Say what you like about Gaga, but girlfriend knows how to make an entrance. The shock-and-awe tactics deployed with the release of her singles have made pop music into a genuinely exciting and unpredictable place to be in an age when the charts are supposed to have gone to hell. Still, the elaborate paper-trail that led to the released of ‘Born This Way’ looked in danger of backfiring on her when the song itself turned out to be rather less than the sonic revolution promised by the hype, which very nearly crumpled it.
The follow-up single ‘Judas’ was rush-released onto iTunes after bits of the song leaked overnight and it’s done nearly five million views on YouTube already. I’ve just listened to it seven times on repeat.
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Because ‘Judas’ is the song that Lady Gaga should have come back with. You can see why she didn’t, since it is employs so many of the hallmarks that make a Gaga song a Gaga song. It’s typically Gaga, unmistakably in the same lineage as ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Poker Face’.
It has the opening vocal freeforming ‘ra ra woos’. It has the nursery-rhyme-simple but addictively compelling chorus refrain. It has the techno breakdown and the spoken-word segments. Yet its genius (and we are going to very tentatively use the word ‘genius’, in the sense that we believe pop music at its best is a genius medium) is that it really doesn’t sound like Gaga in her comfort zone at all.
For one, the heavy-metal-techno sonic gymnastics she promised from the album are present in a way they weren’t on ‘Born This Way’. The breakdown has elements of the hardest techno and the boingiest dubstep, yet the chorus is so instantly pure-pop unforgettable that it just might – might – be even better than ‘Bad Romance’.
Lyrically, it doesn’t sound quite so provocative as the pre-hype would suggest, which itself makes it more accessible. ‘Born This Way’ was so heavy-handed in the positioning of her as a leader for the freaks and outsiders that it led to a minor backlash among people who don’t consider themselves to be freaks and outsiders.
Here, the religious iconography is used more as metaphor for an individuals struggle between the dark and the light sides: “I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with Judas, baby.”
Or, at least we think that’s what we’re getting from: “In the most Biblical sense, I am beyond repentance. Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind. But in the cultural sense I just speak in future tense. Judas kiss me if offenced, or wear an ear condom next time.”
We’re going home to listen to it another seven times. But we at NME happen to believe that Lady Gaga is one of the most amazing things to happen to pop music for a long, long time. And she’s come back with a song that restores our faith that the ‘Born This Way’ album when it comes is only going to boost her amazingness quotient. So all is good with the world.
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For a world exclusive interview with Lady Gaga, get next week’s issue of NME, out Tuesday 19 April in London and the following day in the rest of the UK.