Born This Way
Lady Gaga's first single, "Just Dance," debuted in April 2008. Three short years later, Forbes magazine crowned her the most influential celebrity in the world, ahead of the likes of Oprah Winfrey and U2.
But simply being a celebrity isn't what this 25-year-old pop culture provocateur is most interested in as her second full-length studio album lands in fans' hands. "On Born This Way, I'm writing more about pop culture as religion, my identity as my religion," she told the U.K.'s Guardian.
When asked if the influence she wields scares her, she replied, "No, but it does put me in an interesting position as an artist whose fan base is commercial and widening. If you were to ask me what I want to do, I don't want to be a celebrity, I want to make a difference. I never wanted to look pretty on stage and sing about something we've all heard about before. I'd much rather write a song called "Judas" and talk about betrayal and forgiveness and feeling misunderstood, and talk to the fans and figure out what it is society needs. If I can be a leader, I will."
So where is she leading us?
"Born This Way" has significant spiritual problems, but it rightly says, "God makes no mistakes" and affirms the worth of every person ("I'm beautiful in my way"). The song also counsels, "Love your friends." A similar dissonance exists on "Judas" when Gaga (as Mary Magdalene) confesses, "Jesus is my virtue/But Judas is the demon I cling to." "Yoü and I" proclaims, "There's only three men that ima serve my whole life/It's my daddy, and Nebraska and Jesus Christ." Several songs mention prayer. On "Scheiße," she sings, "Wish I could dance on a single prayer/Wish I could be strong without somebody there." And on "Electric Chapel," Gaga tells her man she's willing to "pray for your sins right under the glass disco ball."
Elsewhere on that song, Gaga momentarily recognizes that lasting love requires more than a sexual connection ("My body is sanctuary/ … It's not about sex or champagne you holy fool"). The song also hints at making a prayerful, sacred commitment to another person ("Follow me, I need something sacred from you/Down on our knees we'll find a way"), though the next line muddies the waters: "To make a pure love work in a dirty way."
Whatever Gaga gets momentarily right on "Born This Way" is utterly undermined by her insistence that people's various sexual predilections are all approved of by God: "I'm beautiful in my way/'Cause God makes no mistakes/I'm on the right track, baby/I was born this way." Later, she places sexual identity in the same category as race ("No matter gay, straight or bi/Lesbian, transgendered life/ … No matter black, white or beige/Chola or orient made/I'm on the right track, baby/I was born to be brave"). In a similar vein, "Bad Kids" tries to affirm young outcasts ("Don't be insecure if your heart is pure/You're still good to me if you're a bad kid"), but ends up glorifying their rebellious choices: "Degenerate young rebel and I'm proud of it/ … I'm so bad, but I don't give a d‑‑n."
"Americano" could be interpreted (and has been by many reviewers) as the story of a lesbian wedding ("I met a girl in east L.A./ … We fell in love/But not in court/ … If you love me/We can marry/On the West Coast"). The song also shouts, "I don't speak your/I won't speak your/Jesus Christo." "Bloody Mary" nonsensically namedrops Pontius Pilate, then adds in stoning and crucifixion. It credits Christ with inspiring this: "I'm gonna dance, dance, dance/With my hands, hands, hands/Above my head, head, head/Like Jesus said."
"Judas" includes these lines: "In the most biblical sense/I am beyond repentance/Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind/But in the cultural sense/I just speak in future tense/Judas, kiss me if offensed/Or wear ear condom next time." A bonus track titled "Black Jesus (cross) Amen Fashion" mashes up Gaga's stated affinity for the Lord, a black man and the fashion industry ("Put it on, amen fashion/Celebrate, oh, oh, style your passion/ … Black Jesus, Black Jesus, Black Jesus/Jesus is the new black").
"Heavy Metal Lover" begins with an graphic allusion to oral sex. "Marry the Night" mentions making love in a car. "Government Hooker" (which includes four censored f-words) is about a prostitute's sexual habits. "Yoü and I" and "The Edge of Glory" both include references to sex and rebellion. "Scheiße" frequently repeats that word, which is a German obscenity. Other tracks have censored uses of "b‑‑ch" and "s‑‑‑."
Liner note photos picture Gaga in various stages of undress and entangled in a slimy faux placenta from which she is being "born."
The most provocative salvo on Born This Way is its title track, which insists that all expressions of our sexuality are equally good and valid … and come from God. As for the balance of the album, we get plenty more of both … sex and God, that is. Gaga seems driven by a fascination with these subjects, and they're messily intertwined throughout.
Past all the glitz and glamour and Madonna-esque efforts to shock, Gaga hints at a deep void in her own soul that she struggles to fill. "I'm a soldier to my own emptiness," she sings on "Marry the Night." And even though she's playing the role of a teenage girl when she sings "I want lots of friends that invite me to their parties" on "Hair," you get the sense that she's talking about her own life too.
For all of Gaga's deliberate, problematic provocation—and there's no shortage of that here—Born This Way paints a picture of a talented, tormented woman who's unsure whether love, sex or God is what she needs most. Unfortunately, as the world's most influential entertainer, her lack of clarity on these important matters won't help her legion of "little monsters" move toward clarity—or morality—either.