Firework vs. Born This Way
May 9th, 2011
Todd plays "Firework" on his piano, and quickly transitions into "Born This Way"
KATY PERRY - FIREWORK
LADY GAGA - BORN THIS WAY
A pop song(s) review
Todd: It has come to my attention that sometimes people in the world might feel unhappy about themselves
- Video for Christina Aguilera - "Beautiful"
- Christina: I am beautiful
Todd (VO): I don't really interact with people, so mostly I discovered this fact through pop songs. Specifically big, inspirational ballads by famous pop stars... [Clip of TLC - "Unpretty"] meant to bolster the self-esteem of people feeling down on themselves. Probably because they're not big, famous pop stars. Now these are songs that are meant to take the sad sacks of the world [Video cuts to Mariah Carey - "Hero"] and uplift their spirits and make them feel more comfortable with who they are.
- Mariah: That the hero that lies in you...
Todd (VO): Now me, I personally have never really liked this kind of song.
Todd: I mean, I'm Todd In The Shadows. I don't really have the need for a pick-me-up song because of the glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle that I lead.
- Black and white footage with a depressing soundtrack ("Coming Right Along" by The Posies). Todd sits in front of his computer, drinks and puts a gun to his head, and shoots it - repeatedly, because as "Imma Be" showed, that is not a real gun.
Todd: But, it remains a popular topic for songwriters. Now as it happens, we've got two songs like that circulating right now.
- Videos for Lady Gaga - "Bad Romance"
Todd (VO): One by the artsy, challenging pop singer whose songs I wish I liked more than I do, [Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold"] and one by the stupid, lowest-common-denominator pop singer whose songs I wish I liked a whole lot less.
Todd: What I'm talking about, of course, are Katy Perry's single "Firework" and Lady Gaga's single "Boring This Way." [silence, Todd looks down to check his notes.] Excuse me, "Born This Way."
- Video for "Firework"
Todd (VO): Now, in this case we have two huge hit songs with positive messages, brought to you by probably two of the least likely people in pop music to be bringing them.
- Video for "Born This Way"
Todd (VO): Now, before we get to the songs themselves, let's remember that neither of these women is particularly known for heartfelt, inspirational ballads.
Todd: It's an unlikely move, and a bit of a sell-out for both artists. So, I decided to tackle the two songs together and evaluate them simultaneously because of their thematic similarities, and totally not because I haven't put out a review in a while and I need to catch up on as much as possible.
- Both videos shown side-by-side
Todd (VO): Now, keep in mind, I find both these songs acceptably mediocre, so this is not, like, a ranking kind of thing, however they both have their strong points and their weak points, so I thought they deserved a comparison.
Todd: And I think a good place to start would be the main message in the lyrics.
- Katy: Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?
Todd: Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? Katy Perry does. Because she's made of plastic. And she's a bag. Boom!
- Katy: Boom, boom, boom!
Todd: Now these are both "feel good about who you are" types of songs, [Firework] Katy Perry wants you to feel amazing and brilliant, and [Born this Way] Gaga wants you to believe you are absolutely justified in being who you are no matter the way you choose to... express yourself, let's say.
Todd (VO): But who are these songs for specifically? Now, I always felt, especially with the introduction of the mildly chubby girl in the video, that the main target audience for "Firework," like many of these types of songs, are women with low self-esteem because of body issues or whatnot.
Todd: And it's true enough that the media often seems like it's conspiring to make young women feel worse about themselves, and the consequences of this can be truly heartbreaking. For example... hey, JesuOtaku.
JesuOtaku: Oh, hey. What's up?
Todd: You look fat.
JO: [does a baffled look] Excuse me?
Todd: Now see how utterly devastated this poor young woman is just from one snide comment about her body. See the pain [cut to JO staring, looking slightly bored] and shame in her eyes as her self-image is utterly destroyed. Truly this is a sad commentary on the pressures the media puts on young women with obvious self-esteem issues such as this unfortunate woman here.
JO: Todd, get help. [leaves]
Todd: See as she runs away in humiliation, probably to go bawl into her diary and chug down some Haagen-Dasz. What an awful world we live in. So yeah, "Firework" has an admirable message, I suppose; I'm not sure Katy Perry deals with the issue all that sensitively, though.
- Katy: Do you ever feel
- Feel so paper thin?
- Like a house of cards?
Todd: [sad] No, I don't feel paper thin, because I don't have your perfect body, Katy Perry! [sobs]
- Katy: You just gotta ignite
- the light
- and let it shine...
Todd (VO): But in case you're feeling unconfident, Katy Perry has some inspiring words for you.
- Katy: Baby you're a firework
- Come on, let your colors burst...
Todd (VO): Yeah, don't feel like a plastic bag or a house of cards; feel like a firework.
Todd: Feel like a brief flash of light that exists for two seconds before disappearing and is immediately forgotten afterwards by the audience. This is not a metaphor I would've used, and it's certainly not what I would've used if I were Katy Perry. [image of a clock reading 00:14:59] Ahem...
Todd (VO): Furthermore, I'm not sure how good it is to tell the depressed that they're going to explode...
- Katy: Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow...
