Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Born This Way (2011)

With two universally successful records already under her belt, the only logical step for Lady Gaga to take was to follow up on that success and put her creative influence to work once again. Not too long after her Monster Ball Tour was in full swing, she announced what she believed would be her magnum opus: Born This Way.

The promotion and marketing for this album was handled rather oddly, to say the least. Throughout the second half of 2010, Lady Gaga began to speak extravagantly about it, saying it was "the anthem of our generation", and "the greatest music I've ever written, I promise", as well as calling it her "chance to create what in 20 years will be seen as my iconic moment". Some of these statements date back to as early as March 2010, even before "Alejandro" released as a single.

She continued to tease the album during the later months, and eventually revealed the rather shocking album cover, which put off even the die-hard fans. Several crosspromotions were made to further hype the album, including this thing where you could unlock free downloads of some of Born This Way's songs early by playing a special variant of Farmville, of all things. So, did it live up to all the overwhelming hype? Let's break it down.

Unlike The Fame Monster, this was a true, full-length album, and as such, had room for a lot more songs and singles. The title track, released over three months before the actual album, is a now-iconic "self-respect anthem" that served to show Gaga's prominence as an icon in the LGBT community. It's catchy, driving, and sends a powerful message. The album also touches on gay marriage laws ("Americano"), revolution ("Bad Kids"), and womens' rights, in the powerful feminist anthem, "Scheisse", a personal favorite of mine.
My largest amount of criticism by far would have to go toward the album's second single, "Judas". I consider it the weakest song on the album, hands down (as well as my least favorite Lady Gaga song in general). The heavy religious reference in the lyrics makes it uncomfortable to listen to, and as a result, it got little to no radio play. It just has a generic sound to it that doesn't feel like the stuff Gaga can usually produce. To top it off, the music video is rather lackluster.

The third single, "The Edge of Glory", makes up for this however, with one of her best music videos to date, as well as a saxophone-heavy instrumental featuring the late Clarence Clemons, and lyrics about the last night of one's life. Clemons is also featured in the free-spirited, inspirational, and surprisingly relatable "Hair", the album's sole promotional single. "Bloody Mary", on the other hand, takes on a darker tone. It contains religious reference (as the title might suggest), but it's a bit more subtle than that of "Judas", and is generally a superior song overall.
The album ends off with four (five if you could "Edge of Glory") love songs, perhaps all lined up on purpose to give the album good pacing. "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) offers carefree, uplifting tones, "Electric Chapel" sings of a sacred, safe place somewhere, and "Heavy Metal Lover" turns things up a notch with a aggressive beat and a variety of sexual themes. "You and I", the fourth single, is yet another of her trademark rock-piano ballads, this time using a sample from Queen for the basis of part of the song. It's an endearing love ballad that introduces her male alter-ego, Jo Calderone. Lastly, the fifth single, "Marry the Night" is a song about not letting life's troubles get you down, and serves as another high point to the album.

This album was, to say the least, a lot different. Gone were the "fun" themes of her first two records, replaced instead with more serious, mature tones speaking out on various issues. This wasn't a problem in my opinion, but several fans decried this change, claiming they "wanted the old, fun Gaga back". Whatever the case, let's answer our initial question: Was this in fact Lady Gaga's magnum opus? No. Was it a solid, well-crafted album that followed up her first two masterfully? Yes. The problem with this album wasn't the music itself, rather it was the marketing. Amazon.com was selling it for 99 cents each without Gaga's consent to promote the then-new Cloud music platform. The availability of the album was overwhelming; you could find it anywhere from convenience stores to airports at the time.

However, it mostly had to do with all the hype. It was just too much. When you hype up an album to that degree, there's no way anything you can release for the final product will ever live up to it. Born this Way was supposed to be this holy grail that would change the very face of music as we know it, and it wasn't; there's no way it could've been. The album also shows an example of the retroactive nature of Gaga's fanbase, who initially were put off by the album, but will now often cite it as their favorite in her career for the sheer fact that she wanted it to be. I personally consider her first two albums marginally better, but this is still a fantastic record worth looking into, especially with her fourth album, ARTPOP, very close on the horizon.

Favorite track: You and I
Least favorite track: Judas
Overall rating: 8.5/10

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