Born This Way
I went to art school. I went to Columbia over in Chicago and as anyone who went to an art school can tell you, there is a lot of bullshitting going on when presenting work. Usually you can smell it whenever someone presents a body of work and every single thing they do has a large amount of thought and explanation behind it. Even worse is when that bullshit is married with extremely mediocre work or “controversial” topics, e.g, abortion, racism, suicide, etc. By no means are any of those topics funny or not serious but when you see so many projects focused on foliage in the city you think, really? This is different though because in someways when you’re in art school you’re kinda allowed and supposed to make those mistakes. You make those mistakes there so when you’re done and ready to do your own thing you end up growing some tact and grow out all those art school stages.
In many ways the past couple of years for Lady Gaga the world has been her art school. Her freshman year was met with an almost sudden halt of her career. The now infamous 2007 Lady Gaga showcase at Lolla may be the best before and after example I’ve seen in ages. She went from singing extremely corny ballads that sounded like she was trying too hard to show that she can sing and play the piano and write songs and be avant garde (“Blueberry Kisses”). Then she got lucky and got her second chance and debuted The Fame which churned out hits like “Poker Face” and “Paparazzi” but that album itself was just as corny not just sonically but lyrically too. Songs like “Boys, Boys, Boys” and “Money Honey” felt too much like those incredibly bad art school projects that many would bury but she ended up proudly displaying them on her Fame Monster tour. Then came The Fame Monster which was sleek and finally married her with who she can be. She ended up sounding and looking like she had graduated, finally! But also she got an incredible amount of help from people around her. It felt to me like she needs people around her that “get it” to clean her up and throw her into the right direction. Just look at how the wardrobe changed under her friendship with Nicola Formichetti and listen to how she sounded when the beats took over and how much stronger her lyrics became.
Now we get Born This Way and it feels too much like she regressed into a stage between The Fame and The Fame Monster. While some songs are extremely well written and sonically strong (“Judas”; “American Hooker”; “Scheiße”; “Electric Chapel”; “Heavy Metal Lover”) there are still those moment and those lyrics that are so cringeworthy you almost would never dare associate them with Lady Gaga (“You And I”; 3/4 of “Americano”; “The Edge of Glory”; “Highway Unicorn”). So now we’re in a stage where Lady Gaga is either trying too hard to please all her fans by including them in every single aspect of her music or giving them the best that she is. In many ways Lady Gaga is best when the songs are collaborations between what’s in her heart and the music arrangements themselves. While I may like that she is the only pop star even willing to associate herself with the fringe, I think we can get that in one or two songs. Her lyrics not only suffer but so does her message; no wonder so many people feel like she could be pandering to them for sales. Her ability to be able to experiment is evident in this album and many times pay off. So while Born This Way for the most part is great, I just don’t think she’s at her peak musically yet. She may be at her peak fame wise and visually but Lady Gaga tries so hard to show people that she’s a musician and ends up sounding like a joke. The thing is that when she’s not trying so hard to be a producer and a star and a political activist and a songwriter that her true talent comes out.