“Born This Way” Lady Gaga (#5 Hot 100, Week of April 23, 2011)
Her Gaganess was aware that she couldn’t make anything less than a big splash in her return to the music scene. She dutifully lived up to the challenge.
“Born This Way” is very much in the mold of her debut single from The Fame, “Just Dance.” That is to say, it’s pretty mainstream and relatively un-quirky. To me, this is a bit disappointing, since she’s not had any problem scoring with the more unusual fare. The first time around, she had an excuse, getting her foot in the door so she could kick it down later on. Doing it on the second record just seems timid. The extravagantly bizarre music video tries to up the quirk quotient, but it’s not enough.
Risk assessment aside, the track is solid, very catchy, and as has been over-publicized, more than a little reminiscent (in melody, arrangement, and lyrical direction) of Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” Whatever other quibbles I may have, I think the nod to Madge is well-placed and nicely executed. It stands on its own while clearly drawing from the other record.
The other body blow to Lady Gaga’s pop pre-eminence here is the message of the song. This is clearly the year of celebrating the underdog, with a great number of artists pouring their souls into songs that appear to be reacting to the rash of bullying-induced suicides last year. Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R,” along with both of P!nk’s singles from her greatest hits album, all address the issue, and having “Born This Way” come out on the heels of those hits makes her seem behind the curve.
Being safe and following trends are very un-Gaga-like. Everyone seems to have overlooked it this time, but she has to step it up if she wants to remain pop music’s premier pacesetter.