It’s hard to believe that only 31 months ago, Lady Gaga was an underground electro-pop artist struggling to get her songs played on American radio. She sang about losing her phone and turning her shirt inside out, and she seemed destined to be the type of artist celebrated by the blogosphere but ignored by mainstream pop (an American Robyn). She’s since become the most important pop star on the planet, and today, released one of the most anticipated records of the 21st century.
The promotion Born This Way has received is unrivaled by any album in recent memory, thanks to Gaga hyping it long before we even knew what it would be called (She said she wrote the “core of it” more than a year ago). She went as far as to call it the “greatest album of this decade,” fueling the anticipation, and showcasing a hubris we’ve come to expect from the likes of Kanye West and pre-fatherhood Brandon Flowers. While self-promotion is an essential skill for every pop star, Gaga’s unprecedented plugging threatened to backfire – the entire project buckling under the weight of unrealistic expectations and self-importance – unless she delivered the groundbreaking opus she promised.
Luckily, she did.
When record companies put stickers on album covers, they usually list the biggest blockbuster singles in hopes of enticing consumers. Born This Way is a rare exception where the sticker should probably inform people the best songs are the ones they haven’t heard on the radio. The record’s premature leak was one of the best things that could have happened to it, because it didn’t take long for word to spread that, yes, the album is quite good.
Listening to Born This Way is listening to the past 40 years of popular music. The echos of Madonna are obvious. When the title track was released, “Express Yourself” and not “Born This Way” was a top Twitter trending topic. Other homages to the Queen of Pop are found on “Scheisse” and “Heavy Metal Lover,” but the most surprising thing about the album is that it’s more Springsteen than Madonna. The Boss’ influence can be heard on arena-ready anthems “Marry The Night” and “Edge of Glory,” and the pandering to her little “monsters” recalls Springsteen’s commitment to blue collar America.
The album is littered with knowing winks and references, from the killer New Order-esque hook on “Government Hooker” to the dead on Shania Twain impression of “You & I” (Produced by Twain’s ex-husband, Mutt Lange). There’s hints of Whitney Houston, Elton John, Def Leppard, Kylie Minogue, and of course, plenty of Lady Gaga herself on the record. The hodge podge of influences keep the record interesting, but it manages to remain a cohesive body of work – so much so that individual songs sound better in the context of the album than alone, a rare feat in the singles driven pop market.
Perhaps the album’s greatest success is not giving in to its own hype. As Gaga’s skits on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live proved, the Lady is a lot more fun – and a lot more human – when she isn’t so damn serious. Songs like “Born This Way” and “Americano” pine for social justice, but without the rock-influenced, roll-your-window-down anthems and pulsing, club ready beats, Born This Way wouldn’t be any fun.
Born This Way may or may not end up being the greatest album of the decade. I’m sure Kanye would argue that (and he would make a convincing argument), and there are still eight years left until we have to make a decision, but regardless, Lady Gaga’s second-and-a-half album is without a doubt a landmark. Like the woman herself, it raises the bar for pop, setting a new artistic standard for pop artists.
Tags: Lady Gaga
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