Todd (VO): Is this a song for suicide bombers? Seriously. Now you wanna know what would make a good song lyric? "Baby you're a firewood."
Todd: See? That's much more of a compliment! Firewood lasts longer, it's useful, provides warmth... [playing "Firework" on the piano] "Baby you're a firewood, you make my smores taste really good..."
Oh my God, I have to write this.
Todd grabs his notes and writes it down
(Look out, Weird Al!)
Todd (VO): OK, well, for the most part, lyrically, "Firework" doesn't really have a main audience. Speaks in generalities, perhaps to its detriment.
- Katy: You're original, cannot be replaced...
Todd: Yes, you're original...whoever you are. You are all original!
- Scene from Life of Brian
- Brian: You're all individuals!
- Crowd: Yes, we're all individuals!
Todd: And that puts it in deep contrast to "Born This Way."
- Gaga: This is the manifesto of Mother Monster.
Todd (VO): Now, unlike "Firework," "Born This Way" is targeted to a more specific demographic. One that's been unfairly stigmatized and marginalized for far too long.
- Gaga: Just put your paws up.
Todd (VO): Furries. Also, I guess gay people. Which makes sense. Gaga has deliberately cultivated [image of Gaga with gay men] a fiercely loyal fanbase with the LGBT community, so it makes sense that she would pay tribute to them with the most...
Todd: ...thuddingly obvious and blatantly pandering song she's ever written.
- Gaga: I’m beautiful in my way
- ‘Cause God makes no mistakes
- I’m on the right track, baby
- I was born this way
- No matter gay, straight, or bi
- Lesbian, transgendered life
- I’m on the right track baby
- I was born to survive
Todd (VO): Right. Gays of the world, don't let people get you down, because you were born this way.
Todd: Again I get the sentiment. I understand what she's trying to say, I'm not trying to contradict that, but... God makes plenty of mistakes. Tons of them. [cut to a picture of a frat boy type with spiked and dyed blonde hair] This guy, for example, is a mistake, and he was probably born that way. So I just don't see that as much of a defense.
- Gaga: Don’t be a drag – just be a queen
- Don’t be a drag – just be a queen
Todd (VO): "Don’t be a drag – just be a queen." I really just don't know what I, a straight man, am supposed to do with that, [The Village People's "Macho Man] and I can dance right along to Village People songs when the mood strikes me...
Todd: Honestly, I feel a bit excluded from "Born This Way." That makes me a little sad. God, gay people, you just don't understand how it feels to be left out. Hm. On the other hand, there is one part of the song that feels dedicated specifically to me.
- Gaga: Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
- Whether you’re broke or evergreen
- You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
- You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient
Todd: I am! I am all of those things. (As far as you know.) You have no idea how nice it is to see someone supporting the Black, White, Chinese, Lebanese, Chola, Oriental community. Oh, people are always making fun of me for it, telling me that I smell like Windex... you know what? I'd like to break some stereotypes right now! Not all of us smell like Windex, we don't all work as dog catchers, and no, we don't all wear diamond-studded jumpsuits.
Todd (VO): Thank you, Lady Gaga. I truly feel like you get the feeling of what it is like being Chinese, Chola or Lebanese. And Gaga is looking out for other marginalized members of society as well!
- Gaga: It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M.
Todd (VO): She's looking out for fans of mediocre rock band H.I.M.?
Todd: And for people who failed high school Spanish, apparently.
- Gaga: I love my life, I love this record and
- Mi amore vole fe yah [????????? (no idea)]
Todd: Of course, I'd like to point out that the video for "Firework" also supports gay people. After all, Lady Gaga is not the only pop singer standing up for gay rights.
- Video for "I Kissed a Girl"
- Katy: I kissed a girl just to try it
- Hope my boyfriend don't mind it!
- Video for "Ur So Gay"
- Katy: You're so gay and you don't even like boys
Todd (VO): Oh, Katy Perry. Your social compassion knows no bounds.
Todd: But the lyrics mean nothing without the music.
Todd (VO): Now, a beauty-pageantesque call for tolerance should be the least controversial thing Lady Gaga has ever done, but... "Born This Way" attracted controversy right away because it apparently resembled [news reading "Does Lady Gaga's 'Born this Way' Rip Off Madonna's 'Express Yourself'?] some 80s song I've never heard of by... Ma-dona? Who?
- Gaga: My mama told me when I was young
- We are all born superstars
- Video for Madonna - "Express Yourself"
- Madonna: Fancy cars that go very fast
- You know they never last, no, no
- Gaga: I’m beautiful in my way
- ‘Cause God makes no mistakes
- I’m on the right track baby
- I was born this way
- Madonna: So if you want it right now, make him show you how
- Express what he's got, oh baby ready or not
Todd: Pffssshhh. I don't hear it. But let's talk about production.
Todd (VO): Now I admire the production on Katy Perry's music, always have. You wanna know why? This is what Katy Perry sounds like out of the studio.
- Katy Perry singing "Hot and Cold" on Today
- Katy: We used to be just like twins, so in sync
Todd (VO): Do you know what a miracle of audio work it is that that disaster of a voice was turned into something you can sell to a mass audience?
