Behind the Curve: Born This Way

As some of you out there surely know, I have been living under a stupid rock.  Depending on the subject matter, this can refer to my long-term ignorance of contemporary music or my short-term, Georgia-induced lack of awareness about the current state of culture in America.  In another sense, my possession and use of a Motorola Razor and my lagging laptopabilities belie my technological belatedness.  I was once invited by a friend to join his upstart (I think I might mean start up…) book-reviewing website www.full-stop.net on the strength of this blog (I know, right?).  I eagerly agreed.  I received my first review copy of a book in May–a solid four months after I had requested it.  Three cheers for the Georgian postal service!  (Though in all fairness, for undisclosed reasons, Belgium might be equally to blame.)

With this in mind, I intend on launching a regular feature here on Raughley Goes to Georgia.  Called Behind the Curve, this feature will be my (tentatively) weekly review of things that have been around for a while.  This will include, but won’t be limited to, music, movies, books, and video games that have been available to the public for weeks, months, or yes, even years.  Though they have long-since been reviewed professionally and in a much more timely manner, I shall not let this deter me from writing my own thoughts on such artistic works as Lady Gaga’s newest album Born This Way, K-19 Widowmaker starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, Bioware’s Mass Effect (the original, not Mass Effect 2), Setting the East Ablaze by Peter Hopkirk, and many more!  (Note: This list is not necessarily in any particular order, nor is it set in stone.  I reserve the right to change or eliminate any previously mentioned reviews at my own whim and discretion.)

I will also be open to suggestions.  This is going to be a weekly feature, I hope, and whether it’s successful or not I will probably keep doing it for at least a good while.  So, without further ado, here is my take on Born This Way by Lady Gaga:

Born This Way, Released May 23rd, 2011. Listened to September 4th, 2011

I remember the first time I really listened to Lady Gaga.  I didn’t like her.  One of my best and most trusted friends, Greg Rose, was forcing me to listen to The Fame as we drove to Portland, or some place.  I had just recently begun branching out my musical pallet with the help of Pandora, but Lady Gaga was a bit too far from the familiar for me to really enjoy her.

Greg, one of my more musical friends, kept insisting on how amazing Lady Gaga was, but I just wasn’t seeing it.  Or hearing it, as the case proved to be.  Now, flash forward to my first CTY summer at Easton.  Here was my second significant Lady Gaga exposure.

“Kids these days with their crazy music and their walking men!”* a crotchety old person might say.  I had a bit of that attitude as I entered my debut year as a CTY RA.  Jeff Zimmer and were in the same skit group as mis-matched roommates Bert and Ernie.  Ernie woke Bert (me) up in the middle of the night with his loud singing and dancing along to “Just Dance“.  Knowing that the kids would love it, I wasn’t bothered in the least.

As the summer wore on and I staffed more and more CTY dances, I came to appreciate, no, love Lady Gaga.  It was the perfect dance music and so much fun.  Jeff can take some measure of responsibility for breaking down my anti-Gaga walls that summer.

They were completely gone by the time the next summer rolled around.  I was a goner.  That is to say that I had fully embraced Lady Gaga’s music.  So much so that for the Talent Show O$ and Raughl-Dawg made their stage debut as Gaga Unplugged.

We played an acoustic Lady Gaga Medley, trading off lead vocals. In our penultimate performance (I think I'm using "penultimate" wrong), we even had blonde wigs.

In Georgia, I shared my love for Lady Gaga with Joanne O’Malley and Rick Gove.  Joanne and I would have promptu Lady Gaga Dance Parties of Two whenever we could.  Marissa was never invited because of the scorn she heaped upon Lady Gaga.  Rick and I played a few concerts and we could play a mean “Paparazzi“, though Rick never could learn the words.

I remember the first time I heard “Born This Way“.  I was on the phone with Joanne, discussing Lady Gaga and our fear that her new album couldn’t match her first.  We had read the lyrics to “Born This Way” online in Chkhorotsqkhu but couldn’t find enough internet to actually listen to it.  I was riding in a taxi to get my knee checked out by a doctor, when I heard a particularly Gaga-esque tune coming through the staticky radio.

“Joanne, hang on a second, I think I’m hearing ‘Born This Way’!”  She quieted down while I listened.  Sure enough, it was the new single.  I was damned excited.  “It sounds really catchy!  Well, the chorus at least,” I told Joanne who was waiting with baited breath.**

The tables turned when she got back to Ireland and bought the whole album before I had a chance to hear any more of it.  She told me that the two main singles off it were awesome, but that the rest of the album was somewhat forgettable.***

And so, we come to the meat of the post: My thoughts on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.  I like it.  When I had enough money, I ordered it off iTunes this summer.  Because I was so busy (and so hooked on Pandora!), I did not have a chance to listen through it while at CTY.  In fact, I didn’t listen to it all the way through until today as I hiked up to Mtatsminda Church.

