I’ve sat back quietly in recent weeks, not commenting on the furious uproar over the plagiarism claims against Lady Gaga for her single Born This Way, nor have I taken an active side in the vicious Team Britney vs. Little Monsters war on YouTube and Twitter as of late. I wanted to wait for the video to drop for Born This Way, to fully dissect the two lead singles and their merits on equal footing. Now having Gaga’s purported opus available for viewing, it’s plain that my initial reaction still holds:
Lady Gaga, Britney Spears just kicked your ass… with a song that isn’t even her best by far. What the hell happened?
Before we let these two ladies rumble in this blog, allow me to preface this critique with the following: I am neither a Britney Spears nor a Lady Gaga stan, alrighty kids? I’m not a huge fan of pop, and hold very mixed opinions on each performer’s body of work. I also distinguish the two as having different artistic goals and playing fields, which makes general comparisons of the two a very apples to oranges sort of deal. That said, let’s get to it!
Challenger One: Born This Way by Lady Gaga
In the first corner, fighting her way out of a space egg, we have Lady Gaga, a singer who is very much about theatricality and performance art. She also draws a huge part of her fanbase from the LGBTQ community, espousing equality for them and encouraging them to be themselves. Naturally, when ‘Mother Monster’ indicated she was setting out to write a gay empowerment anthem, they rejoiced and eagerly awaited her offering.
Too bad for them; they could have just grabbed Madonna’s greatest hits and spun that, instead.
From moment one, it’s painfully apparent that Lady Gaga is no longer creating material upon which the masses generate her hype; she has bought into her own hype, and believes herself to be a god-like figurehead. There have been critics who have wondered at Gaga’s ability to sustain her originality and output, or burn out quickly, now the gimmick is played; judging from this single, I’m going to have to go with the latter. The references to God (‘capital HIM’) in the intro spoken word only fuel the Madonna rip-off fires generated through the track, just one more connection to the Like A Prayer album from which key borrowed source material tune Express Yourself is taken. But it doesn’t stop there, kids: the entire melody line, certain vocal inflections, and the chorus/choir-like outro all ring far too true to three of Madge’s biggest hits: Express Yourself, Vogue and Like A Prayer. Ouch!
There are many cases of accused lifting out there in music, frequently defended by the point that there are a very finite number of chords, progressions and combinations of notes possible – meaning similarity is inevitable. However, there is a vast difference between a similar riff and a blatant theft. Let’s examine this with three comparisons.
Exhibit A: A lifted riff from Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance features in Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Dani California
**skip ahead to 0:26**
Although the rest of the latter song is fairly unique from the source of the lift, it’s pretty blatant that the riff is a slightly faster version of the exact same thing. Considering also the lyrics of the verses (both tell the tale of a young girl with a troubled life who moves somewhere else), it’s a definite borrow, but might be explainable as “finite progressions”.
Exhibit B: a riff in Arcade Fire’s Wake Up is reminiscent of a riff in Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl?… which is also like the intro to Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life!
This one is something I noticed on my own, spinning the two tracks. It’s not a huge borrow, but is a perfect example of how music is finite and thus, some level of similarity is unavoidable.
Jet – Note the intro riffs pre-verse, then move on…
Arcade Fire – Jump to 3:58 and note the melody line and drums…
Iggy Pop – just the intro will make it clear…
As you can clearly hear, each of these three songs has coincidental elements, enough to catch the ear of a music junkie, but perhaps unnoticed to the average listener. However, some similarities are just unavoidable. Music is limited, and it’s been created for centuries at this point. Neither of these examples seems blatant or deliberate, however…
Exhibit C: Express Yourself and Born This Way, overlayed… with far too similar results
Watch the following full song overlay, in which the creator has matched the speed and pitch of the two songs… It’s damning.
One of the first things I noticed when hearing Gaga’s audio-only of the single was that her vocal delivery seemed a little different from her usual – as in, it sounded like Madonna’s sex-pot talk-singing. This overlay is more telling, as the first verses compete for the ear’s attention. The progression of verses, choruses and breakdowns is almost the same, for fuck’s sake. There’s being inspired and being a copycat; Gaga is the latter.