Todd (VO): I'd give it an A for effort alone. Furthermore, I just admire how well put together this song is. Clean, crisp, strings coming in at the right moments. Meanwhile...
- Born this Way
Todd (VO): You know, I said I wasn't gonna rank 'em. But if there was one thing that would tip the scales towards "Firework" and against "Born this Way," it'd be something very simple—the production on "Born This Way" is horrible. This is a real step in the wrong direction for her because while Gaga's image might have been ridiculously over-the-top, she usually put limits on her actual music.
- Video for "Poker Face"
Take "Poker Face," which is hardly a stripped-down acoustic number by any means, but even still, the production is actually fairly strained for a late 2000s pop song. [Back to "Born This Way"] Compare that to the atrociously overproduced monstrosity that is "Born this Way," in which the idea was apparently to make the mix as cluttered as humanly possible. It's like at any moment there was space on the track, the producers were instructed: "No! Fill it with more sound effects! Foghorn! Swarms of angry bats! Anything! We need constant buzzing and droning and bleeping and blooping over the mix, under the mix, between the mix! Noise! More noise!"
- Clip of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
- Dewey Cox: And I want an army of didgeridoos. Fifty thousand didgeridoos!
Todd: Oh, and speaking of lack of restraint, I guess I have to acknowledge the video for "Born this Way" too.
Todd (VO): Look, I'm about done reviewing music videos by Lady Gaga. All I really have to say is that we all have expectations about what a Gaga video should be like, and the...the "Born This Way" video is as hilariously stupid as everyone wanted it to be. Truthfully, I'd have been disappointed if it had been otherwise.
- Gaga: But the birth was not finite. It was infinite.
Todd: [clapping] Oh, fantastic!
- Gaga: And the mitosis of the future began. It was perceived that this infamous moment in life...
- Clip of The Big Lebowski
- Maude: My art has been commended as being strongly vaginal, which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable.
Todd (VO): But I have to say, I'm not sure the "Born This Way" video measures up to the "Firework" video in one major way: does she have anything firing out of her boobs? ["Firework"] Nope, and Katy Perry does! And by my count, [Video for "California Gurls" with Katy spraying cream from cans attached to her breasts] that puts her in the lead 2-1. [video for "Alejandro"] And I'm not even sure if we can count Lady Gaga, as those machine guns never went off. Disappointing.
Jokes aside, the "Born This Way" video is hysterical, but it could never achieve the level of effortless stupidity of the "Firework" video, [cut to video] in which KatyPerryBot5000 apparently starts malfunctioning from the torso area. Apparently we're supposed to let Katy Perry's magical chest sparkles make you feel better, no matter if you're fat or gay or...being mugged or... dying of cancer?!
Todd: Okay, now bottom line, both songs. The biggest problem with "Firework," I think, is that it comes from ["California Gurls"] one of music's most arrogant superstars.
- Katy: Sun-kissed skin, so hot
- We'll melt your popsicle...
Todd (VO): See, that's what I think of when I think of Katy Perry. Now compare that to [video for...] the Pink song "Fuckin' Perfect," which is another one of these types of songs, which I also could have included in this review, but decided not to because it's as dull as dog crap. But at the very least, it doesn't remotely have the level of condescension that Katy Perry does.
- Pink: Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?
Todd (VO): See, Pink gets it. ["Firework"] And "Firework," especially the video, doesn't. Which maybe explains the not-so-great metaphors used in this song.
- Katy: Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?
Todd: That's...that's how not being famous and beautiful feels, right? Like, I don't know, a bag?
- Katy: ...like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind wanting to start again?
Todd: That's... that's what bags do, right? Want to start again? [throws his hands up and shrugs]
Todd (VO): Meanwhile, "Born This Way" does some of the same things as "Firework," but Gaga is not trying to sympathize with your pain, as much as she wants to share her innate, majestic awesometude, which fits in with her persona pretty well, so that suits better for me. But still, isn't the appeal of Lady Gaga how compellingly weird and wrong she is? All this "I'm OK, you're OK" stuff kinda neutralizes all that. If "Bad Romance" was her "Thriller," I'd say "Born this Way" is her "Bad"—not awful by any means, but not exactly living up to her higher standards.
Todd: It's alright, I guess. But as a wise woman once said: "Don't go for second best, baby, put your love to the test." I forget where that's from.
Todd (VO): At the very least, I don't think either song is their respective artist's finest moments, but I guess that's to be expected. After all, [Born this Way] sleaziness and strangeness can only be kept up for so long, so I guess the slide towards conventionality was always inevitable in both Katy Perry and Lady Gaga's evolution as artists.
Todd: And so, with that in mind, I look forward to seeing how they both progress in this new more down-to-Earth phase in their careers.
Side-by-side images of the videos for Perry's "ET" and Gaga's "Judas"
Todd (VO): Oh right, they both followed it up with songs about boinking monsters.
Closing tag song: Daphne & Celeste - "U.G.L.Y."
"Born This Way" is owned by Interscope Records
"Firework" is owned by Capitol Records
Big Lebowski joke courtesy of TaraC