Lady Gaga – Born This Way…Apparently Into Controversy

Lady Gaga’s hotly anticipated new single – and title track to her forthcoming third album – “Born This Way,” was released today, two days earlier than expected.  She was set to debut it at this Sunday night’s Grammy Awards show.  Only hours old, the track is already swarming with controversy.

I am torn on this one.  I guess you could say I am definitely “Team Gaga” as it were.  (Did I seriously just make a weak Twilight-derivative reference?  Shoot me now.)  Do I think it’s the best/strongest track she’s ever released?  Not yet (as of this writing, I’ve only heard it once).  But, it’s catchy as hell (the refrain has been stuck on a loop in my head for over an hour) – which brings me to the first controversy.

Controvery #1 – Ripping off Madonna?

All day while I was at the office (where I’m unable to stream audio/video over the network) EVERYONE was blowing up Facebook with their mixed (albeit, seemingly more positive) reviews.  A very recurrent item was how similar the track is to Madonna’s 1989 hit “Express Yourself.”  *sigh* As if the Madonna/Cyndi Lauper comparisons ad nauseum for the past 30 years weren’t bad enough…  Some also say there are elements of “Ray of Light,” “Like A Prayer,” and “Vogue.”

You decide:

Okay, I’ll bite – the hook is very reminiscent of “Express Yourself.”  The other references are a weak stretch at best, I think.  “Ray of Light”?  Seriously??

Gaga obviously borrows rather liberally from Madge.  But, welcome to pop music.  Tori Amos borrowed from Kate Bush.  Joan Jett borrowed from Suzi Quatro.  PJ Harvey borrowed from Patti Smith.  And who cares?  She’s not aping Madonna – if anything, the references are both homage to, and natural progression from, the Queen of Pop.  Songs sound alike.  There are only so many compositions/combinations you can do without something sounding like something else.

Controversy #2 – Questionable lyrics.

Gaga is already taking heat for some questionable lyrics charged by some as racially insensitive.  The lyrics in question (in bold):

DON’T BE A DRAG, JUST BE A QUEEN
WHETHER YOU’RE BROKE OR EVERGREEN
YOU’RE BLACK, WHITE, BEIGE, CHOLA DESCENT
YOU’RE LEBANESE, YOU’RE ORIENT
WHETHER LIFE’S DISABILITIES
LEFT YOU OUTCAST, BULLIED, OR TEASED
REJOICE AND LOVE YOURSELF TODAY
‘CAUSE BABY YOU WERE BORN THIS WAY

Okay, I get why some might see these as insensitive.  However, so far what I’m seeing online is nothing but speculation on the intent of the lyrics.  And speculation is only an assumption.

My Latino Voice writes:

How do we define “chola?”  Urban Dictionary defines it as:

“hardcore latina gangbangers. They usually have thin, arched, angry looking tattooed-on or penciled-on eyebrows, brown or dark red lip liner, ‘Monroe’, eyebrow and nose piercings, tats, Converse or Nikes, flannel shirts, lots of gold jewlrey (with their name and crosses), crunchy gelled or moussed hair either down or gelled in a high perfect ponytail either straight back or gelled in a design, and they go out with cholos. “

The more traditional Dictionary.com gives us a similar meaning:

“–noun: Chiefly Southwestern U.S. (esp. among Mexican-Americans) a teenage girl who associates closely with a gang of cholos or is the girlfriend of a cholo.

But is this how Lady Gaga meant it?  It appears she is associating “Chola” with being of Mexican-American descent, which is what has angered Latino groups like Chicanos Unidos Arizona.

The point of contention for me in the above is this:  “It appears she is associating “Chola” with being of Mexican-American descent…”  Well, yes, to the writer it does seem to appear that way.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that assumption is true.  She also doesn’t mention “bears,” “butch gay men,” etc. – only “drag” and “queen,” but seems to me the long is trying to include all LGBT people in its message.  And well…cholas exist, so simply making reference to this group of people (to me) is not racist.  She didn’t say anything negative about “cholas.”

The term “Orient,” however, is a bit out-of-date and generally frowned upon to use anymore.  But why?

