It’s tempting to launch straight into the content of the song without stopping to think about the actual song. But if you do, you miss the fact that it’s brilliant. It’s not Bad Romance, by any stretch, but still pretty darn good. Right from the beginning, you know this is going to be classic, in-your-face Gaga, and when the chorus comes along, you aren’t disappointed.
She’s got a message, and she’s not going to go until you’ve listened. And the bits that get stuck in your head (of which there are umpteen), will make sure you don’t forget it in a hurry either. It all fuelled some great dance routines at the Grammys, and I for one can’t wait for the video!
But what is it about? The message it pretty simple – you were born the way you are, so be who you are and be proud of it. She focuses on sexuality, (Lady Gaga has been a vocal critic of US Government policies such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), but then widens the message to take in race and social status too. And she specifically targets religion too, reasoning that God makes no mistakes, so he must have made you what you are, so live how you want to.
One way to look at this song is as an example of the self-centred, self-esteeming culture we live in. A caffeine-hit for anyone whose self-esteem might be flagging a bit. Be who you are and be proud of it. It’s the idolatry at the heart of our culture and this is just one more song of self-worship. It’s also a pretty uncompromising gay pride anthem, which is really all part of the same problem. Not so much a plea for acceptance as a declaration that the only one who really needs to accept and love you is you, so don’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks.
But, I think, to see Born This Way solely in those terms is to completely miss what’s going on. When it went on sale in the UK, the single was downloaded 600,000 in the first 34 hours. In the US, it became only the 19th single in history to enter the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No 1. The song resonates with people. The important question is why? Why does the world want, or maybe even need, a song like this? Is it just an expression of sinful self-obsession, or is something else going on?
People respond to the message because they’re looking for acceptance or significance. In a world where people are rejected and hated for the colour of their skin or their sexuality, Lady Gaga offers acceptance. Not in spite of your differences, but because of them. In Lady Gaga’s world, the things that make you stand out are the things that make you fit in. You may be a monster, but you’re invited to the Monster Ball.
The song connects with the sense of alienation and disconnection that so many people feel, and as a Christian, this shouldn’t be a surprise to me. In a world created by a God who is triune, reality is fundamentally built out of relationships. But those relationships are damaged and distorted in a world where God is ignored and rejected, and we’re left longing for the acceptance and belonging that we’ll never find away from Him. This song, and the attitude it communicates, speaks directly to that sense of longing.
As a Christian, I should be careful about responding until I can offer a better alternative. And the reality is that I can – Jesus accepts and welcomes all who come to him, regardless of their background, their colour, their sexual preferences, whatever. Not because he doesn’t care about how a person lives their life or where they’ve been, but because he’s paid for it all. At the cross it’s all been dealt with, so there are no demands and no selection criteria.
This is real acceptance, because it’s completely honest about my faults and failures. It doesn’t redefine my behaviour or paint over what I’ve done. Jesus knows what I’m like, he knows what I’ve done, and he deals with it for me. This is real acceptance, because it doesn’t disappear when the concert is over and I have to go to work. It isn’t based on how I feel about myself – it’s based on what Jesus has done in dying for me and making me right with the God who made me, loves me and accepts me.
But as God’s people, the church, we’ve been poor at communicating this acceptance, haven’t we? Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we expect people to measure up before they’re welcomed in. We may preach grace, but do we show it? Would the kinds of people who would turn up to a Lady Gaga concert be welcome in our churches and in our lives? And would they feel welcome?
If you’re a Christian, when you listen to Born This Way, it should make you sad. It should make you sad because of the alienation and rejection that so many people feel. It should make you sad that most of them have no idea where to find true acceptance and significance. And it should break your heart that Jesus and His church are the last place they would think of looking.
Then is should make you want to point them to the Jesus in whom they can find true love and acceptance.