Born This Way, Evaluated

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Published May 18, 2011

 

As you have probably heard, the most important artistic expression of our time—Lady Gaga’s latest musical juggernaut, Born This Way—has arrived early. The internet was on fire yesterday with the news that Gaga’s much-hyped and highly anticipated record leaked nearly a week ahead of its May 23rd official release date, instantly prompting millions of “little monsters” to spontaneously combust with joy. Gaga had already unveiled two official singles from the record—the ubiquitous “Born This Way” and the somewhat tepid “Judas”—as well as previewing the tracks “The Edge of Glory,” “Marry The Night,” and “Hair,” so it’s not as if listeners didn’t already have a strong sense of what was in store. So, now that all of Born This Way’s 14 album tracks have been loosed upon the earth, how does the album measure up?

Not too bad, as it turns out.

Part of Gaga’s genius lies in the fact that—apart from all of the outré fashion and endless self-aggrandizement—her music has always been fairly pedestrian. She makes the kind of catchy pop music that can be easily loved in equal measure by tween girls, middle-aged gay men, and Midwestern soccer moms. Born This Way cleverly expands the sonic palette of previous Gaga releases without ever really abandoning the staid sing-along verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure that makes her music so universally palatable. Tracks like “Government Hooker” and German-accented “Sheisse” funk things up with some deliciously old-school electro beats, while “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Bad Kids,” and “Electric Chapel” feature industrialized guitar samples to nice effect. But nothing on the record deviates too far from Gaga’s already established pattern of crafting sing-along empowerment pop crammed full of the “mah mahs” and “gah gahs” and other goofy Gaga-isms that people have come to expect. “You And I” is a rollicking, old-fashioned piano jam that ranks among Gaga’s best songs (and proof positive that she can write a great tune), but the preposterously anthemic “Edge of Glory” is the kind of gussied-up blast of overproduced hot air that would sound better on a Kelly Clarkson album.

One might have hoped that, given her enormous popularity, Gaga would try and steer her global audience in a much more radical direction (the dubstep breakdown in Britney’s recent “Hold it Against Me” still sounds more musically adventurous than anything here), but Born This Way is hardly a misstep. Pretty much every song on the record is single-worthy (and will surely be excellently remixed to within an inch of its life), but given the endless amount of hype and Gaga’s own messianic rambling about the album, Born This Way hardly seems like a reinvention—or even an evolution—of pop music as we know it.