Why isn’t it a perfect mix? Because we’re missing another major source of inspiration, which, funny enough, sounds a lot like Express Yourself: Madonna’s Vogue.
And if you little monsters find yourself stirred up emotionally by the chanting chorus outro, well, of course you are: Madonna perfected that as well…
Getting away from all the musical chairs, let’s look at the lyrics of this empowerment anthem. While on one hand, credit where it’s due, Gaga is encouraging all of us to be precisely who we are, because we were born as we are for a reason, on the other hand, there’s a bit of gay backlash to the tune. As a bisexual woman, I kind of agree with this criticism as well. The LGBTQ community is known for its expressions of individuality and pride, from extravagant parades to a flair for fashion; that said, not every LGBTQ person dresses wild, wears rainbow accessories or struts around in fetish gear or acting flamboyantly. Many blend in seamlessly with the general population (oh noes, Republicans! You can’t tell us apart!), holding down traditional jobs, wearing suits and ties, and listening to a wide range of music that is not Madonna, Rufus Wainwright and show tunes. The implication of Gaga’s anthem is that all LGBTQ people are eccentric and should be proud of that, which almost affirms the right wing’s assertion that we are not normal people.
All in all, video aside, Gaga swings, but kinda misses with this one, especially given her melodic thievery. Now, let’s look at the movie – and it is a movie, as the first half is pure ‘manifesto’ for ‘Mother Monster’:
00:00-00:22: The Last Gay Unicorn…
I survived extinction to star in this?! At least Ke$ha gave me some blow…
We open with a unicorn, framed in a pink upside-down triangle… Lady Gaga says the video has a message, and she should know: it’s listed as being written by Mother Monster herself…. So far, she’s saying, “Look! I am special, like a unicorn! I am rare! Oh yeah, and this is about my lovely gays!” Um, okay. It’s also really sad when Ke$ha (yeah, that talentless bitch) fans pop up and say, “Ke$ha just DID unicorns! ZOMG!”
Then, Mother Monster appears, in her alien-esque glory, travelling in a crystal cube… And all I can say is, “Oh, look! The Empress from The Neverending Story grew up!” It’s typical Gaga theatricality, and is perhaps one of the few moments in the video that I can endorse as being true to herself. Then, she begins to narrate, and well…
00:23-02:25: Mother Monster indoctrinates her cult
Um, okay… right from the usage of GOAT – that’s goverment-owned alien territory to you! – she’s lost me. This sound about as ridiculous as Dianetics to me (Note to Scientologists about to try and piss in my Cornflakes: you have your beliefs, I have mine. I let you believe yours, so go away, kthxbi). A magical birth happened, kids – but it was in-FIE!-NIGHT. Um, Gaga, check the goddamn dictionary; your mispronounciations are driving me as batty as Alanis Morissette’s pseudo-Shakespearean deliveries to meet her syllable quotas.
Lady Gaga then births herself through a kaleidoscopic shot that is just bizarre, even for her, complete with glittery lube (a further nod to the gays?), and announces this is how the beginning began. My inner editior just cringed and snatched up a red pen for that department of redundancy department error. Evil is then birthed as Gaga pulls an AK-47 or whatever out of her twat, thus reminding us all of Charlie Sheen’s recent power rants, as Gaga is equated to being so important that she is the heaven to a hell. You know, the only message I’m getting so far is that Freedom and Evil go together like PB&J, and Gaga and Sheen have the same dealer. Also, in a disturbing moment, it seems that Gaga suggests we be as violent as we like in protecting our right to the perfection of Mother Monster’s freedom… Um, whoa.
02:25-04:08: Gaga proceeds to remind me of industrial rock gods, whilst making me want to send her a sandwich.
As we zoom in on the prostrated masses worshipping Mother Gaga, all I hear in my head is Trent Reznor screaming out the lyrics to Head Like A Hole. I blame this partially on his well-deserved win last night at the Oscars, but seriously, bowing bodies? I’m now looking for Kool-Aid Man…
The choreography for this video is truly lacklustre; the simplistic moves seems like the kind of crap Gaga Stans love to bash Britney Spears for. They do little to distract me from the fact that while Gaga has always been skinny, she seems almost bordering on sickly; her face is a little too taut. Maybe a bikini was a bad plan? Maybe she’s looking to outshine Paltrow, my nemesis?