Just for the hell of it, I’m going to treat you to “Bad Romance”:

I really do like it.  I think I will grow to like it all the more after repeat listens.  My initial impressions are that it doesn’t have as many infectiously catchy songs.  I didn’t find myself humming along to any of the tunes afterwards.  Let’s put that down to my unfamiliarity with them.  I often find myself needing two or three listens-through to really appreciate an album.

“Born This Way” and “The Edge of Glory” were the obvious hits of the album.  I was the least virginal when it came to these two as they have deservedly gotten a lot of play on the radio.  I also really liked the country stylings of “You and I“–the piano bit kind of reminds me of Free Willy.  This track in particular shares a few motifs in common with several others. (There’s even a country remix of “Born This Way” as one of the Bonus Tracks!  PLUS- the actual title of “You and I” has umlauts on the u.  I cannot replicate those here, but it reminds me of the common usage of foreign languages throughout the album.)

Let’s talk about motifs.  I noticed that nearly every song had explicit references to religion, specifically to God and Jesus.  Obvious places like in the bad guy love song “Judas” and club-friendly”Black Jesus + Amen Fashion“, and subtle ones like in “Born This Way” and Latino “Americano“.  Some might argue that she is presenting a twisted take on religion, shaping it to her own mythos as she deems fit.  Others might dig deep and claim she’s returning to her own religious beliefs and roots.  I tend to see it as more of a genuine view towards Christianity in particular.  In the eponymous song, she seems to be addressing the religious right’s harangue of homosexuals.  She points out that God doesn’t make mistakes and that being different is part of His cosmic design.

That said, she seems to embrace a very Darwinian view towards psychology and sociology.  Throughout the record, her insistance on being “Born this way” belie a favoring of nature over nurture.  That children cannot possibly be products of their environment is the message of both “Born This Way” and “Bad Kids“.  In the former it is a positive example wherein every person should be loved and respected regardless of the differences between them.

However, as “Bad Kids” suggests, that means that bad kids can not be held responsible for their bad deeds.  Nor can their parents be made accountable as the bad kid in question was simply born that way.  The bridge in particular refers to the bad kid’s creation by their parents:

I’m not that typical baby
I’m a bad kid like my mom and dad made me
I’m not that cool and you hate me
I’m a bad kid, that’s the way that they made me

Though these lyrics seem to grant some degree of agency to the parents, the earlier line, “My parents tried until they got divorced ‘cause I ruined their lives” shows that the parents, rather than being abusive, deadbeat parents to which a nurture-ist might attribute “bad” kids’ behavior, the singer’s parents tried to help shape their child’s future, but couldn’t because the kid was inherently bad.  This rejection of nuture-centric psychological paradigms reinforces the religious themes of other songs and outs Lady Gaga as an unrepentant Calvinist.****

Overall I really look forward to repeated listen-throughs of Born This Way.  I expect that more and more of her songs will grow on me and I’ll come to enjoy this album quite nearly as much as The Fame Monster.  Though many of the songs are irresistibly dance-worthy (Indeed, it’s hard not to dance along to some of them!), there are a few more instrument-y, tender songs like “You and I” which are reminiscent of her more ballad-y efforts on her first album.  Though her big hits attempt to reach out and touch a wide audience, it’s these more intimate, personal songs that appeal to me most.

So there you have my review debut!  I hope you enjoyed it!  It was awfully text-heavy, so I think I go back and add some videos and pictures to break things up a little.  I did enjoy writing it and I think I’ll write more posts like it!  Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe that’ll be a nice addition to this blog.  As with my future enjoyment of Born This Way, we’ll only know for sure by trying it again!

*Note: It took me forever to find this unsatisfying picture of a walkman.  Google Image Search “walkman” and you’ll see what I mean.  They’re all phones!
**Note: I also shared this experience with Marissa a few short hours later.  She was far less enthusiastic than Joanne:
“April 6, 2011 3:06 PM Me: (PS- just heard the new Lady Gaga single “Born This Way” on the radio in the taxi–it’s good!)
                   Marissa: i am sure it is”
***Note: In scouring my old emails I also found this gem of an admission from Marissa, dated July 14, 2011: ” I came to accept that I think I sorta kinda only a little bit like Lady Gaga. Ok I admitted it. Her two new songs are good and quite catchy. I am not a fan or anything, but I will say that I enjoy her music. HAPPY NOW?!?!?!?!?”  Yes Marissa, we’re all happy now.
****Note: For those still unsure, yes, these reviews will be somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
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