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Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’: Much Better Than ‘Express Yourself’

Rob Sheffield digs into why Lady Gaga’s 2011 single summed up everything gaudy and glorious about the pop star

Come on, girls! Do you believe in Madonna? Because Lady Gaga has got something to say about “Express Yourself,” and she’s turned Madonna’s fourth-best single of 1989 into her own instant-classic club anthem, “Born This Way.” Except it’s actually much better than “Express Yourself,” because it’s faster, with Gaga chanting “Don’t be a drag / Just be a queen.” “Born This Way” sums up everything gaudy and glorious about Gaga, all her politics and sex and Catholic angst and smeared lipstick, in one admirably compact blast of disco aggression.

“Born This Way” is more than just Gaga’s heavily hyped return to the radio: It’s an event, a statement, the most anticipa-trended song in the history of recorded music, or at least since Britney’s “Hold It Against Me.” It’s also primed to become the first Number One hit in history to include the word “transgendered.” Gaga belts her self-esteem pep talk — “Subway kid, rejoice your truth”? okaaaay! — over the Eurodisco beats of producers Fernando Garibay and DJ White Shadow. She shouts to the gays, lesbians, bis, disabled, and monsters of all races, including the hilariously dippy line: “You’re black, white, beige, chola descent / You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient!”

You can complain all you want about the tip of the leather cap to “Express Yourself,” which was just Madonna’s knock-off of the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself.” But “Born This Way” is steeped in decades of gay disco tradition, with a heavy Seventies-style thump-thump from Patrick Hernandez’ 1979 classic “Born to Be Alive.” (Fun fact: one of Madonna’s first professional gigs was as a back-up dancer on a Patrick Hernandez tour, and you can believe Gaga knows it.)

It might seem strange that Gaga chose to premiere her big comeback single for morning-radio commuters, rather than night people who hang out in clubs. By the time the drag queens crawl out of bed this afternoon, “Born This Way” will already be a TGIF where’s-the-party jam for ordinary strap-hanging douchebags all over the world. (Don’t be a douche, just be a bag!) But that’s part of the statement she’s making here, because “Born This Way” is her brazen pop move: short, fast, going straight for the throat. That’s the most shocking thing about it.

I have to admit, I was expecting something more ponderous — Gaga laboring to prove she’s a Serious Artist who can get away with arty indulgences. I assumed that a couple of years of mega-fame would make the Lady sound more full of herself. But there’s no dicking around here, no piano solos or Gregorian-chant interludes. Instead, she gets right down to unabashed pop kicks, because no matter how much inspiration she takes from the arty downtown scene she came from, her pet project has been revitalizing the Top 40. So she takes on Britney, Rihanna, Katy, Ke$ha and the rest of the radio queens, pimping her we-are-all-superstars message with a voice that reminds everyone who got this party started in the first place. That’s what makes “Born This Way” sound so audacious and so amazing.

Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published on February 11th, 2011

From Rolling Stone US