (get it?).

@ Tierbandiger || I'm pretty sure "Don't be a drag, just be a queen," is about well... drag queens. Not gay men. You don't have to be gay (or transgender for that matter) to be a drag queen. But many people frown down upon them. You are reading into that line a bit too much and seem rather pissy at something that you really shouldn't be... In all honesty, it just makes you look insecure. I have friends that are gay. Some flamboyant, others far from it. Even some of my straight friends are flamboyant... And you hardly have to be a "freak" to be confident in who you are. That's at least how I see it. You obviously don't have to agree with me.

I think it goes without saying, Born This Way more than lived up to the hype, I cried as soon as the chorus hit, this song just tore up every other song ever put out, best song ever <3 you did it mama monster, you never disappoint me

Well no wonder this song wasn't that good, it wasn't done by Redone and Gaga. I really hope she puts out another single because this was a major dud. Not only does it have too many similarities with Madonna, the song itself isn't that great. I was expecting more from Lady Gaga, who is always so inventive. Its just another Firework by Katy and Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, the only difference is she added 'Gay, Bi & Transsexual' in the title trying to force it to be inspirational when its really not. This monster is just disappointed and I just can't force myself to like it.

Is Lady Gaga a spokesman for American Commerce? The really big issue today is the Natural World. Pop Stars have all the machinery of technology making their electronicsoundimage widely available to the Consumer Social Group. To me the whole phenomena is something of A Tempest in a Teapot. Lets's say more: where you at in the JUGGERNAUT?

Disappointing. I agree with Ms. Powers that her first album was her best effort (so far).

Just as "Alejandro" was a rip-off of Madonna's "La Isla Bonita" (as well as Ace of Base's "Don't Turn Around"), "Born This Way" is a rip-off Madonna's "Express Yourself".

I'm not really a fan of Madonna, but at least her material was somewhat original when she did it.


LADY GAGA'S VIOCE IS MUCH BETTER THEN MADONNA'S... Born This Way may have a moment when it sounds like Madonna's song but its completely different.
You people need to get over it IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT DON'T LISTEN TO IT YOU... Born This Way will chart wonderfully because she has a huge fan base and its a good song with a lot of meaning.
Don't you think that Born This Way is less disposable POP then Hold It Against Me? Obviously it is...

Love it! Good to hear positive LGBT friendly messages in the mainstream! Keep it up Gaga! We love you!

See, that's the thing. Gays and the GLBT people CHOOSE what songs will become gay anthems - they don't like it when songs are dictated to them as gay anthems.

I also think it's in really bad form to conflate social issues with commerce. "Hey, here's my IT GETS BETTER song. Do you feel empowered? Good. Now go give me some money on iTunes and make me rich as I exploit gay and disenfranchised youth for per$onal profit." This song would have worked much better if it were a charity single or given away for free.

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