It’s always the quiet ones that surprise you the most.
On June 5, Girls Aloud‘s Nicola Roberts steps out on her own with her debut solo single, “Beat Of My Drum.”
“Beat of My Drum” is, without question, the coolest post-Aloud effort to date: Produced by Diplo and French producer Dimitri Tikovoi, the song is a playful blend of some of indie-pop’s finest enfants terribles, fitting snugly between the militant dance beats of M.I.A. and the glitchy, monotone speak-song of Uffie.
“L! O! V! E! Dance to the beat of my drum!” Roberts playfully commands during the chorus, unleashing her inner cheerleader. Yet the song is completely erratic (in a brilliant way), bouncing glibly between its manic “Pon de Floor” (Major Lazer)-like beats and frenzied stutters: The chanted chorus is wildly different from the too-cool-for-school spoken verses, which have absolutely nothing to do with the cooed bridge. And don’t forget the almighty beat breakdown toward the end!
Whereas Beyoncé fell short with “Run The World (Girls)” by fault of uninspired imitation, Nicola’s offering only improves upon Diplo’s original blueprints, resulting in a weird, wonderfully left-of-center pop single: It’s fresh, fun and terribly exciting.
With just one single, Roberts has already rendered every other Aloud member’s solo endeavors utterly irrelevant. “Beat Of My Drum” is a definite contender for one of the year’s best singles, and an immensely promising first taste of Roberts’ forthcoming debut album, Cinderella’s Eyes.
Team Ginger, forever and always.
“Beat Of My Drum” will be released at June 5. (Pre-order on iTunes UK)
She nearly lost me.
After “Born This Way” incited a national furor now known as Madonnagate and “Judas” proved to be not much more than a noisier, lesser, blasphemy-friendly extension of the already winning “Bad Romance,” my anticipation quickly began to dwindle for Lady Gaga‘s upcoming album, Born This Way.
And then came “The Edge of Glory,” and all hope was officially revitalized.
Like “Born This Way,” “The Edge Of Glory” is a busy hodgepodge of assorted sounds and influences. But unlike “Born This Way,” it’s a brilliant kind of cacophony that makes sense from the very first play.
Produced by Fernando Garibay (“Dance In The Dark”), the Born This Way closer mashes a throbbing House beat with flares of ’80s synthesizers, a jagged over-driven guitar, and of course, that saxophone breakdown.
While the song truly avoids any blatant references to popular song, if there were a comparison to draw, it would be with an artist no one saw coming: Kelly Clarkson–and more specifically, her 2009 hit, “My Life Would Suck Without You.” But the comparison only vaguely holds for the melody of the chorus. More than anything, the comparison stems from Gaga’s jagged, Clarkson-esque yelping rather than prompting a long-winded debate about chord progressions.
(In short: It’s a “Hey! That kind of sounds like…,” and not a “No literally, it’s the same fucking song.”)
Lyrically, the song also shines: Written to honor the memory of her grandfather who died last year, “The Edge of Glory” is a genuinely enthralling all-or-nothing anthem about living life up until its final moment: “Another shot before we kiss the other side / I’m on the edge of something final we call life,” Gaga cries.
It’s the kind of song that deserves to be blasted from the car speakers, windows down, clenched fist raised high through the sun roof while racing down the highway on a blistering summer night. You know, that kind of a song.
And of course, there’s that extended saxophone solo, performed by Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band (which is probably why Bruce Springsteen comes to mind about as quickly as Clarkson.) Of course, there’s a hokey, dated Full House/PokÃ©mon ’90′s TV theme song element to the sax solo’s inclusion, but it’s a smart addition–one that makes “The Edge of Glory” something extra special. Or, to use the word that we all know keeps Gaga moist on a nightly basis: “Unique.”
So congratulations, Mademoiselle Gaga…I’m back on board and ready to ride this crazy train once again.
“The Edge of Glory” was released on May 9. (iTunes)
Just one week before Easter weekend, Lady Gaga (not-so-accidentally) sprung a leak early this morning, resulting in the sudden rush release of “Judas,” the religion-wrought second single from Gaga’s upcoming studio album, Born This Way.
