Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mother Monster: Lady Gaga's Born This Way

One would think Lady Gaga would be a little on the tired side. Since 2008, the newly minted "Mother Monster" has pulled off a lightning speed climb from obscurity to international superstardom. She's released three Billboard topping albums and become the subject of scathing celebrity gossip (including a false accusation of having a penis). Gaga has also acquired over 38,000,000 Facebook likes (that’s more than Obama). And she's now wrapping up her gruelling Monster’s Ball world tour. Born This Way is Lady Gaga’s latest full-length, shocking, absolutely fabulous record. With an incredible – almost inhuman stamina – she has proved to the world, once again, that she in an endless source of creativity, talent and energy.

Yes, that’s right, I said “fabulous.” Music elites, please feel free to write off my endorsement of this record and the artist behind it. But I’m a firm believer that just because something is popular doesn't mean it's rubbish. Her head-turning (well, more like neck-breaking) ensembles alone have caused quite a ruckus. By attending award ceremonies and wearing dresses made of meat, Muppets, or bubbles, she has the masses arguing over whether she is an activist or a loon; an artist or an attention starved phoney. And the controversy does not stop with the outfits. Media outlets, fans and naysayers have labelled her as everything from grotesque to genius due to those elaborate live performances, over-the-top music videos, controversial lyrics and political outspokenness. Love her or loathe her, the icon and her music have a substance we have not seen in a mega star in years.

Music and performing were early passions of New York City native Stefanie Germanotta.  The natural-born superstar was more or less an outsider at her exclusive Catholic girl school in Manhattan for her obscure tastes in fashion, music and art. But she held her own. Inspired by the likes of Grace Jones, David Bowie, Queen front man Freddy Mercury and Madonna, she stuck to her craft. She enrolled in NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and in the evenings took her show, Lady Gaga and the Starlight Blue, to downtown clubs. Catching the ear of music industry types she was recruited as an in-house writer for Def-Jam. 

Lady Gaga quickly, and naturally, ventured out of the writer’s chair and into the spotlight. Her first single “Just Dance” (released under R&B singer Akon’s Kon Live label) became an international hit in 2008.  That was followed by "Poker Face," "Love Game" and "Paparazzi," which all appeared on her debut album The Fame (2008). Her second full-length release The Fame Monster (2009) took singles like “Bad Romance,” “Aljandro,” “Speechless” and the Beyonce duet “Telephone” to the charts. In less than two years she became an icon. Gaga’s dance anthems are well deserving of this attention. Her confidence, energy and creativity-filled compositions are both incredibly intricate and captivating; her music acts almost as a mood stabilizer.  

What makes Lady Gaga stand out, however, goes beyond her hedonistic sound and flashy outfits. Gaga takes satire and production to a level that we have not seen since Marilyn Manson. Further, her incredible outspokenness over issues, such as gay rights, is unlike that seen from other mainstream celebrities. This leads to her impressive defense of and devotion to her fans (known as “little monsters”). Through her public statements and lyrics, Gaga has reached a significantly under-tapped market.

Aside from drawing in tweens for her catchy pop anthems and genius marketing, her music provides an outreach for anyone who has ever felt like the underdog. Through public statements and her lyrics she has told millions of teenagers (and adults for that matter) that it’s all right to be an outsider. This is evident in her self-love anthem, the title track from Born This Way: “I’m beautiful in my way / ‘Cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way / Don’t hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you’re set / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way.”

Gaga insists that her fans are her source of inspiration: hence this album is as much a tribute to the masses as it is anything. Unlike the last two records, Gaga seems more focused on her message rather than her music. She claims her fans give her the energy, drive and inspiration for her art. Thus, her latest release is a collection of, mostly self-penned, compositions about fashion, religion, outsiders and unicorns. All inspired by letters and posts from those “little monsters” everywhere.

Much like her previous albums, Born This Way offers a quirky alternative to other pop stars. She continually maintains her high standards of quality and creativity. Almost all her songs are self-penned while some are collaborations. The first two singles -- “Born this Way” and “Judas” -- possess a similar kick as her previous chart toppers. The album also possesses some genre-bending hidden gems, including some experimental metal with “Bad Kids," and even sneaking a bit of country into the rock ballad “You and I.” The latter was co-produced by the legendary Robert “Mutt” Lange. (This might explain a burning desire you might possess to listen to Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” after playing Gaga.) The energy and quality of this third production meet, and arguably surpass, its predecessors.

As mentioned earlier, there are suspicions that this mega star is just in it for the mega attention. Critics of her clever product placements and absurd productions, make it easy to conclude that this is all just an elaborate fa├žade put on for a media-hungry world. Possibly. But, who cares? If the music is reaching people, making them feel good, then it’s no different from any other feel-good music burning up the charts. If her fans are writing to her, thanking her for giving them the courage to come out to their parents; for helping them through an eating disorder; for getting through being bullied at school for being different (which they have), then Gaga being genuine is good enough.

If I have but one qualm with Gaga it's that she makes me feel like an underachiever.

Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library. 

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the best reviews or dissections of Gaga I have ever read.