Two recent Musical Criticism reviews: the first of an Elision Ferneyhough evening at King’s Place, and the second of London Sinfonietta doing Gerald Barry rather wonderfully (shame about the rest of the evening!).
Archive for March, 2011
I really do love Lady Gaga – the way she so determinedly tries to make something happen, to eventalise all our lives; the way she is so barefaced in her minor plagiarisms; the way she sticks two fingers up to the misogynists by not only making great music but also by doing so barely dressed, tempting them to dismiss her for what they might perceive as superficiality. That she does all this with a queer, awkward aggression that mounts everything she does in gothic oddness is the icing on a fascinating cake.
But I just can’t get with ’Born This Way’, despite much effort. The lyrics are horrible; inelegant, plain, offensive. All of this is obvious, and indeed fast becoming a matter of public record (though I commented elsewhere that ‘For me, the lyrics are hyperbole. Taken literally, they become quite troublesome indeed’). But a greater problem is the music. Great art steals – this is a truism for which we find proof anywhere we care to look. But something new needs to happen that somehow sunders the artefact from its context, that leaves only a stain or a trace of the original, thus making enjoyment of each thing possible without both constantly being in the others’ pocket. Even a situation as blatant as the one we have with ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ and ‘Hung Up’, despite the overtness of the steal, serves to enliven each track, giving happy resonance to every hearing.
But when I listen to ’Born This Way’ all I can hear is ‘Express Yourself’. It is not just that the style is broadly sympathetic and that the melody is similar. Gaga has taken (roughly) the entire chord progression (I – bVII – IV – I), exact harmonic rhythm and all, and simply shoved it into a new setting. This is too much for me. The way I hear and think about music is dictated by harmony, and as such all a steal like this can do is serve as an erasure of each track’s autonomy. When I hear one I hear the other, and to neither’s benefit (though obviously ‘Express Yourself’ is guilty only by association).
I’m offering an imprecise, subjective argument, admittedly – one person’s happy borrowing is another’s miserable theft – but the whole situation has left me rather annoyed, and also rather worried about Gaga’s new album. The track seems self-consciously to pursue broad, mainstream, vacuously anthemic tropes: I hope this is not the case for the rest of the album. More ‘Telephone’, more ‘Dance in the Dark’, more ‘Just Dance’ please!