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Valerie Frankel Headshot

Lady Gaga: (Not) Born to Express Yourself This Way

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GAGA

Lady Gaga has always been thoroughly modern Madonna. She pulled herself out of obscurity by Madonna's bra straps. "Alejandro" sounds like "La Isla Bonita." "Paparazzi" reminds me of "Papa Don't Preach" (maybe just the repetition of "papa"). The fame monster has taken sound and style cues from the material girl all along. She's done it again, using "Express Yourself" as the foundation for "Born This Way." Fans are livid. Why now? Madonna fans have had a high tolerance for the homage before.

I believe the outrage is over the song choice. If Lady Gaga had used "Borderline," no one would care. However, for those of us from the '80s, "Express Yourself" is sacred, and not to be tampered with by anyone.

Nowadays, young women and men seem amply prepared to express themselves to each other. But when "Express Yourself" came out in 1989, the female romantic ideal was to be "low maintenance," easy, untroubled, uncomplicated and -- above all else -- undemanding. Asking a guy, "Do you love me?" or "Where do we stand?" would send him running from the relationship in terror and disgust. That's what we'd been taught, and what we believed.

Then Madonna gave us permission to ask away -- and proudly. Demanding answers wasn't wrong. It was required. "Make him express how he feels," she sang, whether we (or he) were "ready or not." The song was an attitude adjustment and a life changer. Whenever I hear it, I feel like a relationship virgin, empowered for the very first time. "Express Yourself" was the emotional anthem of its time. It's also the best sing-along Madonna song of all time.

In "Born This Way," Lady Gaga hoped to create an emotional anthem of her own, for her time. She, too, wanted to inspire a generation to express itself -- bravely, proudly, ready or not. Her intention was good. But she used Madonna's untouchable classic to do so. It's like digging up holy ground to build and consecrate a shopping mall. It's instinctually offensive. Just plain wrong.

I'm sure Lady Gaga will recover from this. It's a blip, a lesson learned. Fans will forgive her. And, twenty years from now, should some young talent steal "Bad Romance" and call it her own, we'll feel just as proprietary and outraged on Lady Gaga's behalf.

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