Lady GaGa – Bad Romance (2009, Interscope Records)
Why It’s Perfect: It’s the sound of a very personal sort of artistic (or at least, aesthetic) vision crushing everything else on the airwaves under its diamond-encrusted stiletto heels. Given the recent ascendance of low quality mp3s and cellphone ringtones as revenue streams for the struggling record companies, contemporary pop production often skews towards a more streamlined, one-dimensional sound that better survives a loss in audio fidelity. It’s the musical equivalent of a McDonald’s McFlurry. Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance is by comparison this towering, sumptuous layer cake, so rich that “baby it’s sick.” It’s easy to be weird on an indie label, but when you get an artist as idiosyncratic as Lady GaGa on a major, you know you’re dealing with someone who aims to icon status; after hearing Bad Romance’s gonzo, stadium-thumping “GaGa, oh-la-la” intro, can you doubt her hubris?
But hey, if pride comes before a fall, it’s also the means by which you get high enough for said fall to matter. Bad Romance stands above its peers in just about every fashion. On one hand, it’s bold and forceful enough that it virtually pushes lesser songs off the airwaves to make space for its sprawling ambition. But on the other, it’s neither blunt nor crude; it skips from idea to idea with madcap abandon, with production leagues deep, chalk full of strange scuttling percussion and weird synth vamps that sound like they’re being run in reverse. You can enjoy this as a ringtone, sure, but it’s only when you hear it bumping through pricy club-quality speakers that you get a feel for everything producer RedOne has woven into it.
The lyrics have a pupil-dilating oddness about them, answering to some muse far beyond, say, Cascada’s ken. (As an aside, what is a listener meant to draw from Evacuate the Dancefloor anyway? “There’s a potentially fatal infection in the club? Is it H1N1? Bitch, slam that drink, we’re getting the fuck out of here!”) Like Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack, Bad Romance’s words have just the right suggestion of deviance and depravity that the bizarre Ultravox-on-crack soundscapes require; “want your leatherstudded kiss in the sand” and “want you in my rear window” are two of the better queasy-sexy come-ons since Prince became irrelevant. As a whole, it simply pleases me that millions of teenagers in Middle America have been drawn to something so baroque, so inflected with GaGa’s performance art sensibilities, so unconcerned with taste and politics. This is like the Bohemian Rhapsody of pop smut, and seldom has an artist managed to so guilty pleasure the charts. If she can keep pushing the envelope with innovative efforts like Bad Romance, she’ll have her manicured fingers diddling the world’s unmentionables for some years.
GaGa, oh la la indeed.
Defining Moment: Having moved effortlessly from the glory notes on the chorus through the chanting reprise of the intro, GaGa is at her throaty best on lines like “I want your horror, I want your design / ‘Cos you’re a criminal as long as you’re mine.” Then it hits, that groaning and dragged out “I want your love / Love, love, love / I want your looooove-UNNN.” It’s like being sung a lapdance. Whether or not the line attracts you, it’s got such a guttural, musky delivery that the synth lick which follows comes like a shudder.
Other Great Songs by Lady GaGa: I think Bad Romance is her stone cold classic, but the similarly propulsive Poker Face is a less creepy, if equally strange trip through similar territory and Just Dance is as sure a floor-filler as anything released in and around 2008.
On that note, a premature happy birthday to Ms. GaGa, who turns 24 tomorrow. Makes me feel bad to be just scribbling reviews at 23…