Pop music is like junk food. It’s not very substantive, but when you’re in the right mood, there’s absolutely nothing more appetizing.
Over the past three years, Lady Gaga’s combination of costumes, performance art and claw-heavy dance moves (not to mention her tendency to play classical piano while wearing a leather bikini) have helped her become the biggest pop act around. Katy Perry may be cuter and Beyoncé may be a better dancer, but Gaga is by far the most entertaining. She writes her own music. She sings instead of lip-syncs. And it’s refreshing to see a female pop star willing to forgo candy-colored outfits and songs about wanting a ring on her finger in favor of chains, spikes and creepy nun outfits that make her sexually unappealing. Gaga is more bomb than a bombshell. We like her that way.
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But Lady Gaga does have one weakness: the studio album. She is a talented singer and her 2009 Cherrytree Sessions EP features an incredibly moving acoustic version of “Poker Face” that should shut up any music snobs who think she’s all show. But her full albums have always fallen a little flat. On her third album, Born This Way, she relies too heavily on synthesizers and vocal effects, which smooth out all her rough edges until she sounds like a Eurodance version of Madonna (“Scheiße”), Sister Sledge (“Born This Way”) or early Whitney Houston (“Fashion of His Love”).
Take her single “Judas,” for example. It’s a bubblegum dance-pop love ballad about Judas Iscariot, with campy lyrics such as “I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby, it’s so cruel.” Gaga delivers an amusing twist on all those “ooh, baby love” pop songs, but the religious imagery is too familiar (cough-Madonna-Marilyn-Manson-Nirvana-Kanye-West-cough) so the song feels a little cliche. That’s a shame too, because the Judas-Jud-ah-ah-ahs” chorus is pretty fun to chant.
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The album’s stand-out tracks are the “Born This Way” anthem and “The Edge of Glory,” a power ballad that could lend itself easily to an inspirational movie montage. The country-ish “Yoü and I,” with its overt Springsteen references and Shania Twain feel would be much better stripped down. (What’s that? Gaga has already performed it that way live? Perfect.)
Dance music doesn’t have to change the world, of course. Born This Way has its merits and it will definitely make you want to move. I just wanted it to be so much more. When an artist drapes herself in raw meat, encases herself in a giant egg, wears prosthetic shoulder horns and clip-clops onto the The View in 12-inch platform hooves and bright red fingerclaws, I expect her music to sound as interesting as she looks.