Alejandro, Alejandro. A name that has been permanently ruined for me ever since this song came out. While never receiving the dazzling critical acclaim of ‘Bad Romance’, it nevertheless remains one of her most underrated songs.
We’re still doing these, right?
Back in 2009, I wasn’t a fan of Lady Gaga. I was still listening to an endless rotation of Rammstein, Depeche Mode, and Massive Attack songs. Anything that could remotely construed as pop was, to me, the most blasé thing imaginable. But the truth is, Lady Gaga’s music had quietly planted its seed in me already. Maybe because I’d heard it literally everywhere. Or maybe because I secretly enjoyed it. Because I never once admitted to myself that I actually outright disliked it.
Fast forward four or five years, and I realise tying my enjoyment of certain genres of music to the integrity of my personhood was a futile and spurious idea, and one that was stifling my enjoyment of music in general. That realisation reached a new height a few months ago. Lady Gaga had re-entered the headlines once again following the announcement that she would be performing at Superbowl 51. Perhaps one could call it curiosity, but something ignited in me. The first thing that came to mind was a lyric, and it’s accompanying melody. A lyric that came off as a rather tasteless and politically incorrect evocation of Latin American culture.
So, I began listening to the song in full. There were a few things I learned. One, my original assumption was on the money. Alejandro boasts one of Stefani Germanotta’s most audaciously inane, meaningless choruses – and considering the rest of her storied discography – this is saying quite a lot. And two, I realised that in spite of (or because of) the song’s shamelessly asinine nature, I very much enjoyed it. It is catchy. It’s an Ace of Base song (a.k.a the basis of alien-related internet memes) with a gloriously trashy Europop upgrade, with the anemic early 90s production touches of the former substituted with heaving drum beats and reverberating supersaw synthesisers.
The strength of Lady Gaga’s music lies in the way she wholeheartedly embraces pop tropes, while exaggerating and distorting them to such an extent that it begins to transcend itself. For better or worse, her music and her image routinely push the boundaries of sanity and good taste. There is not a lick of subtlety or restraint to anything she does…well, at least before ‘Joanne’ came along. But while it was a justifiable change in direction following the underperforming ARTPOP era, its largely lukewarm response largely cemented what her fans and critics actually liked about her in the first place. ‘Bad Romance‘ was the track that truly propelled her to superstar status, and is the perfect distillation of everything Lady Gaga does.
Big budget, mainstream pop music ought to be a multi-dimensional, immersive experience. It ought to be provocative, not just sexually, but culturally and thematically. Lady Gaga has always gravitated to the bizarre and the garish. And it all started back in 2009 with The Fame Monster, and was taken to the next extreme during her Born This Way era. Alejandro’s distinct music videos conveys all of that. Some interpretations suggest that the lyrics refer to the totalitarian regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, while others suggest that the video’s austere, fascist aesthetic, combined with the bare-chested, eroticised depiction of its male figures are a commentary on Nazi Germany’s treatment of homosexuals. And a few people got pissed off because of blasphemy, or something. But none of that matters. It’s probably just boundary-pushing for the sake of it, and that’s fine.
She is the modern day Madonna, and while her imitation of the ageing popstar has been frequently decried, her continued success deserves recognition. It is one thing to copy the greats. But it is another thing to copy the greats, and to nevertheless excel on your own terms.
(Also, I really dig the choreography.)
Over and out, Darren.