As I pointed out when the track first began to leak, “Judas” come packaged on top of a relentlessly grinding, â€œsledge-hammeringâ€ beat; a natural progression from the noisy, ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ production of â€œBorn This Way,” now aided by RedOneâ€˜s trademark repeat-heavy styling. (The song also doesnâ€™t sound entirely different from a similarly sledge-hammering RedOne production, Nicole Scherzingerâ€˜s â€œPoison.â€)
As “Poker Face” is to “Bad Romance,” so too is “Bad Romance” to “Judas.” The song follows in a nearly identical structure to “Bad Romance,” from the same soaring chorus down to the â€œwhoa-oh-oh!â€ follow-up. Instead of “ra-ra, ah-ah-ah!”, we have â€œJu-da, Ju-da-ah!â€ (Not exactly the most daring show of creativity, to be sure.)
“Judas” is also quite similar in theme, as Gaga treads lightly across a sprinkling of biblical references (oh hay, Jesus!) and demonic undertones to weave a tale of–well, a bad romance: “I learned love is like a brick, you can / Build a house or sink a dead body,” Gaga speak-sings. It’s not quite blasphemous enough to incite fury amongst bible-thumpers, but still enough to keep the Illuminati fear-mongers pointing their trembling fingers for weeks.
About three minutes into the chaos, the song gives way to an utterly insane, tribal-meets-Bollywood electronic breakdown. “But in the cultural sense, I just speak in future tense / Judas kiss me if offenced, or wear an ear condom next time!” Gaga cries. As it turns out, a nonsensical chant about fame hookers vomiting their mind works well enough when masked by a mile-a-minute mixture of electro-tribal beats. But in writing? It’s one of Gaga’s most embarrassing, cringe-worthy moments in lyricism…ever.
Redemption comes immediately thereafter with the song’s post-tribal bridge, which strip away some of the more noise to expose a gorgeous ’90′s hi-NRG beat: “Jesus is my virtue / And Judas is the demon I cling to…I cling to!” Gaga victoriously cries, her clenched paw raised high. It’s within this brief moment of clarity that the song truly shines brightest.
In short: “Judas” is a good pop song: It’s catchy (increasingly so after each play), full of textured beats, and (mostly) danceable. But in the same breath, it’s loud, grating, entirely derivative and slightly obnoxious, thus ushering in the larger issue at hand: My complete inability to connect with the Born This Way era.
As with “Born This Way,” I’m hopelessly neither here nor there with “Judas.” The beats bang hard and the melodies are catchy, but the song’s breakneck speed, yelping caws and headache-inducing production value are all a bit too much to embrace.
Every song on The Fame and The Fame Monster (MuuMuse Review) made sense from the start: I didn’t have to play “LoveGame” a hundred and fifty times in order to discover a melody buried deep within layers of loud, noisy production–it was a single play, and an instant love affair.
But now, I have to try with Gaga–really, really try in order to love. While she’s busy proclaiming that the late Alexander McQueen penned “Born This Way” from Heaven and that her “Born This Way” face spikes are actual bones she was born with, it’s a song as underwhelming as “Judas” that truly adds weight to the most common charge from critics: That Lady Gaga is style over substance.
While “Judas” isn’t actually bad, I’ve truly had just about enough of Gaga Nouveau: “Born This Way” and “Judas” don’t even slightly hold a candle to the infectiousness of “Just Dance” or “Bad Romance,” nor the slinky beats of “Starstruck” or “So Happy I Could Die,” nor the celebratory joy of “Boys Boys Boys” and “Monster.”
I know this means I’ll have to invest in a few more ear condoms this year, but hey…I was born this way, baby.
A new O’Day has come!
Ever since Diddy unceremoniously ditched the Danity Kane divas nearly three years ago (one of the world’s greater pop injustices of all time), former member Aubrey O’Day has made it clear that she would not be deterred from her pop star dreams.
O’Day, the group’s most outspoken and audicious (Aubreycious?) member, decided to remain true to her Making The Band roots, signing on to film a Oxygen Channel reality series in 2010 called All About Aubrey. The series premiered early last month, tracking O’Day’s journey from the fall of Danity Kane to her first performance as a solo artist.
Following the show’s series finale this week, O’Day unleashed her official debut as a solo artist to iTunes today: “Automatic,” a scorching, synthesizer filled dance-pop number. The song plays just as one might expect Danity Kane to sound in a post-Gaga musical landscape; that is, something like a more dance floor ready version of Welcome To The Dollhouse album tracks, including “Pretty Boy” and “Bad Girl.”
“Look at my body, it’s so official / Every time they see me, they shoot over like a missile,” O’Day brags. While the beat is nothing revolutionary, the song is probably the wisest next step in sound for O’Day, likely to appeal to former supporters while still snagging dozens of new fans in the process.
