Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way” single was released last Friday, and today it’s reached number 1 on the Billboard Top 100.
It’s the 1,000th song ever to do so, in the 52 year history of that list.
This is tragic.
Leading up to the release, Team Gaga pushed this song as the new gay anthem for today’s youth. It promised to break barriers and open the close-minded to the gay existence. It would singlehandedly lift a weight from shoulders of ever queer-identified person in the universe.
OK, so that’s a hyperbole, but so is Lady Gaga’s media presence. As someone who has long upheld, among friends, colleagues and family, that she not as great as everyone says she is, I thank my lucky stars that the gay masses seem to hate “Born This Way.”
Let me explain.
The day of the single’s release The Advocate published Zack Rosen‘s brilliant gem panning the Lady Monster and her inescapable presence in our lives, gay or not. Earlier today the Daily Beast’s Jacob Berstein posted his own take, Gays Turn On Lady Gaga.
Both stories show, thanks to social media and the googols of gays that use it, a widespread disappointment spreading across the pop-consuming, light-loafered community. And not a moment too soon.
Before I lay it down sharply for Gaga, let me put this out there: I don’t hate her message. I love that she has taken the issue of gay invisibility and made a big, sparkly, meat-wearing deal out of it. Her refusal to be silent is refreshing and, yes, I have danced to her music, starting in 2007. It’s catchy and the lyrics are easy to remember — and while it works, that’s not always a good thing. Good music has staying power, and I’m not sure this stuff does.
But moving on. Let’s explore the reasons why gay men don’t like this new single:
Point one: The song sounds too much like other songs.
Many a Facebooker and blogger pointed towards Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” to which the “Born This Way” chord progressions are practically identical. Clifton Brown Jr., a nightlife scenster and performance artist, asked Facebook earlier this week: “HEY! Don’t you love that new Gaga song ‘Express your Waterfalls When Love Takes Over’?!?!?!”
Additionally, Bernstein unearths that the song most directly sources from a disco hit and gay classic called “I Was Born This Way” by former singer Carl Bean. Bernstein also points out that Gaga only spent 10 minutes writing her own version. So, big surprise, musically it’s just not that original. Moving on.
Point two: You can’t just write some facile lyrics and call it a gay anthem.
Sailing through the gay blogosphere, gay men seem to be at odds with being told what the new gay anthem is, instead of deciding it for themselves. As former club kid James St. James points out, a gay anthem becomes one “because we find ourselves empathizing with the singer’s passion or pain or exuberance. It’s the realisation that their pain is our pain too, that their joy is our joy…”
There’s nothing good about releasing a song and telling your audience how to interpret the work. It’s like explaining the joke instead of telling it, and betrays your work as having no depth at all.
I mean, this is her new pop number one hit:
“I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way”
And then, oh god:
“A different lover is not a sin
Believe capital H-I-M”
And worst of all:
“Don’t be a drag, just be a queen.”
I can’t read any more.
Remember when Gretchen, the toaster strudel heiress character from Mean Girls, tries and fails to make “fetch” the new word for “cool”? Or when MTV tried to force Skins upon the masses, and they discovered that it was a bad show and nobody cares?
Right now, it’s as if Regina George and and the MTV audience said, in unison: “It’s not gonna happen!”
Point three: We’re just tired of being associated
Beyond the confusion of just “how she transitioned into the shortcut for all things gay,” Rosen is tired and annoyed with Gaga because she doesn’t represent his life, and yet the popular belief is that she must. Is this possible, a gay that doesn’t like Lady Gaga? They’re all coming out of the closet now.
So I am too: Gaga does not represent some overarching symbol of my life as a gay man. I have been officially at odds with her since the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
This was the final step of her ascension to unending national attention. The gays had been dancing to her songs in the clubs for two years. Then she got up on stage with her face covered, and weirded everyone out. Fine, that’s what an “underground artist” is supposed to do, and I supported it. But then, when she won, she ripped off the mask.
This seems nit-picky, but think about it: if you’re going to take the leap of covering up your face at an awards show for some symbolic reason, to frantically remove the cover to accept your award completely shatters your illusion. If her faceless red freako-look was meant to represent those who go unrecognised, by revealing her face Gaga said to the world, “Just kidding, it’s me! Good ol’ Lady Gaga, I’m a real person under this crap!”
Her devotion to the art of being the other, the freak, turned to plastic. I stopped believing in her authenticity at that moment.
This past weekend I went to a gay club in Hell’s Kitchen. It was full of primped-up guys, dancing around. When the song came on they weren’t rocking out. It was more of a disinterested shoulder-bump. I immediately thought, “that’s no good for Gaga.” Sure, her songs are catchy, but the lyrics are forgettable, at best. When they aren’t a slew of repeated nonsense syllables they tell no story.
I grew up listening to Carole King’s “Tapestry.” I love Tracy Chapman. While it would be unfair to expect most music writers to match King’s genius, is there even a watered-down equivalent to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” Can she ever really “Give Me A Reason?” Where is the story arc in “Bad Romance?”
If she would write a lyric that shows us pain and emotion, instead of just telling us, I’d be happy. Anyone can hire a bunch of style-crazed urban queens to dress them up like a crazy person, but I have yet to read a lyric that makes me think. As Rosen writes: “… I just want her to be de-canonized as a homosexual omnipresence so I can go on with my life. I do believe in culture as politics. But Lady Gaga is not culture.”
And while I’m up here on this non-comedogenic box, may I just say that I am tired — so very tired — of vacant-eyed 22 year old women I’ve just met at a friend’s party, or in the gay bar, stumbling up with boozy breath and screeching “you must love Lady Gaga!” into my ear.
Not only are you wearing too much blush or not enough brassiere for my taste, my dear, but you’re assuming I idolize an all-too-calculating pop singer that produces less-than-poetic songs. Not only is it insulting to my intelligence, but you’re actually stereotyping me right to my face. So please, go listen to Esperanza Spalding’s new album (I promise I will too, right after this post is done), and get over the Gaga moment before all the gays leave you behind. Again.
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