"Born This Way"
Once upon a time, gays selected their own anthems through a complex organic system of identification, exploration, and coronation. The identification part was easy: Look for high-drama songs with lyrics celebrating resilience sung by big-voiced women with heroic pizzazz. (See Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Cher's "Believe," and Dreamgirls' "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.") The exploration phase was more involved, requiring fledgling anthems to pass through the crucible of vast, prolonged exposure, which decisively separates the wheat from the chaff. (Chaffy songs you get sick of; wheaty anthems are inexhaustible.) Coronation is an ongoing affair, reenacted every time an anointed anthem blasts out of speakers into skulls and rallies its subjects to bliss.
Which brings us to Lady Gaga, whose new single landed late last month as a ready-made, preordained, you're-welcome-very-much Gay Anthem. Gaga's brazen rejection of the traditional avenues of anthem ordination rightly raised some hackles, but I'm willing to overlook an excess of gall in a self-appointed gay icon who walks the walk as consistently as Gaga (most recently, she axed a deal with Target when the company failed to adequately atone for its anti-gay sins). But there's no getting around the musical negligibility of "Born This Way," a simultaneously overpowering and slight slice of electro pop that's almost entirely lacking in the melodic drama I've come to consider Gaga's signature. Instead, we get a disco detergent commercial, albeit one that instills the notion of homosexuality as an inborn, immutable characteristic and effortlessly gets the word "transgender" on Top 40 radio. "Don't be a drag, just be a queen," warbles the would-be goddess in but one of the song's klutzy couplets. Take your own advice, Lady.