I have listened to Lady Gaga’s new single “Born This Way” on repeat for 97% of the past four days. Today, a good solid 10 hours of nothing but “Born This Way” at work – and I savoured every single repeated play. It has surpassed the amount of listens I gave “Bad Romance” in its initial release days, and while the Jury is still out as to whether it’s better than ‘Bad Romance’ or not, the Jury has most definitely decided that this is a pop classic. Believe me; I’ve listened to nothing else for 96 hours – if the song was shit I would have figured it out by now.
The obvious licks to the 1990′s, particularly its dance and eurodance output, is on gleaming display throughout “Born This Way.” There are dribs of 90′s house, the remixes of Motiv8, the kitchen sink production last heard on Hi-NRG euro-stonkers, and there’s a lush, heavy dose of 1970′s disco for extremely good measure. The 90′s were – for me – the greatest decade for all things dance and pop music, and “Born This Way” epitomises all of those flavours into a four minute bundle.
But what about the Madonna references? While I don’t agree that “Born This Way” is a carbon-copy of “Express Yourself” (even after listening to the mash-up which is just that – a really well made mash-up,) it does owe quite a fair bit to Madonna’s song; but only in parts. Heavy parts, yes, but there’s still enough of something relatively new happening here to not brush this off as imitation, particularly if you remember who the original Madonna was; Deborah Harry.
As a long-term Madonna advocate I’m not going to deny the references – Gaga herself knows even better than any of us that had it not been for Madonna, there would be no Gaga. But the references aren’t being made just for the sake of copying The Queen of Pop – they’re being made because they should be, and Gaga’s the first pop star to really figure this out.
Here’s the question I’ve been asking people all week; Why hasn’t somebody referenced Madonna like this before?
Why hasn’t somebody turned the base of Madonna’s Feminist-power-anthem into an anthem about global equality? Isn’t that actually kind of remarkable?
In how many endless decades of music have we seen band after band, coming and going, citing The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, blah blah blah blah BLAH as ‘direct’ influences? How many of those bands have guitar riffs they’ve stolen right out of any of the aforementioned’s music books? How is it that when these hipster bands rip off The Beatles it’s considered ‘Art’, but when Lady Gaga references Madonna, it’s stealing? Is that because it’s pop music? Is that because it’s a female pop star paying ‘direct’ homage to another female pop star? Is it because they don’t have a cock between their legs? This whole debate just feeds into the idea that pop music is a worthless genre to the general populous. Why should anybody be referencing Madonna – she’s only a pop star?! Well then why should anybody be refencing The Beatles? I don’t place judgement on other people for their choices in music because I think it’s an awful thing to do, but when I go to a pop concert I want to see a fucking wind machine and elaborate dance routines, not a drumkit or some guy with floppy hair looking at the ground all night. No.
Any way you look at it, this is all text-book Sexism.
Justin Timberlake plagiarised an entire career (Hello, Michael Jackson) over two albums and was hailed as nothing short of a saviour. Really? I mean, great, the songs that sprawled themselves over those two very good records he released are of an excellent quality, but didn’t he just completely rip Michael Jackson off? You know, if we’re going to play that game? Admit it, he ripped Michael Jackson off.
But does that make his output any less brilliant? Absolutely not! He – like so many before him in all genre fields – took what he wanted from, in this case – the Michael Jackson careers handbook, and transformed himself from a curly-haired boyband member into a Proper Superstar. By referencing another Superstar. Not surprisingly, there was no apparent witch-hunt with a bidding war on his head like there has been this past week for Gaga, and that’s a little unsettling.
It’s important that somebody is referencing Madonna like this, because it means that – finally – someone has realised she is worth referencing.
As for where I stand with Gaga, in light of all of this, it just makes me love her more. Finally, a pop star that really gets it. Madonna has always been the absolute holy grail of music for me, and if Gaga’s going to make references directly about her in her music and imagery then I’m all for it; what a fantastic person to be referencing. It certainly beats hearing yet another indie-made song that rips off Led Zeppelin.