A self-described performance artist, Lady Gaga seeks to shock and titillate. But how shocking is any of this really? Both the acclaim the singer has received as well as the attempt by the media to drum up controversy around her are out of proportion to her actual talents and the actual “shock,” or lack thereof, in the content of her music. Behind the eccentric costumes, one sees, especially on her latest album, a great deal of conventional thinking and musical ideas that exhausted themselves decades ago.
There is something stale and calculated about Lady Gaga. Spontaneity and surprise are generally absent in her work. The costuming, the fake blood, the constant and nostalgic reference to other artists’ music can only get her so far, and the superficiality of thinking and feeling evident in her songs is more pronounced than ever with Born This Way.
Something of a caricature of contemporary dance music, virtually every song on Gaga’s new album is built around a pounding metronome of a beat with little if any rhythmic variation or inventiveness. Such tedious productions tend to numb listeners rather than enliven or engage them. The guitar and synthesizers are set to the expected tone for the genre and play their standard role. It is, at every turn, what one would expect.
“I’m beautiful in my way,” sings Lady Gaga on “Born This Way,” “cause God makes no mistakes.” The religious theme continues: “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are,” she sings, “cause He made you perfect, babe.” “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen,” goes the refrain. Conceived partly as a response to anti-gay bigotry, the first single from Born This Way is an anthem of self-empowerment. “We are all born superstars,” she sings.
Some of the narrow mindedness and naïveté of identity politics is expressed in the song. While Gaga’s opposition to anti-gay bigotry may be heartfelt, including her desire to comfort those who have been hurt by it, the encouragement of gay, racial or national pride is of no help. Not a reinforcement, but a destruction and crossing over of all such boundaries is desperately needed at present, including if one wishes to combat anti-gay prejudice.