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Lady Gaga
Born This Way Brad Sanders , May 18th, 2011 09:16

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It's tempting anytime an artist gets as big as Lady Gaga to fall into one of the two diametrically opposed groups. As with every Biggest Thing Going since the Beatles – or perhaps earlier; did Mozart have haters? – Gaga has half the world convinced she's the reincarnation of Jesus (or Judas) in the form of a pop star and the other half convinced that she's a talentless hack who disguises her musical shortcomings with garish costumes and a pretentious public image. It should go without saying that neither of these things are entirely correct.

The truth is less flashy, but ultimately more significant: Lady Gaga has made weirdness marketable again. Her gimmicks aren't wholly new – Björk wore stranger dresses earlier, Alice Cooper introduced blood and monsters into his stage show before Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was even born, and plenty of pop musicians have more aggressively pushed more controversial political agendas than her gay rights campaign – but they have everyone from the most entrenched pop culture warrior to the person who only hears music when they go to the club talking, and they're talking about inherently strange things. The last time pop culture enormity and artistic eccentricity converged so completely, people were gathering round the office copier to discuss the dancing dwarf on Twin Peaks. In that way, Lady Gaga matters.

Her music is somewhat less off-the-wall, even if it is rapidly improving. Where The Fame followed the standard mega-pop formula of a few key singles padded by filler and The Fame Monster saw Gaga buying into some of her own mythology and producing several cuts that thought they were cleverer than they actually were, her third proper release, Born This Way, sees the singer channeling her 80s influences more profoundly than ever before while further exploring her own musical identity. The red flags that went up for so many people when Madonna-worshiping lead single 'Born This Way' and the cheesy album artwork (a poster bargain bin in Arena, circa 1987) were released weren't misplaced, but it's Gaga's embrace of these motifs that make the album what it is, for better or worse.

More than any of Gaga's previous works, Born This Way tends to sound like the sum of her influences. There are very clear nods to the aforementioned Madonna, Bruce Springsteen (ace closing track 'The Edge of Glory' features a saxophone solo from the E Street Band's Clarence Clemons), Blondie, Bob Seger, Purple Rain-era Prince, the Cabaret soundtrack, and Judas Priest. The Judas Priest references are especially interesting – the cover art, while hideous, could have been the cover of any Priest album between 1979 and 1990; the opening riff (yes, riff) to 'Electric Chapel' sounds like an outtake from Killing Machine; longtime AC/DC producer Mutt Lange lends bite to the umlaut-studded power ballad 'Yoü and I'. There's even something resembling a death metal vocal bit in 'Bloody Mary', and one of the poppiest cuts is entitled 'Heavy Metal Lover'. It's not that the metal themes dominate the album – they're often rather subdued, in fact – but it's a microcosmic example of just how entrenched Gaga's influences are.

Which isn't to say that she's compromised her own identity. Every song on the album bears the indelible mark of Gaga. A bit of her silly self-aggrandizing ("Gaga" needn't ever be a lyric, really) comes through as a part of that, unfortunately, as well as the presence of a few filler tracks ('Government Hooker' and 'Scheiße' are as painful as their names suggest), but on the whole, the fusion of what has become recognizable as The Gaga Sound with an impressive slate of revered influences makes Born This Way the quintessential Lady Gaga studio experience to date. For the first time in her career, the dresses made of meat and audience-baffling awards show performances can take a backseat to her songs. Gaga's status as a pop oddity may have been much of what kept her relevant through her first two albums' song cycles, but her songwriting has almost completely caught up.

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May 18, 2011 1:38pm

lovve u so much lady gaga ur my evil queen lov u :)

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Dr. Keloid
May 18, 2011 1:43pm

Why can't she make *sonic* weirdness marketable?

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May 18, 2011 1:58pm

man this is a great story. seriously, quietus people, whoever this sanders person is you should pay him more.

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May 18, 2011 5:05pm

Her music is so generic, outdated and her lyrics subpar.

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Tim Russell
May 19, 2011 4:35am

Not a big fan but as pop stars go she's preferable to the likes of Bruno Mars.

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what u be on ?
May 19, 2011 4:58am

weirdness ? there is nothing weird about her. this chick and her crew have ripped off so many artists (images, styles, identities ... not talking about music, it's obvious it's majorly derivative), some who have gone the way of stepping outside of conventionality and dealing with backlash, changing paradigms, this chick just mimics...

underlined with an outdated mcdonalds culture soundtrack...

disgusted that one would give a derivative rip off any time of the day

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May 19, 2011 5:55pm

"the cover art, while hideous, could have been the cover of any Priest album between 1979 and 1990;"


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May 20, 2011 11:33am

'Governemnt Hooker'. Now that showed promise as far as a subject matter goes but sadly, she's not exactly Lydia Lunch is she? Judas Priest no, but Motley Crue YES!

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May 21, 2011 1:12pm

In reply to Humperdink:

Please. It's a shoddily pieced together layout, Mötley Crüe had much more style than that.

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May 21, 2011 5:28pm

By saying that she "has made weirdness marketable again" you're missing the fact that her so-called weirdness is solely and intentionally for marketable purposes.

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May 27, 2011 2:36am

In reply to what u be on ?:

Jesus Christ! Ten comments on Lady fucking whatever and nothing, nothing! No comments on Wells and Moffat's album?! Right down the drain Quietus. Stewart Lee talks about refining an audience. You failed to do that. If I could remove your bookmark without the help of my kid I would do it right now, but he's asleep. Lady Gaga review. Pathetic. Who cares?

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Jun 10, 2011 10:50am

In reply to Cellar:

Open your bookmarks, right click the correct one and press delete xoxoxoxo

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Jun 10, 2011 10:54am

"Dislike the singles. But the album is really quite good."

Awful taste.

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Jun 12, 2011 1:53am

I agree with the second statement about Lady Gaga. She is a talentless hack that disguises her lack of talent with garishly elaborate costumes designed to treat the viewer to a bait and switch routine. Lady Gaga dazzles you like Edward Cullen, in return you are left with inherently terrible music. She makes no qualms about ripping off other, more talented musicians and she also obviously has no problem with acting like a cerebral palsy patient with epilepsy. She seems to have illusions of grandeur and makes sure the people around her think that she doesn't understand the word "humility". I am so proud of the current method of choosing the next music superstars. These financial masterminds have brought us infinitely talented people such as the possibly female singer Justin Beiber, Nikki MInaj, and of course Lady Gaga. I'm so glad the days of actual talent are over and we now rely on Autotune and untalented people for our music. Gone are the days when the only ways you could be famous were if you could sing, dance, play an instrument, and was a Hollywood insider. Gone are the days of blowing $10,000 on getting your music officially recorded. We are in the digital era where talent is overrated and if you can have multiple chlidren, have sex, be a "bad girl", "sing", or any other panderable "talent" you need not struggle for your success at all.

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