I’m sorry; there have been a lot of musical crimes lately, and I haven’t blogged them out yet. I digress.
04:08-06:45: Gaga does nothing to help her plagiarism case…
Things to do when denying you ripped off a megastar’s hit single: a) deny it; b) claim you have an email blessing it; c) wear your hair and don an outfit in a manner that screams said ripped-off star’s previous outings, while star’s agent denies existence of your emails. At least, these are the things you do when you’re Lady Gaga. For fuck’s sake, Madonna wears a dress suit in both Express Yourself and Vogue! The same songs! The ponytail? Almost identical to Madonna’s from the Blonde Ambition Tour – yes, the tour supporting Like A Prayer. Is the zombie make-up a thumbing of the nose at Madonna, implying her reign is over and she is dead as the Queen of Pop? Oh, lord; here comes a drama llama… It’s not the hairstyle itself; it’s the blatant similarity in a song that is too similar to Madge already that makes it more troublesome and less ‘honest homage’, as I’m sure it will be claimed as.
The bad dancing continues, reminding me and others of the more poetic ballet-esque portions of Queen’s video for I Want To Break Free… Look it up yourself. It’s not as screamingly obvious, and much more forgivable, but one can’t help but take note of the video’s genderbending and Freddie Mercury being one of the original purveyors of theatricality and consider it…
06:45-the bitter end: Gaga nods again at Madonna, and we all roll our eyes at her drama mongering and unoriginality.
Even Gaga’s Little Monsters have noticed this one: at the very end, Gaga walks down a darkened alley towards the camera… and reveals herself to have a gap-toothed smile that mirrors Madonna’s. What’s worse: it’s the same look she sported in the videos for I Remember and Rain, hair-wise…
VERDICT: F for both the video and the song… Just…. wow. This makes me like Alejandro (an Ace of Base rip-off… but that’s another story)
Challenger Two: Hold It Against Me by Britney Spears
Britney’s had a rough time of it in recent years, and for that reason, I’ve softened towards her. Her music isn’t brilliant and insightful, nor does she write it, but Britney has no pretensions about it. She knows she is a pop singer, and knows that her job is to be entertaining and generate new club anthems to sell her albums.
Hold It Against Me, the lead single for her new disc Femme Fatale, is a mash-up of the Blackout era with dubstep. It’s pulsing and dirty, and it’s sonically a bit dark. Unfortunately, I didn’t think very much of the Blackout era (it was a patchy album with soaring highs and gutter lows), and this song is pretty generic. I also don’t find the shifts in pace and the bridge very accommodating for that club track qualification, so I wager a remix is forthcoming that will be far more successful.
That said, the track is typical Britney: sexy girl asking a boy to come hither and give it to her. She’s not stepping outside of the box much, aside from the dubstep influences, and she knows it. The lyrics are grating at the chorus, with the delivery rather rushed (“you feel like paradise and-I-need-a-vacation-and-Cheetos-tonight!”), which is another reason why this song downgrades from ‘top Britney’ to ‘meh Britney’ for me. Now, let’s take a peek at that video!
oo:00-00:20: Meteor Britney makes deep impact! (And I chuckle like Beavis and Butt-Head)
Jonas Akerlund is at the helm for this one, which always means, “Expect some weird shit up in here.” It’s a good thing; Jonas has made some seriously warped and fun videos, including The Smashing Pumpkins’ Try, Try, Try and Lady Gaga’s(!) Telephone. The feel of this one in places is a little Telephone in terms of colours and cuts, but that’s more Jonas than Gaga.
The video, which I’m viewing as a metaphor (o hai Gaga! This is that thing called meaning), begins with a meteor surging towards Earth, its approach heralded by life and light emerging on a typical high-tech soundstage. By the end of this segment, the meteor crashes, signalling Britney’s arrival – in this metaphor, the beginning of her pop career.