And judging by the song’s success–currently sitting at #36 on the iTunes Song Chart after less than 24 hours on sale (and just 6 spots below her former employer, Diddy) it looks like it’s going to be O’Day who has the last laugh after all.
“Automatic” was released on iTunes on April 12. (iTunes)
Hype is an ugly, impossible hump to overcome.
After Perez Hilton named it “one of the best songs of Gaga’s career,” Vogue‘s Jonathan Van Meter described it as an “unbelievably great dance song, destined to be the anthem of every gay-pride event for the next 100 years” and Elton John dubbed it “the anthem that’s going to obliterate ‘I Will Survive,’” Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way” was already mired by impossibly high expectations.
Naturally then, it was almost too obvious that the song would ultimately–or at least, initially disappoint a few (or more) upon its release this morning.
For one thing, it’s a grower. Unlike “Bad Romance,” which supplied me with what I like to refer to as ‘the “Since U Been Gone” effect’ and had me almost literally gasping for air, “Born This Way” felt noisy, underwhelming (a symptom of hype overload, no doubt) and cartoon-ish (my mind somehow went straight to PokÃ©mon).
Additionally, “Born This Way” has arrived late to the party of “It Gets Better” pop anthems; the recent surge of self-empowerment, ‘flaws-and-all’ equality anthems that make up some of the biggest bangers of the past six months, including Ke$ha‘s “We R Who We R,” P!nk‘s “Raise Your Glass” and “Fuckin’ Perfect” and Katy Perry‘s “Firework.”
While all of the above songs were almost certainly scribed with a primary purpose to compete with Gaga’s upcoming single (as she had announced the theme of Born This Way and its title track a long, long ago), the track ends up packing a distinctly less modern, cutting bite than the efforts by her contemporaries.
And then there’s that unavoidable comparison: Madonna‘s “Express Yourself,” a connection so obvious that, at one point, the words “Madonna” and “Express Yourself” were trending on Twitter right along with #BornThisWayFriday this morning.
It’s not so much that “Born This Way” simply sounds similar to “Express Yourself.” (Lord knows, I treasure enough derivative pop to overlook that fact.) It’s that the melody is at times virtually indistinguishable from Madonna’s 1989 hit–to the point where it’s almost impossible to avoid singing the wrong lyrics.
When Gaga sings, “I’m beautiful in my way, ’cause God makes no mistakes,” I want to sing right back: “So if you want it right now, then let me show you how.” And when she sings: “I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way!” I hear “Baby, ready or not / Express what you got!” (And please, if you’re really so mindless to argue that they don’t sound the same at all, I’ll provide the snippets from each song–they are.)
So what does it mean? Everything and nothing, really. You could call it unoriginal, but pop is cyclical. I guess it’s great that “Born This Way” sounds like a song that’s amazing, but it doesn’t really offer a better alternative or improvement either.
Although there’s nothing particularly inventive about this production, the underlying message of the song is positive and praiseworthy. I’m very grateful that Gaga continues to genuinely stress the point of equality–especially in regards to LGBT rights–and that this song delivers the message as promised. If it inspires or encourages even one child to live the way they want to live, then Gaga is nothing less than a saint.
In a related note, the lyrics–as PopJustice’s Peter Robinson rightly assured us in his review–are not as heavy-handed in song form than they are on paper. Instead, they’re great (if not a mouthful) in moments, and a little bit garbage (“subway kid”) in others.
Much in the same way that, say, Kristine W‘s musical output is great, so too is “Born This Way”: It’s campy, fun and flamboyant–from Gaga’s overly theatrical delivery to Garibay’s surging, ’90′s Xenomania-esque club beat. “Born This Way” is a drag queen’s wet dream, which will make it all all the more interesting to see how the song performs to mainstream audiences.
I suppose my greatest issue with “Born This Way” is that, after over thirty plays and counting, I remain hopelessly neither here nor there: I don’t entirely love it, but I certainly don’t hate it either. If it was played at a club, I would probably dance to it. If it was played in my car, I would probably sing to it. But if I never heard it again, would I feel like I’ve missed out on something? I really don’t think so.
Is “Born This Way” the defining theme of a generation? Perhaps, but certainly not one to which I belong.
In the end, hyperbole is hyperbole and pop is pop. And just because “Born This Way” isn’t actually the new “I Will Survive” doesn’t mean it’s not, at the very least, enjoyable.
So, just dance…it’ll be okay.