Debate: Does Lady Gaga’s New Single Rip Off Madonna?

pop-break co-founders brent johnson and bill bodkin address the hubbub surrounding Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” …

So, Lady Gaga is being all controversial again. But this time, it’s not for substituting slabs of meat for a dress, wearing bubbles as a bra, or stealing Madonna’s image.

She’s apparently stealing Madonna’s music now, too.

‘Born This Way,’ the first single from Gaga’s hotly anticipated sophomore album, sounds enough like Madge’s 1989 hit ‘Express Yourself’ to be mistaken for a Weird Al parody. Behold …

But I don’t really care.

First of all, for a supposedly anthemic song with such an emancipating message, ‘Born This Way’ is kind of blah. It lacks the one ingredient that has made Gaga’s music rise above her shock-value image: an instantly memorable tune. ‘Bad Romance’ had that kind of hook. So did ‘Alejandro.’ But this track feels lazy — especially since it isn’t completely original.

I’m torn on musical plagiarism, though. Of course, it’s more admirable to create something fresh. Of course, it’s illegal to cop from copyrighted material. And I can see the harm in nicking from someone’s work when they don’t reap the cash that follows.

But part of the charm and democracy of popular music is its penchant for borrowing — its bastardized lineage, as one of my co-workers put it. The British Invasion took from American black music. Folk took from Appalachian country. Rap took from beat poetry. Elvis Costello has taken from David Bowie. The Smiths have taken from T. Rex. Kanye has taken from King Crimson. Green Day takes from everyone:

Music is — and should be — a shared experience. Artists are inspired by their idols, then tweak what they’ve learned for a new audience. And as long as Gaga doesn’t deny the similarity, I don’t think it’s criminal.

As for Madonna? Thirty years into her career, she’s still fueling new music. That’s the best compliment an artist can get.

— Brent Johnson
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It’s easy to make comparisons between Madonna and Lady Gaga — but most have been superficial and coincidental comparisons. Gaga and Madonna are both blonde, part Italian, made their bones in New York’s club scene, perform infectious pop and dance oriented music, have lyrics teeming and stage shows oozing sexuality and they flaunt outlandish and magnetic personas.

But couldn’t we find the same number of similarities between say, Diana Ross and Beyonce Knowles? Artists can be similar — they can remind us of a younger version of an icon.

Yet, when the Lady released her new single, “Born This Way,” the mere superficial and coincidental comparisons ended. Whether intentional or not, Lady Gaga recorded a Madonna song.

“Born This Way” is such a rip on Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” it can’t be ignored. This is like The Red Hot Chili Peppers intro to “Around The World” ripping off Metallica’s “Bread Fan.” It’s so blatantly obvious that it cannot be ignored.

And like Brent said, the song is just “blah.” Sure it’s a toe-tapping pop tune that will no doubt find its way into the hearts of clubgoers, but in no way will this be a memorable addition to Gaga’s musical canon. I’ve never claimed to be a fan, but “Bad Romance” is just an incredibly memorable song. It was different, fresh, fun. It made you move, it grabbed you, made you pay attention to it. Kinda like a Madonna song. The genre might not be your bag, but you can’t dent a good song when you hear it.

Sadly, the Madonna comparison is not the type of hype the current queen of pop needs on the eve of her new album’s release. To me, this is situation is a complete full circle for Gaga, who while promoting the release of The Fame, was in the midst of another copycat controversy — when Christina Aguilera seemingly adopted the outlandish Gaga fashion persona and electronic music style for a single off her greatest hits album. Let’s hope for Gaga’s sake, she does suffer the same career collapse that Xtina suffered after this situation blew up in her face.

— Bill Bodkin

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

1 COMMENT

  1. Imitation is only flattering when its good, IMO. The problem with “Born This Way” is that it sounds like one of Madonna’s best songs and manages to suck at the same time. It seems that, in trying to purposefully pander to her core demographic, she’s lost the fun, infectious, dancehall vibe that made her so likeable. “Just Dance” and “Bad Romance”, two of her most catchy and substantive singles, don’t attempt to take a stand and yet they’re still great. Maybe a “gay anthem” should be written from the heart by someone with more experience…and not refer to a whole group as “orient.” Did they build the railroad too, honey?