Well to start off, we haven't been entirely honest with you, readers. We haven't been honest at all. A couple of weeks ago we tweeted this series of bon mots in the direction of Lady Gaga.
The thing is, we weren't actually listening to 'Born This Way'. We don't have a copy of the song. What really happened is, that evening (UK time) Lady Gaga decided Popjustice should be one of a handful of sites to 'leak' lyrics from the single. So it was us, Billboard, Rolling Stone and US gossip blogger Perez Hilton. Not bad company to be in we suppose. It was suggested to us that we tweet 'I'm listening to Born This Way' because it would be a massive LOL in light of the fact that we tend to tweet 'I'm listening to Bad Romance' quite a lot. Hilarious.
This said, we weren't completely lying, because we could sort of hear 'Born This Way' in our head. In fact it had been in our head since last May, when we were drunk and a lady first played us the song. At that point it was in demo form so the lady we were with had to rap the rap bit, there and then, over the backing track.
We'll explain what happened that night in more detail at some other time but the point is that to have heard 'Born This Way' in May might seem like quite a big treat, but to be quite honest it has been a complete nightmare. Obviously if someone says to you "would you like to hear the next single" (even if at that point the next single was strictly 'Alejandro' but you know what we mean) you are hardly going to say "no I will leave it thanks very much" but the intervening months have been like torture. Imagine hearing an amazing song once, then not being able to hear it again. IMAGINE. The melody of this song has been haunting us for EIGHT MONTHS. We have been humming it on the bus. Imagining the video. We have literally had dreams about this song.
So hearing the song again for a second time, just before Christmas, was a relief. Not just because we were slightly less drunk on this occasion, but because the relative clarity allowed us to acknowledge the fact that, yes, 'Born This Way' really is just as special as our memory had led us to believe. It was handy also to be able to confirm that yes, the song did in fact exist and no, we hadn't just somehow made the whole thing up.
So what's it like?
Well it's sort of amazing.
Actually it's not sort of amazing, it just is amazing. And yes we would say that because we do genuinely think Lady Gaga is the best thing to happen to pop in at least 18 years. But we are also saying it because the song is amazing, and if that's not complete objectivity we don't know what is. (Well it's not that for a start — Objectivity Ed)
You want to know what it sounds like, obviously. Well, it is very straightforward song and the production matches that — compared
with the all-guns-blazing sound of something like 'Bad Romance' or
'Dance In The Dark' 'Born This Way' offers a relatively sparse, crisp,
glacial sound. Also, and this will undoubtedly prompt an amusing rage from Madonna fans incapable of comprehending a world in which more than one female singer can be popular, so brace yourself: 'Born This Way' sounds a bit like a modern nod to 'Vogue' and 'Express Yourself', with a bit of 'Deeper & Deeper' thrown in for good measure. The production is far from boring (it sounds great and nothing like what Gaga's done before) but if you're expecting some sort of death metal/Belgian techno crossover hit you may wish to adjust your expectations ahead of Friday's first play. It's a fresh sound, but in the mentalness stakes it's not the sort of song you would fire across a field at a cow if you wanted to make it do an involuntary poo. We are sure the rest of the album will offer plenty of sonic ridiculousness but 'Born This Way' is all about giving the song itself room to breathe.
As for the song, you know the lyrics already, because Gaga posted them in full that night we did those lyric tweets. Reading the lyrics in isolation it might seem like a song with all the subtlety of George Michael collecting his holiday snaps but hearing the words in the context of the song itself the whole thing struck us as far less heavy handed, and as not so much a gay anthem as an equality song. It's a song about gays being alright, but it's also a song about straights being alright, and everyone else being alright too. It's a freedom anthem, and you can't go wrong with a bit of that. Having said this, 'Born This Way' will obviously be portrayed by many as a gay record. Is that a brave move?
Well in one sense, while hardly commercial suicide, that sort of song will simply not sell as well as a song about, say, going clubbing or whatever. So it's brave in a way, but it's hardly true that there's nothing to gain from all this. The Gays have not exactly sat on the fence vis a vis the whole 'is Lady Gaga any good?' debate, so she's unlikely to win a large number of new fans, but in terms of strengthening 'brand Gaga' the idea of jeopardising sales in order to celebrate who you are will probably do her more good in the longterm. So if you were feeling uncharitable you might say that it's a very elaborate and calculated positioning exercise, but it really doesn't feel like it when you're listening to the song. It just makes you feel very alright about whatever you happen to be. And, again, you can't go wrong with a bit of that.
Some people have asked us on Twitter how 'Born This Way' compares to other songs. Is it better than 'Bad Romance', a few people have wondered. In a battle between 'Born This Way' and the Britney single 'Hold It Against Me', others have asked, which song would win? Well to the first question it's too early to say (we'll hold our hands up here and say that the first couple of times we heard 'Bad Romance' we thought it sounded too much like 'Poker Face' — amazing) and to the second question we love 'Hold It Against Me' in some ways and we love 'Born This Way' in various other ways, but we prefer 'Born This Way'. Come back to us in a few weeks once we've got used to both songs and ask us again, if you like.
What role will 'Born This Way' play in Lady Gaga's ever-expanding discography? While her fan interaction is (for better or worse) already legendary, Gaga has always done a good job of seeming to exist, creatively, in something of a bubble. What's interesting about 'Born This Way', however, is that it feels a bit like a response to two main criticisms people throw at Lady Gaga.
Criticism 1: "You rip off Madonna all the time but don't credit her."
'Born This Way' answer: "Well how do you like this then, I've made a song that sounds like some of her big hits (but also like its own song), because OBVIOUSLY I know who Madonna is, it's not as if I am somehow expecting you all to imagine that I have never heard of this 'Madonna' singer, it's bloody Madonna after all isn't it."
Criticism 2: "You bang on about your bloody 'Monsters' all the time and you're always going on about the gays this, the gays that, but then we listen to your music and it's just stuff about going clubbing with a few abstract references to things being a bit weird sometimes."
'Born This Way' answer: "Here's a song that is specifically and explicitly about that sort of stuff, so piss off."
It feels like 'Born This Way' is a bit of a turning point for Lady Gaga — on both those counts it's the moment where she's putting her money where her mouth is. It is certainly a big test, because the absurd level of hysteria building towards Friday's premiere (and Sunday's first performance) is putting a huge amount of pressure on the song itself. It's almost an unfair amount of pressure, really. Can anything live up to this hype? Mind you, when you think about how much we and so many other people harp on about her being pop's Second Coming, it's only fair that expectations are high. Fortunately the song is, as we have already stated, amazing.
So what happens next? Well, you'll hear the song on Friday, then you'll see it performed at the Grammys on Sunday. What we think will happen in the short term is that 'Born This Way' will make a massive short-term impact post-Grammys but will not instantly provide Gaga with the same sort of huge leap forward she experienced with 'Bad Romance'. That job may well be done by the album's second single, which will then lead into the album release. And then, over the next year or so, in the context of the rest of the album and with added familiarity, 'Born This Way' will seem like less of an 'ooh look at me sorting out equality for a generation' statement song and will instead just start to seem like a completely normal pop song. Which, 'message-wise', we suppose is sort of the whole point — you get in people's faces so you don't need to get in people's faces any more. Perhaps the moment when 'Born This Way' clicks as a completely normal pop song is the moment when 'Born This Way' has changed pop.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps we've drifted off on a wild tangent. Perhaps the whole song is awful — we've only heard it twice and we were really, really drunk on both occasions. But we are pretty sure that 'Born This Way' is a solid gold pop corker and we are going to stand by that claim until further notice.