That’s probably not your first thought after seeing her whacky getups and controversial imagery, but then again, it’s hard to look past the spectacle of Gaga. Did you know, for example, that her poison recipe in the Telephone video includes sci-fi elements like Meta-cyanide from Dune, Tiberium from Command and Conquer and Fex-M3 from the Star Wars expanded universe? Digging deeper, you become aware that Gaga may not actually take herself too seriously.
The Fame and The Fame Monster introduced the world to Lady Gaga, but her early life is sometimes overlooked because of the “Gaga” image. Some, however, still remember her as Stefani Germanotta, a young artist at New York University with great vocal and piano skills (or, as a friend who lived on her floor remembers, “that bitch Stefani who won’t stop singing”).
Living in New York means running in many circles that stars do/did and hearing humanizing stories about them. Sometimes, it’s angry gripes from those who assume they were forgotten. Other times, it’s small connections, like knowing a bartender who worked at Gaga’s hangout where she dated the owner. Still, all their stories and jokes alongside the new album Born This Way puts a lot into perspective, especially just how normal and, dare I say, fun Gaga is.
Though many gay men are obsessed with her—whether it’s because of her ability to write catchy anthems, her love of fashion or her acknowledgement of her gay fan base—I am not a Gaga fan. The idea of calling fans “little monsters” irks me, and the “paws up” catchphrase, especially when uttered as a sort-of battle cry, really just makes her whole crowd seem that more annoying.
Born This Way, however, humanizes her more so than any New Yorker’s story can. Musically, it’s the banging dance/pop we’ve come to expect, while some tracks are slightly more minimal in instrumentation, focusing on her theatrical voice. She has fun with genres, incorporating rock, Broadway and even country, but lyrically, there are also obvious bits of playfulness.
Let’s skip the singles—everyone already knows the pro-gay anthem “Born This Way” and the slightly blasphemous “Judas,” but neither of these songs really represents the album as a whole. Of course Gaga still has to throw in some controversy, like “Bloody Mary,” which is sung from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. “Electric Chapel,” though, isn’t quite as intense, and it also is easier to take with its 80s vibe, reminiscent of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”
“Marry the Night” opens the disco-friendly album with a nice “out on the town” anthem. Then, following “Born This Way” comes “Government Hooker.” After a very operatic intro, “Hooker” becomes a fun techno-oriented track, featuring goofy lines like “Put your hands on me/John F. Kennedy”—Gaga doesn’t always need controversy or symbolism.
Songs like “Americano” and “Scheiße” showcase her lighter side, playing on language differences in relationships. “Americano” also echoes “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof (except, you know, Latin), while “Scheiße” (yes, that’s “shit” in German) is a fun club track that doesn’t require much thought at all.
Then there’s the genre-bending. “Hair” has a cheesy piano and saxophone intro that bursts into yet another anthem on freedom (she likes those). The sax is odd at first, but it ends up fitting with the power ballad feel. “Bad Kids” then pits heavy rock guitars against dance beats, but “You and I” truly stands out with its country/rock vibe as she sings about a “cool Nebraska guy.”
Still, the album has some misses. “Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)” may be the cheesiest song on the album (and reminiscent of the Gaga-turned-motorcycle album cover), but the lyrics are too trite for such an eclectic mix at this point. Meanwhile, “Heavy Metal Lover” has decent raver-friendly beats, but it doesn’t standout much. At least “The Edge of Glory” has a good “finale” feel to it, but by the time it appears, the album is played out—even though the tacky saxophone and 80s synths do give the track some interesting character.
Born This Way is probably not what fans expected. After all the hype and Gaga’s odd fashion (face-horns, anyone?) and somewhat blasé attitude, listening to these tracks becomes a great reminder that she’s really just out to have fun. Her strange antics seem as though they were just an act to build hype—maybe she’s not crazy after all!
Now that she achieved “the fame,” Gaga can play around and take her fans on whatever journey she chooses—maybe that’s where the Gagacycle fits in the picture. Born This Way isn’t as deep or personal as it could be, but it showcases Gaga’s fun side and her “be yourself” attitude, which is enough even for a non-fan to appreciate.
This article was originally published on AllMediaNY.com