00:21-00:57: Brit-Brit is primped for the masses, and sold…
Does this feel like a bad commercial to you? It should: Jonas’ intention seems to be presenting this scantily-clad Britney as a product, complete with perfume (a nod to Circus) and male dancers dressing up for the big moment. Make-up is applied, lights are cued, and the show begins… Brit’s not as skinny and not as coordinated, but I think she looks better with meat on her ass. Speaking of meat on asses, I wonder if they disinfected the chair Gaga sat on the night of the meat dress fiasco… Maybe Brit could wear Cheetos as earrings to top that?
00:58-01:27: Britney as virgin pop princess…
Britney is portrayed now in a looming monstrosity of a white dress, leaving her cast in an almost virginal light. The scene would be utterly dull, albeit in contrast to the content of the chorus, were it not for the prison in which she’s held. The soundstage is more of a capsule now, with Britney rising and falling within it, yet always fairly high in its sky. Surrounding her are monitors, playing scenes from Britney’s earliest videos – Baby One More Time, Sometimes, etc. This was around the point where I realized Akerlund had an agenda and a story arc at play, and became more interested in the video.
Also: no glittery lube birth scenes! Bonus!
01:28-02:38: Britney sabotages her career with her lust, silly girl she is (with special cameo from blatant Akerlund buddies, Plenty Of Fish!)
There is so much going on here, that it took repeated viewings to note it all. Virgin Britney is accompanied by dancers now, who seem to have no eyes… Creepy much? Too bad they’re not looking; they could stop her from messaging that Federline-esque douchebag on Plenty Of Fish (Lollerskates!) and save her some trouble… Brit dons a lovely red-shouldered outfit (reminding me of the Oops! I Did It Again slinky catsuit) and proceeds to declare herself via pseudo press conference. Can I just say Akerlund is a bad-ass director? He is. This song could be complete shit and this video would still entertain me.
02:39-:03:55 Okay, shit just got a little Japanese horror meets pervy wetdream…
Dude, what the fuck is up with that creepy smile Brit gives us at 02:45? Like seriously! It’s so Ledger’s Joker that it’s frightening! I guess Brit is having fun with her destruction…
Can’t read my, can’t read my, no he can’t read my Joker Face!
For those of us enjoying the metaphorical story at home, Britney’s career and reputation are thoroughly destroyed by her decision to date Plenty Of Douche. The streams of paint shooting everywhere are just fucking awesome, and I kind of want her dress by the end of it. Did she keep it, I wonder? Will she wear it again? Will Heather Morris please do a send up of this video on Glee, since she’s the only one still worth watching? Tune in next week and find out!
In the meantime, in a moment of pure camp spasticness, red-dress Britney and a blue-dress Britney begin kicking the shit out of each other in clunky heels during the white dress fiasco. I assume blue Brit is meant to be the calmer Brit, at war with her seductive side (you know, the POF harlot that fucked everything up for our virgin?); in any case, both Britneys hit the floor by the end of their battle, as Virgin Wedding Barbie Britney collapses in her tarnished dress, plummeting back to Earth. The ninja war Britneys arise and realize that they’re both the same crazay lady, take some meds and say, “Fuck this shit!”
03:56-finale: Meet the new, improved, financially solvent once more Britney Spears (bitch)!
Our wiser, sassier Brit-Brit holds a new commercial soundstage conference, in which she encourages the masses to hold it against her. Dancing it up with her newly clad entourage (whose mouths, not their eyes, are covered – speak no evil?), Brit destroys the stage with the musical show she’s delivering, blowing out the precious Sony speakers and taking no prisoners. Metaphorically, it suggests that Britney found her way back and is not only a new person, but no one can talk shit now. Nicely done, Jonas! The video ends with a bang and a question mark, implying that this is the beginning of the new era of Brit. Will the album be any good? Who knows? This video definitely sells it, though.
VERDICT: C+ for the song; A- for the video due to a lack of awesome dance choreography.
Go ahead; hold it against me if you like. But if these are the indications of the albums to come, I’d say Brit’s living up to her niche, while Gaga…. Well, is it fifteen minutes yet?