Lady Gaga isn’t the first diva to cut the cheese
By Hunter Hauk
March 13, 2011
Singer Lady Gaga performs in concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York in January 2010.
Lady Gaga is back, touring with her Monster Ball extravaganza. This time, she’s armed with a much-talked-about new single, “Born This Way,” which is sure to be a highlight of her updated set list.
We’ve seen her Grammy performance and off-the-wall music video, and we’ve debated the song’s possibly purposeful aping of Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” But how does it compare — in effectiveness and cheesiness — to other self-empowerment anthems that have come before it? Read on.
– Katy Perry, “Firework”
The message: Within all of us, there’s a spark that can grow into a magnificent firework, or whatever.
How it’s delivered: In melodramatic fashion. A bouncy, life-affirming string section backs Perry as she sings/bellows lyrical metaphors.
Key lyric: “You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine / Just own the night like the Fourth of July.”
Effective? Depends on who’s listening. If you’re a kid having a hard time of it at school, you can find hope in the simple message. A grown-up fighting a long-term funk might need something more nuanced.
Cheese factor: Mild cheddar
– Mariah Carey, “Hero”
The message: Before you lose all hope, look to yourself to save, uh, yourself.
How it’s delivered: In a saccharine piano ballad, with vocal runs around every corner.
Key lyric: “You can find love if you search within yourself / And the emptiness you felt will disappear.”
Effective? It can be. But you can’t listen to it in the presence of other people. Ever. It’s an empowerment anthem, but strictly a headphones-behind-closed-doors empowerment anthem.
Cheese factor: Velveeta, melted.
– Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All”
The message: The children, who are our future, need to learn to love themselves. It’s the greatest love of … yeah, you get it.
How it’s delivered: In a soft, pleasing melody with a comfortably familiar lyric. And Whitney’s vocal isn’t too over the top when compared to, say, “I Will Always Love You.”
Key lyric: “No matter what they take from me / They can’t take away my dignity.”
Effective? Oh yeah. As much as it’s been used for humorous effect in pop culture (“Coming to America,” “American Psycho”), its chorus still packs an emotional punch.
Cheese factor: Philadelphia cream. Indulgent, but oh, so good.
– Bette Midler, “The Rose”
The message: Don’t let fear keep you from living, loving and … wait for it … blooming.
How it’s delivered: In a simple, hymn-like ballad with a nice dramatic arc in the middle.
Key lyric: “It’s the heart, afraid of breaking / That never learns to dance.”
Effective? Yeah, if you’ve actually heard it (it did come out 32 years ago). It’s got the ’70s, up-with-people vibe, but it’s among the more poetic love-yourself tunes.
Cheese factor: Subtly rich gouda
– Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance”
The message: Here’s some advice, kids: Don’t sit it out. Dance, dammit!
How it’s delivered: With a slightly twangy country voice, over a string-laden adult contempo track.
Key lyric: “Don’t let some hellbent heart leave you bitter/When you come close to selling out, reconsider.”
Effective? Parents are likely to feel it a little deeper than single people, if only because it reflects the kind of wishes one would have for his or her offspring. But, trite or not, it’s full of advice worth taking. And loving might be a mistake, but it’s worth making. (Sorry, had to.)
Cheese factor: Cracker Barrel White Colby
– Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”
The message: Save your love for someone who’ll treat you with respect.
How it’s delivered: With disco-era defiance and one of the most memorable first verses ever (“First I was afraid, I was petrified …”)
Key lyric: “But I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong / I grew strong, I learned how to get along.”
Effective? Damn straight. There aren’t many who haven’t surrendered to at least the idea of this song after a bad relationship led them to Dumpsville.
Cheese factor: Sharp cheddar
– Madonna, “Express Yourself”
The message: If you can’t communicate with your lover, you’re better (baby) on your own.
How it’s delivered: With a crisp, Shep Pettibone beat and soulful vocal vamping by a top-form Madonna.
Key lyric: “Don’t go for second best, baby / Put your love to the test / Make him express how he feels / And baby, then you’ll know your love is real.”
Effective? The effectivest. The words are powerful if you’re not too busy dancing with your hands above your head to hear them.
Cheese factor: Funky limburger, in the best way
– Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”
The message: Accept yourself, no matter whom you love or what you look like. Oh, and being a queen is preferable to being a drag.
How it’s delivered: With a thumping, chaotic dance track, an undeniable chorus breakdown (“Ooh there ain’t no other way …”) and a complete disregard for lyrical subtlety.
Key lyric: “Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and you’re set / I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”
Effective? Say what you will about “Born This Way” borrowing themes and song structures from other empowerment anthems. It’s still damn near impossible to extract the melody from the earworm farm in your brain. That’s Gaga’s gift.
Cheese factor: Blue. A little tough to take at first, but you eventually embrace it.