Lady Gaga puts on a good show. She’s the only artist out there who’s bold enough to brave the Grammy red carpet in a fiberglass egg or wear dresses made of meat and Kermit the Frog heads.
Her public persona is larger than her heels, and underneath the costumes and her seemingly 24/7 show for the cameras, is her music. “Born This Way,” her love letter to her legion of zealous fans affectionately known as “Little Monsters,” is an immediate call to let your freak flag fly high and shoot fireworks. And yet, it’s still kind of boring.
A Lady Gaga album is never a complete package. Unless you’re seeing her on stage or watching one of her music videos, you’re not getting the full scope of what she is attempting to convey. She’s a concept. She’s performance art. Her music cannot hope to fill the image she’s painstakingly and borderline ruthlessly worked toward building.
This is what does “Born This Way” over in the end. It’s felt like ages since she revealed the name of the album and started piling on promises about it just short of curing cancer. Now that it has arrived with booming fanfare, one can’t help but feel a little disappointed or underwhelmed.
Ever since the first single was released in February, accusations of Gaga ripping off Madonna’s sound from the early ’90s have been thrown left and right. After hearing the album in its entirety, one can’t completely call them unfounded.
Three tracks in particular – “Born This Way,” “The Edge of Glory” and “Hair” – unapologetically follow Madonna’s dance music formula to an absurd degree. The thumping tempos and booming megaphone lyrics tow the line between homage and rip-off of the Material Girl’s golden age.
The Madonna comparisons don’t just end with the sound. Gaga plays with religious imagery throughout the album. In “Judas,” she compares herself to Mary Magdalene. In “Bloody Mary” she pleads to not “crucify the things you do.”
This is the same button Madonna repeatedly pressed more than 20 years ago when she featured burning crosses in her “Like a Prayer” video. In fact, Gaga’s track “Electric Chapel” plays in almost perfect sync with the video and song for “Like a Prayer,” as well as features a nearly identical opening guitar riff.
“Born This Way” is projected to sell 1.5 million copies within its first week of release according to Billboard, which would make it the first album to do so since the release of the NSYNC’s “Celebrity” in 2001.
While this is certainly a proud moment for the music industry, is it really an album that Gaga should be proud of?
“Born This Way” doesn’t seem like a full-on creative effort by Lady Gaga. Instead, it’s her praying at the altar of Bruce Springsteen and Madonna by morphing the artists’ booming, arena anthem sensibilities into a giant soapbox to spread her message of equality, acceptance and self-love.
Her message is crystal clear in tracks like “Born this Way” and “Edge of Glory,” but it all gets lost under the deafening electronic filler found in tracks like “Government Hooker” and “Heavy Metal Lover.” With shocking-for-the-sake-of-shock-value lyrics and repetitive synthesizer hooks, her pure intentions become tainted and mind numbing.