She Was Certainly Not Born This Way, Baby.

Lady Gaga’s immensely popular new album Born This Way is presumably her “manifesto” (a word Gaga has been throwing around of late) for inclusion, celebrating difference, and celebrating self.  Some reviewers have called this album a more authentic, “real” Lady Gaga than the personality she projected on her previous albums: as one who parties, drinks copiously, and gets involved in love triangles and “bad romance.”

I disagree.

Although her other albums are unlikely a genuine reflection of Gaga (though she’s had some twisted romances), this album expresses all sorts of experiences and childhoods, none of which reflect the real background of Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta of Manhattan). “Hair,” “Bad Kids,” and title track “Born this Way” alone contradict each other in terms of familial relationships. This is not to say that an artist is not allowed to play with his or her persona. That, if anything, is the essence of Lady Gaga and other chameleon artists such as Madonna. As Gaga states in “Government Hooker,” “I can be anything, I’ll be your everything.” This album, viewed as a whole, is a composite of all her little monsters, from the hipsters (whether or not they admit it), to the southerners, to the LGBT community, to tween girls. Below is my analysis of selected songs from the album and their lyrics:

Government Hooker
In typical Gaga-fashion, this song shows the power dichotomy between a sex worker and governement official. Or is it? Could it be the relationship between the governed and the government? Either way, the song explores the power between the dominant and the dominated with lines such as “I’m your hooker” paired with the same speaker insisting “Yeah, you’re my hooker.” Gaga also takes advantage of the unfortunate rhyme “Put your hands on me/ John F. Kennedy.”

Although this song incorporates Biblical allusions, it is more about a love triangle than anything else (think an attempt to update “Alejandro”). Once again, Gaga plays with opposites: Judas is the bad boy, while Jesus is good (albeit not as exciting as Judas). This is a clever spin on the virgin/whore dichotomy: “Jesus is my virtue and Judas is the demon I cling to.”

“Americano” is about a female lover who the speaker intends to marry. This incorporates one of Gaga’s main causes: gay marriage. Confusingly, she writes that they can marry “on the West Coast” (gay marriage isn’t currently legal there because of Proposition 8), but paired with “Don’t you try to catch me/ I’m livin’ on the edge of the law,” she appears to be encouraging the fight against Prop 8 and Arizona’s Immigration Bill.

Standing in contrast to “Born this Way,” which features parents who embrace their daughter’s individuality, “Hair” speaks to teen rebellion against parents who try to strip teens of individuality. In this case, all of Gaga’s essence is wrapped up in her wild hair, hair that her parents try to cut and tame while she is asleep —  a complete shift from “Born This Way” where the mother figure inspires individuality over conformity. “Hair” has all the characteristics of a tween/teen song with lines such as: “I just want to be free/ I just want to be me/ And I want lots of friends who invite me to their parties.” Later in the song, Gaga reveals that she is really not as free as her hair despite her affirmations because her appearance is wrapped up in societal expectations and pressures:  “Sometimes I want some racoon or red highlights/ Just because I want my friends to think I’m dynamite/ and on Friday rock city high school dance/ I got my bangs to hide that I don’t stand a chance.” Score for irony.

When I first read the lyrics (which are laced with German like the title), I thought it was about a strong woman showing her vulnerability. But now that I learned schiesse means “shit” or “crap” in German, I think it might actually be referencing a strong woman who wishes that gender roles were different and that she could “be strong without the Scheisse.”  She affirms “Scheisse be mine” repeatedly.

Bad Kids
We all know that bad kids never need to announce that they’re bad kids, they just are. Here Gaga tries realllly hard to convince us she is the young New York hipster announcing that she is a “degenerate young rebel” who “don’t know wrong from right.” In true teen rebellion style, she blames her parents for her shortcomings “I’m a bad kid/ Like my mom and dad made me” while also reaffirming the inclusivity that pervades the album with a chorus of “Don’t be insecure/ if your heart is pure/ you’re still good to me if you’re a bad kid baby.” This was one of the stranger messages on the album.

Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
A song about independence, the open road, patriotism, and unicorns(?), here Gaga writes about the quest for love as one that requires independence and a little loneliness. Lesbian references abound: “She’s got a rainbow syrup in her heart that she bleeds/ She don’t care if your papers or love is the law/ She’s a free soul burnin’ roads with a flag in her bra.”

Heavy Metal Lover
Its intro of “I want your whiskey mouth/ All over my blonde south” is one of my favorite lines in the album primarily because it sounds like a return to the truly original lyrics of Gaga’s previous albums. The rest of the song references rabble rousing and partying, much like The Fame and The Fame Monster.

You and I
A country-Western ballad made evident by even a quick glimpse at the lyrics, this song differs dramatically from the rest of Born this Way, and the rest of Gaga’s work as a whole. With music by “Mutt” Lange, former husband of and songwriter for Shania Twain, Gaga hits a different demographic. Gaga writes: “It’s been two years since I let you go/ I couldn’t listen to a joke or rock n’ roll/ And muscle cars drove a truck right through my heart/ On my birthday you sang me ‘Heart of Gold’/ With a guitar hummin’ and no clothes.” Upon further inspection, the song could also be a love song to the state of Nebraska (much like “Sweet Home Alabama” and the like) with lines like, “There’s only three men that ima serve my whole life/ It’s my daddy, and Nebraska, and Jesus Christ.”

