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February 14, 2011  | by: Kerri O'Malley

Lady Gaga's Born This Way Promo Shot

Last Friday, after months of hype, Lady Gaga’s latest single, “Born This Way,” finally hit the web.  Since then, it’s been endlessly compared to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and thrashed for ripping off Kylie Minogue’s cover art.

But Minogue and Madonna fade before Gaga’s empowerment intentions, even if her song doesn’t deliver the usual Gaga dance-dungeon vibe I’ve come to adore.

Gaga and Madonna, Living in Harmony

Gaga’s do-what-you-want anthem does sound like Madonna’s famous 80s tune, but the lyrics move the comparison to the wayside.  Madonna’s bubble-gum “Express Yourself” isn’t an inspirational, go-get-em song; it’s really just about getting your man to tell you that he loves you.  I can see why the two are being compared purely from a sounds-like perspective, but really that’s the most disappointing part of the song anyway.

The beat of Gaga’s new tune is catchy, sure.  But not at all in the way that the Lady’s past tracks have been.  It lacks the crunchy, filthy vibe we all (sometimes secretly) love: the vibe that “Bad Romance” exemplifies with its horror-movie techno beat and almost harsh, unexpected vocal changes.  It’s a dance song that makes you want to fist-pump, make evil faces, and dance like a naughty club kid all at the same time.

While “Born This Way” begins with a promising gut-punch dance beat, it’s quickly lost in far-too-poppy, sugar-sweet singing.  Worse than Madonna, the song sounds so sweet, it could have been featured in a Disney movie.  Hopes for a remake of  Bobby Brown’s edgier “My Prerogative” are crushed under Gaga’s sugar pop.  Where’s the edge, Gaga?  You know you’re not just a pop star like the other girls, right?

Gaga isn’t our Madonna.  She’s grungier than that.  She’s Madonna after Nirvana.  She’s covered herself in the sex and darkness on purpose.  And she has become a role model for a lot of people because of her ostentatious and outrageous sexual identity and openness.

Gaga for Gay Rights, Circa 2009

She is a sex symbol in a completely new way.  For a few months there, with the rumors of Gaga’s secret penis, it seemed like she could be the first transgender pop star.  The spectre of that possible penis has never left Gaga, and she has translated that bit of mean gossip into her new identity as an extremely prominent gay rights activist.

Directly referencing homosexuality in her new track, Gaga directs most of “Born This Way” to the gay community, singing “Don’t be a drag/Just be a queen” repeatedly throughout the track.  In this way, it’s an incredibly important track.  The title and the intentions of the lyrics make sense and become more than just candy-coated self-help.  Lady Gaga may sound a little bit too much like your pop culture life coach (or Michael Jackson) at times, but her real motive is clear: to get a song out there on Top 40 Radio that’s unavoidably pro-gay rights and anti-homophobia.  And for that, she deserves a million gold medals.

I miss her grungy dance-rock, the kind that’s helping to reinvent what pop sounds like, but hey, there’s always the promise of another crunchy, less-cotton-candy-sounding single in the near future.  This one was purposefully made for the radio, as Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield points out.

If you haven’t already heard the new track at last night’s Grammy Awards show (with a Gaga organ breakdown), give the song a listen for yourself below:

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