Hours before promo single “Hair” dropped on iTunes, Lady Gaga waxed poetic via Twitter on its yet-to-be-heard contents: “How ironic, head full of bleach + two black Cruella stripes. Scalp burning, Mole drawing, eyeliner dripping. Waiting for #Hair. I could Dye.” Modern music: it’s kind of like that.
Well, the wait’s over, no dying or dyeing required. With Born This Way a week away, “Hair” can’t help but be the crown of her pre-release run of singles, a triumphant fanfare and coda that Gaga can ride into (she hopes) fanfare and monster hullabaloo, not to mention a #1 debut. Even if that doesn’t happen–and it may well not; “Judas” looks more and more like a misstep with every passing day–”Hair” certainly won’t be to blame.
Gaga’s musical influences are many and obvious: the much-swiped drum fill from the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” The rock yarl of Pat Benatar filtered through plenty of Kelly Clarkson. Glee, probably. Any powerpop song released in the past 25 years. All these combined would make a pretty killer song even if Lady Gaga just sang la-la-la over the track.
Of course, that’s not that remote of a possibility for the pa-pa-perpetually “Poker Face”d singer, and “Hair” wouldn’t be a Lady Gaga song without her stuttering her way into the verse with the clipped hair-air-ai-ai-ai-air and suddenly fierce synths she might as well trademark at this point. It’s the worst part of the song, though; while its “Judas” counterpart was a welcome respite from sounds-shoved-into-sounds, here it’s just a distraction. It doesn’t help that this is where Gaga pines for “rock ‘n’ roll red highlights.” On the one hand, it’s a perfect description of the (pre)teen speaker’s idea of ‘tude-through-hair, but it’d also be ridiculous even if it wasn’t rhymed with “dynamite.” (Taio, Usher, now Gaga–just say no!)
Thankfully, there are only two parts like this, and they’re easy to ignore (and be shunted off into the inevitable club remix, for those who actually want to hear it.) “Hair” has plenty of other joys to take its place: the piano progression draped across the chorus; the near-a cappella intro and final chorus that just beg for fans to sing along at concerts, possibly with monster lighters; how Clarence Clemons’s sax sits beneath the chorus to cushion it; those “uh-huh, uh-huh” backing vocals; the way Gaga’s voice ratchets up to the kind of wail she normally saves for live shows.
But the charms of “Hair” aren’t just musical. For months now, Lady Gaga’s crowed about how Born This Way is by the fans, for the fans, no one but the fans. But then she’ll drop a Catholic-angst slurry like “Judas,” stormingly adult yet lifeless, or she’ll produce the life out of things like–well, also “Judas,” but “Born This Way” too. It doesn’t help that sometimes Gaga seems to have disappeared too far up her own ass to ever again relate to any non-Vogue fangirl. (See: that tweet up top.) But for the first time in Born This Way‘s release cycle, Lady Gaga really seems to have gotten it.
Call-out are strewn all over the lyrics: high-school dances, meddling parents and “dresing cool” and identity crises, which undoubtedly ring more true to teens than, say, the sex-as-death-mission of “LoveGame” or the plastic Hollywood metaphor in “Paparazzi.” But the real key’s in the bridge, where Gaga’s vocals are more vulnerable than they’ve ever been. She practically pleads her words: “I just wanna be free / I just wanna be me / and I want lots of friends to invite me to their parties.” It’s one of the unspoken wishes behind the It Gets Better/self-esteem pop movement: once you become a firework or fuckin’ perfect or whatever self-actualization standin you’ve taken to heart, of course people will flock to you and take you to the club or the house party where you can dance like it’s the last night of your life.
But Gaga doesn’t really want to change, at least not to any identity she didn’t choose herself. That says more than any stray high-school reference possibly could. After all, what are the teen years but an extended experiment in finding out who you are? Sure, Gaga might tangle that identity up in her hair, but hundreds of poets and singers and ordinary girls have thought the same. What’s one more?
Most crucially, Gaga’s more musically assured on “Hair” than ever, and it makes all the preceding singles suddenly cohere. “Born This Way” and “Judas” and “Edge of Glory” don’t sound like disparate, overstuffed Event Singles now as much as pieces of something that’s both larger, and, from all indications, pretty damn great. We’ll be waiting for May 23rd just as anxiously as the Monsters.