Whether she’s taunting the paparazzi or making heart-to-heart prayers with government hookers, Lady Gaga has a way of getting into the minds of all who enter her irreverent church and locking the doors behind them. You could try to escape, but there’s something about the repetition of catchy phrases and synthetic beats that keeps you around and lusting for more.
This formula for pop music has worked for Lady Gaga since her 2008 debut album, “The Fame,” and her successful follow-up EP, “The Fame Monster.” Paired with unique award-show performances and creative music videos that have revamped the way artists approach storytelling in this post-TRL/YouTube-centric age, Gaga has become an unstoppable force.
But just because something is unstoppable doesn’t mean it automatically gets better with time. The thing about being a pop-hit generating machine is that there will be misses too. From “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster,” Gaga has had seven top-10 singles, but what about the other songs? Fairly forgettable. This is true for her sophomore album “Born This Way” as well.
The anticipation that accompanied the release of “Born This Way” was the product of a year full of hype and slow leaks through Twitter. Whether the album lives up to the hype, though, is debatable: on the surface, it’s overproduced and as cheesy as the badly Photoshopped album cover; upon multiple revisits, it’s addicting — you just have to be patient.
The album opens with “Marry the Night,” a dance hit driven by an electric organ and a “we’re young and free and can do whatever we want” message. It’s fast, it’s catchy and it makes you want to bask in the glow of neon strobe lights in a packed nightclub.
But as you move through the rest of the album, you’ll begin to realize that every song is incredibly similar to that first one. “Born This Way” ignores much of what makes an album intriguing and memorable by sticking to the formula that Gaga knows best. It’s what we should expect by now; after all, “The Fame” was that way too. It wasn’t until “Speechless” on “The Fame Monster” that we finally got a real taste of her powerful, emotional vocals and piano-playing prowess, and it isn’t until “Yoü and I,” the second-to-last track on “Born This Way,” that we get anything remotely similar to that side of Gaga.
Because “Born This Way,” much like “The Fame,” does not have the same form of seamless narrative that other recent popular albums have adopted (Adele’s “21” or Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” for example), the possibility of generating more singles is infinite.
“Judas,” probably one of the best and most addictive songs on the album, is the second single to be released from “Born This Way.” To simplify its message, it’s a song about falling in love with the wrong man; what elevates it beyond that is the analogy to one of the most well-known betrayals. The song combines everything that is classic Gaga: a “Bad Romance”-esque phrase that gets stuck in your head for days (“Ju-das, Ju-da-a, Ju-das, Ju-da-a, Ju-das, Ju-da-a, Ju-das, Ga-ga-a”), a repetitive melody for the verses, half-rapped/half-sung lines accompanied by a pulsating bass and some compelling writing that pushes the song beyond the usual clichés (“I want to love you, but something’s pulling me away from you/Jesus is my virtue, Judas is the demon I cling to”).
The second best song, “Hair,” plays on Gaga’s message of self-love and is much more enjoyable than the too-obvious “Born This Way” single. “Hair” doesn’t sound as if it was produced exclusively for a club, which makes listening to it on repeat less exhausting.
However, aside from those standouts and a few other fun and mildly enjoyable songs (What could be more fun than a song titled “Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)”?), there is little to love. The profane “Scheiße” is boring and “Americano” calls to mind “Alejandro,” but without the same appeal. It feels stereotypical, with the Latin rhythms and mariachi band in the background, and lacks imagination and creativity.
While “Born This Way” doesn’t carry its title message throughout every song, the point of the album is less about accepting that you are “beautiful in [your] way ‘cause God makes no mistakes.” The transition from “The Fame” to “The Fame Monster” was a transformation as Gaga went through the fame machine. Gaga became a star somewhere between “Just Dance” and “Bad Romance,” and now “Born This Way” is the next stage of that journey – a rebirth into the world of pop music as it is now. Gaga knows her audience and doesn’t hesitate to play to them and their dancing needs.
“Born This Way” may not be Lady Gaga’s best work, but does that really matter? It’s Gaga the fans want, regardless of whether her music truly speaks to them or not — a belief supported by statistics: Amazon.com’s $0.99 promotion sold an estimated 300,000 copies in one day. That number, in addition to a second day of the $0.99 promotion plus album sales in stores, on iTunes and other music-downloading sites, is predicted to reach 1 million in a week — a record most recently set by Taylor Swift in November.
Whether you’re a religious follower or simply just a casual listener, it is clear that Lady Gaga has already made a significant mark in the pop history books and her second album, “Born This Way,” is proof of that incredible presence.