Therein lies my humble analysis of several songs from Born this Way. But it’s Gaga, so who knows what she’s really trying to say. This is, after all, the woman whose definition of and interest in truth varies by the day:

“I hate the truth so much that I’d rather have a giant dose of bullshit any day.” – Lady Gaga

“Stop feeding me bullshit. Tell me the truth.” – Lady Gaga

“What I’ve discovered is that in art, as in music, there’s a lot of truth —  and then there’s a lie. The artist is essentially creating his work to make this lie a truth, but he slides it in amongst all the others. The tiny little lie is the moment I live for, my moment. It’s the moment that the audience falls in love.” – Lady Gaga

“I’m telling you a lie in a vicious effort that you will repeat my lie over and over until it becomes true” – Lady Gaga

By Claire S. Gould

Claire is a social justice communications nerd by day and a bookish feminist blogger by night. She runs the popular blog Bibliofeminista as well as Today in Women's History, a project celebrates a woman in history every day.

Outside of work, blogging, and volunteering, Claire enjoys consuming caffeine, making and appreciating art, watching classic films, and endlessly discussing progressive politics.

12 replies on “She Was Certainly Not Born This Way, Baby.”

Ugh, yes, this. The thing that drives me absolutely bonkers about Gaga is the way she tries to erase the process of making–she herself is a visibly manufactured persona, and I wish so much that she would just own it. We might be born a certain way, but from the second we exit the womb powerful cultural forces are shaping us and to ignore that is to fail pretty much forever at either inclusivity or insight

Gaga has still not addressed the words she used on the song “Born This Way.” Her or someone at her record label should have known that using “chola descent and Orient made” would be offensive to people from Asian and Latino backgrounds.

She’s telling us a lie in a vicious attempt to get us to buy her ALBUMS over and over and over again.

I cannot get behind the idea of Lady Gaga as some uber-artiste ”representative” of the world’s outcasts and misfits. She is a thin, able-bodied, cis-gender, (presenting) heterosexual, upper-middle-class white girl from New York with a great education and every privilege and advantage imaginable, and she wants to rep all the ”cholas” and people who were ”Orient made”? Give me a break. She’s a self-obsessed racist shock-jock with her head up her ass, not some scion of the misunderstood. Pfffffffffft.

I agree whole heartedly with you, and I tried to broach the idea of her education and privilege being way out of whack with her ‘image’ of the misunderstood-bullied-misfit-who-made-it, recently with my flat mate, but she chose not to engage with it, so I’m going to bring it up here.

At one point in her HBO concert, she tells this story about her professors at NYU critiquing her voice as too pop for musical theatre and too musical theatre for pop, and blah blah blah. Gaga presents it as a way to show how all the odds were against her, but I pointed out to my friend that if you go to Tisch at NYU that’s what you are signing up for when you take musical theatre and acting classes! It’s a well respected program with professors who know their shit. They weren’t ‘bullying’ her as she likes to make it out to be, but doing their job, and critiquing her as professors in these classes are supposed to do. It frustrated me that she would take her experience of being critiqued by professors at an elite program at an elite school, and use it to manipulate the crowd into believing this ‘poor-misunderstood-gaga-with-everyone-against-her image she created. However, my flat mate being English didn’t quite grasp how hard it is to get into NYU and on top of that, to get into Tisch so this point was kind of lost on her.

Furthermore, as someone who was bullied for being a size 16/18 in high school (which is NOT big), when she brought up how the girls at school made fun of her for being 10 pounds heavier I wanted to slap her. Considering, I was bullied by girls who were her ‘high school size,’ and that she says this (without irony) while now being so thin herself, it’s nearly impossible for me to sympathize with her. I don’t deny that she was bullied and I do appreciate she speaks out about it, but she really doesn’t have a grasp of how much privilege she has and that infuriates me.

I love talking to people, more than talking I love listening, because I’ve found the more you let a person talk, the more they will tell you what they are really thinking/feeling.

I think Lady Gag is a manufactured product produced for mass human consumption, a persona, fake, a created caricature. I think she’ll say/do anything to sell a record. I don’t think there’s much to the image she is trying to portray and I think it turns with the wind, in the direction of whatever will make her more money and more popular.

She’s supposed to be so free-loving and inclusive but in lambasting her own looks, she calls herself a “tranny” ““I just don’t feel that it’s all that sexy. It’s weird. And uncomfortable. I look at photos of myself, and I look like such a tranny! It’s amazing!
“I look like Grace Jones, androgynous, robo, future fashion queen. It’s not what is sexy.
“I don’t really think anybody’s d*** is hard, looking at that. I think they’re just confused and maybe a little scared.”

She also has some body/weight issues: She was suffering from lack of sleep, perpetual jet lag, and a rigorous, self-imposed diet. “She’d say, ‘I can’t have that, I can’t have that,'” David Ciemny, Lady Gaga’s former tour manager says. “She always wanted salads, deli meat and cheese, and hummus and chicken — that was her big thing, hummus and grilled chicken. If she had something fried, she’d say, ‘I totally splurged.'”

Like just about every other famous young girl, Lady Gaga had to keep her weight at a ridiculously low level. “From the first time we met her and measured her and checked her for the final [ensembles], she’d lost twenty pounts,” says a costumer who worked with her last year. “She self-proclaimed that she didn’t eat for weeks to fit into the clothes.”

Which is pretty much the norm for pop music.

Sad, isn’t is? It’s why I avoid it like the plague. I don’t think Gag is showing us anything but how good she is at mimicking those who came before her. I know lots of artists are inspired by others but they don’t completely regurgitate another person’s style and music, and that makes her pop music sausage inedible, IMO unless you want to eat vomit.

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