According to one internet user:

It’s just such an old word that was used with negative connotation before, which is why a lot of people do not like it.

also, it is a word that was quite Eurocentric because one of it’s meanings involves being in or facing the East. Since our world is round, who is to say what country is “east” or west”.

edit: people call those from france, etc. European because they are from the continent of EUROPE! duh. if there was a continent called ORIENT then it would be fine, but no- the continent is ASIA. again, orient/oriental stem from a Eurocentric (definition: centered on Europe or the Europeans; especially : reflecting a tendency to interpret the world in terms of western and especially European or Anglo-American values and experiences) point of view

Racially insensitive?  Obviously, to some.  Not so, to others.  From the same ask/answer page as above:

I’m Chinese and have never had a problem with the term Oriental. (beats the sweeping generalization “Asian” by a mile) Lately I’ve been hearing that it is indeed racist, mostly from Americans. Why is this so?

For me, I guess the question comes down to intent.  Let’s not forget, Gaga is no stranger to courting controversy in her art.  Remember this line from “Bad Romance”?

Work your blonde.  Benet Ramsey will haunt like Liberace.”

Controversy #3 – The deluxe edition will be available exclusively at Target.

Now this is an interesting marketing choice.  I’m withholding judgement until someone inevitably asks Gaga why Target?  You no doubt remember the furor last year over Target’s contributions to a Minnesota political-action group that distributed funds to an anti-gay candidate.

In an article I read today on the deluxe version, I was a bit disappointed that Gaga’s manager, Troy Carter, made NO reference to the controversy, or the choice to distribute this exclusively at Target of all places, in light of the recent uproar over the Minneapolis-based retail giant.

He only offered this in a news release:

“Target and Lady Gaga together is a win-win.  The partnership provides us with an opportunity to really engage the fans early and widen our reach on the album promotion.”

Blah, marketing-speak.

So, what’s your take?  Gaga promises Born This Way will be “the album of the decade.”  We’ll see.  Hey, if so, I’m all for it.  In the end, I think she’s produced an extremely catchy dance song with a liberating message, regardless of various interpretations.  And while I’m loath to compare her to Madonna, her boundary-pushing style and artistic output in relation to her kindred pop-mother Madge is hard to ignore.

Born This Way is released May 23, 2011.

*One last thing – Gaga’s “people” insist the bare-assed shot is merely a teaser, and not official cover art.  However, Target seems to think otherwise, at least at the moment on their site’s dedicated BTW pre-order page.

2/11/11 8:56 pm CST – via Twitter:

ETCanada Lady Gaga’s Born This Way is officially #1 Worldwide, hitting #1 in all 22 iTunes countries.

Who ever said a little controversy wasn’t a good thing?

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2 thoughts on “Lady Gaga – Born This Way…Apparently Into Controversy

  1. Why is the term Orient offensive?

    It’s because of it’s deep roots in the European colonization, domination and abuse of Asian people and cultures. It’s a term that instantly sparks to mind the time when China and other nations were carved up (much like Africa was) into territories, each belonging to a different European country. It holds connotations of Occidental (Western) superiority.

    Now, “Asian” is really no better, it’s just a less stigmatizing term referring to the same content. It’s a racialized term defined by past imperialism– you’ll notice that while Russians are, in fact, in Asia, they are rarely (if ever) referred to as “Asians.”

    However, it still stands that to call someone an “Oriental” or refer the East as the “Orient” implies a very Euro-centric, imperialistic superiority. A lot of Europeans still use these terms. I could go into how imperialist tendencies are less coded in Europe than they are in America, but that’s a whole other argument.

    Lady Gaga should think twice about using such a term in a song supposedly about countering discrimination and prejudice. The last thing I want to hear from her in terms of defense is “I didn’t know.” If she’s going to belt it out in front of millions of people, she should know what is coming of her mouth.

  2. I think people need to relax a bit with “Offensive” language. Being politically correct has gone too far. Don’t we have more important things to worry about? Remember learning, “Sticks and Stones….???” Come on all… chill.

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