Maybe you’ve heard that Madonna and Lady Gaga indulged in a little twittertiff a few weeks ago about the connection between Gaga’s song “Born This Way” and Madonna’s classic “Express Yourself.” (Funny to think that bad-girl Madge is in the position of having a “classic,” isn’t it? In the same ironic vein as “Jumping Jack Flash” becoming supermarket muzak.)
I don’t know about you, but the first time I heard “Born This Way,” I thought it sounded a lot like Madonna’s song, no question asked. So then it’s either the generous interpretation: Gaga’s homage to Madge. Or less generously, Gaga’s unattributed borrowing from Madge.
Gaga says that the chords in her ditty are just the same chord progressions that have been part of disco music for the past fifty years. Which jesus, disco has been around for fifty years? Wow.
Madonna, apparently, takes the less generous viewpoint, as she made clear in her Abu Dhabi show during a version of “Express Yourself” that featured cheerleaders, pompons, and a drum corps suspended on invisible wires from the rafters. (Can you imagine it? Good news! you’ve been chosen to join Madonna’s tour! Bad news! You’re going to hang twenty feet off the ground with your full drum kit playing an incredibly complicated rhythm line for about thirty minutes!)
This version of “Express Yourself” sampled “Born This Way” and as Madge paced the stage, she exclaimed: “She’s NOT me!” The audience roared its approval, and roared even louder when she said “I’m the Queen!”
I like Gaga’s tune, and a few others, although if I have to listen to my kids doing “p-p-p-p-p-poker face…” one more time, I’m going to make that woman eat her damn meat dress. And Madonna – well, Madonna is the soundtrack of my college years, of bombing around New York’s East Village in paisley leggings and black Chuck Taylors, of dancing sweatily into the night in apartments that looked much better in the dark. So although her shock value has worn away, I can’t so easily shove her off the throne – those tunes are my youth.
But both Gagalina and Madge would do well to stop quarreling and bow to the American South, home of the woman who spawned them all, the first truly iconic one-word woman:
All of them – Madonna, Gaga, Britney, Beyonce – owe a debt to Dolly. She used boobs and talent to force open doors that women weren’t supposed to open and gave us a woman unafraid to re-invent herself with the flip of a wig and the wave of a press-on nail.
From Nashville with Porter Wagoner, to 9 to 5 with Lily Tomlin, to Dollywood, to Kennedy Center Honors, and back around to the bluegrass music that was her first love, Dolly owns it all. The wig, the eyelashes, the nails, the huge shoes…it’s all part of the show, as is her ability to laugh at herself, a talent that other divas might want to consider. At the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, she even rapped about her amazing rack – and paid homage to Queen Latifah, also a breastally gifted woman. Dolly has a long way to go as a rap star – Latifah won’t be losing that contest anytime soon, but can you imagine Gaga, or Madonna, or anyone else making fun of themselves like this: She’s the queen of her own hood … but I’m the queen of Dollywood! I don’t hip and I don’t hop … I’d black both eyes with this big top. I know the Queen has got ‘em too … but she don’t work ‘em like I do!” (to see the clip, from tmz.com, click here).
Gaga plays the piano, and Madge had a guitar with her for a few numbers the other night, but Dolly (even with those nails) plays guitar, banjo, authoharp, dulcimer – and even, occasionally, the drums. Which is to say that for all her self-proclaimed fakery, the lady is the real deal.
Here’s Dolly, back in the day, with what can only be described as a a literal beehive on her head. Amazing what could be done with just hairspray, y’all. (source)
And here’s Dolly a few years back: pink, sequins, wig, face-lift, waist cinched, smiling. (source)
Gaga can wear all the meat she wants and Madge can pretend to kill people on stage, or break up with God, or whatever it is she wants to do. But when they’re alone in their lavish dressing rooms, they’d better pray that when they’re pushing seventy, they can be as cool as Dolly.
For Part I about the Madonna show, click here