31 May 2011

"Born This Way" by Lady Gaga

If Lady Gaga was born part-motorcycle,
did she drive out of her mother?
Born This Way
Lady Gaga
Release Date: 23 May 2011 (.mp3)

This seems an unlikely purchase for me, but Amazon ran a pre-release sale for a paltry 99¢ so I splurged.  There's a late 80s/early 90s aesthetic to most of the songs that makes them feel familiar even on the first listen, and there's no mistaking Lady Gaga's intentions of being inflammatory.  Her activism on LGBT rights is well documented and on full display on the title track, but the dominant theme of this album is religion.  Throughout Born This Way, Lady Gaga takes aim at kneejerk bible thumpers as well--though her jabs are actually more thoughtful and subtle than I'm sure will be recognized once they're introduced to the crowd who has no room for any interpretation of Scripture that isn't their own.

The best microcosm for this album is "Judas," in which Gaga sings of her devotion to the man who betrayed Christ to the Romans.  "Jesus is my virtue/Judas is the demon I cling to," she concludes.  Is the song meant to denounce Christ or merely antagonize those who shield their bigotry and hatred behind the Bible?  Hard to say, but I think there's at least one more valid interpretation worth considering: that Lady Gaga is exploring the fact that we're all sinners.  No matter how devout you may be, if you're really honest with yourself, you can admit to having betrayed Christ in your own ways over the years.  In this context, then, "Judas" isn't as sacrilegious as it may appear at first blanch, but rather a sincere discussion of faith.  Of course, the very audience who might stand to learn something from "Judas" will renounce it the moment they hear about it, passing judgment on the superficial rather than the actual nature of the song.

Which brings me to the larger issue with Born This Way: Lady Gaga knows the world is paying attention to her, so one has to ask why she would feel the need to bait such a backlash in the first place.  Could she not have written and recorded a song about how we all fall short of our spiritual ideals that doesn't appear to be a love letter to the most notorious back-stabber of all time?  Wouldn't her very celebrity ensure that such a more modest song would still have found an audience and resonated?  The problem this creates in me as a listener is that I feel that these songs were created for the sake of instigating controversy not to raise awareness of anything, but for the sake of controversy itself.  It feels calculated, which I fear detracts from the otherwise legitimate arguments espoused throughout these fourteen songs.

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