Lady Gaga’s Born This Way: Best Pop Album of 2011

by on March 17th, 2013
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2011 has seen the release of a slew of excellent music albums, ranging from blockbuster chart toppers (Adele’s 21) to quieter but no less stellar releases (Paper Airplane by Alison Krauss). If your musical tastes strew towards upbeat songs to shake your hips to, Born This Way by pop powerhouse Lady Gaga will be your favorite album of the year.

The record makes good use of all the musical tricks Lady Gaga has perfected in her ascension to the throne vacated by Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. There’s plenty of references to tainted love, often read as support of gay rights (“We fell in love / But not in court” – Americano), though the lyrics are vague enough to lack meaning. There’s the repetitive vocalizations of her very Gaga name, as well as a few others (Judas). Above all, there’s the forceful dance beat, which will have you tapping your feet before you realize what’s happening. Lady Gaga couples the beat with dramatic melodies (showcasing her clear, skillful voice) and dramatic lyrics that lend the whole endeavor a degree of pathos – perfect for moving with abandon at the club or singing at the top of your lungs in your car.

What sets this album apart from previous Lady Gaga releases is the 80s time-capsule that must have housed the songs before she got her monster paws on them. The album at times references Madonna (Born This Way and Scheibe), Tears for Fears (Bloody Mary), classic hair metal (Electric Chapel), Pat Benatar (Hair) and Queen (You and I, bearing a guest appearance by none other than Dr. Brian May). In fact, Lady Gaga was branded a copy-cat for her use of Madonna-style melodies and religious imagery, which exist in abundance throughout the album. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a plagiarist, I don’t believe she intends her songs to be an homage, either. Rather, I suspect she’s simply using her favorite elements of her favorite music. The melodies are incredibly catchy, and the religious references serve only to provide gravity for otherwise meaningless lyrics.

The overall album is a solid product, but a few tracks are exceptional. What sets Lady Gaga apart from other pop princesses is her eagerness to be weird and her willingness to be ugly. She dips into the lower registers of her vocal range, strings nonsensical words together, and mixes unconventional chord progressions in with beautiful harmonies. These tools are used to full effect on Americano, a fast-paced song that might feel at home in an Olive Garden commercial. The chorus to Judas is beautifully constructed, and although I couldn’t help laughing at the song’s opening vocals at first listen, I also couldn’t stop singing the song to myself days later. My favorite track, however, is Edge of Glory. This song is the perfect pop anthem, expertly utilizing soaring melodies, Gaga’s masterful voice, a lovely bridge and lyrics evoking the possibility of a dream coming true. The song also makes excellent use of another 80s staple – the saxophone solo, here performed by the late, great Clarence Clemons of E Street Band. Lady Gaga manages to toe the line between sincerity and gimmick without falling into cheesy camp territory (I’m looking at you, Katy Perry).

There are a few missteps. Bloody Mary is a strange detour down a dark, country road, and You and I seems out of place with the rest of the album. However, such moments are few and far between on a record boasting a great deal of catchy melodies, dance-happy beats and flashes of lyrical brilliance (“I’m not that typical baby / I’m a bad kid / Like my mom and dad made me” – Bad Kids). In other words, Lady Gaga has true musical talent and a keen sense for what works in pop. The end result is a music album that stands out from the pack, and that could easily become your favorite after a listen.

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