Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants! Who’s on today?
More Gaga, huh? Despite this being her fourth Radio Rant appearance (five, if you count “The Edge of Glory” and “Hair” separately), I’m not really too tired of talking about her. Sure, she can be an overbearing and borderline obnoxious artist (see: the single art), but at the same time, you can’t fault her on a lack of trying or daring to be different (again, see the single art). There’s always something kind of new and “what the hell?” about her, which makes talking about her a damn sight more interesting than dealing with Katy Perry.
Anyway, today’s song is “You and I”, single number 4 off Born This Way, putting the album at 4 singles in 6 months. And while “Born This Way” was usual Gaga fair and Judas was “Bad Romance II: Romance Harder”, third single “The Edge of Glory” shied away from club pop, and we’re going to see more distance from that genre today. “You and I” breaks out the guitar and piano, which means we’re in store for Born This Way‘s official About a Boy Ballad.
Buried within each Lady Gaga album is a piano-tinged, vocal heavy affirmation from Gaga to some guy in her life. And unlike some artists who strip ballads down to the bare-bones, the About a Boy Ballad should be just as much as a massive undertaking as the rest of the release’s material. Gaga’s done it for each outing now; The Fame had the shallow, messy “Brown Eyes”, and “Speechless” (which was leaps and bounds better) appeared on The Fame Monster.
Instead of going with the all electro sound of “Brown Eyes” or the live band approach to “Speechless”, Gaga splits the difference on “You and I”. Aside from a drum machine, the song uses all live instrumentation, but still has a super poppy production. Actually, like most of Born This Way, the music to “You and I” seeks to pummel you in the ground with its own grandiosity and overbearingness. In this case, such oppression comes from the beat of “We Will Rock You”, but with a stomp removed every other beat. It’s a blatant move, but it really subverts what you’re used to with that beat.
At the chorus, the song’s lumbering beat is assisted by a massive guitar riff and backing vocals. I really have to say, for a Lady Gaga song, “You and I” is surprisingly hook-free. It’s not something for which I’d ever take points off, but the only real part of the chorus that begs singing along is “Something, something about my cool Nebraska guy/Something about, baby, you and I”. Although things hit a musical highpoint with Brian fucking May’s guitar solo at the bridge (I love that he ends it with the same riff as “We Will Rock You”, just as a way of saying “Yeah, that’s me).
So what’s “You and I” about? On the surface, it’s about, well, you and I. But on a deeper level, the song is a five minute send up to America. Gaga’s lyrics are steeped in the imagery of classic Americana: bars, heels, rock and roll…hell, even Bruce Springsteen gets a shoutout. These lyrics are so deliberately Route 66 American that I thought The Gaslight Anthem ghost-wrote it. But really, the song drifts much further into country than anything else; remove the drum machine and some of the synths that creep in during the chorus, and “You and I” wouldn’t sound too far from a Nashville meets classic rock crossover.
Which is one of the reasons I can’t fully get into “You and I”. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, this song is almost painfully crowded; the drums and beat are everywhere, May’s guitar goes barreling through the mix, backing vocals take up almost every space where Gaga isn’t singing. Instead of toning down anything, everything is turned way up in a constant fight to be above everything else, ruining any dynamics (these production problems were arguably Born This Way‘s biggest issue).
The other thing that threatens to turn me off of “You and I” is Gaga herself. Even on most of her BTW material, she’s knows when to attack and when to release, but she completely overperforms here. Instead of her normal voice, we get a forced, annoying, obnoxious drawl. Example: “Sit raght down where you belawng in the corner of mah bar wit yer hagh heels on”. Gaga, we all know you’re New York born and raised, don’t try to fake it otherwise. In addition to the accent, she makes a point of sounding too rough; the second half of the song is filled with her growling and screaming. Used sparingly, it’s effective, but here it just gets grating and annoying. Gaga’s always been campy, but she’s chewing too much of the scenery on “You and I” for it to be fun.
But “You and I” really isn’t a bad song when you get down to it; it ends up succeeding much like “The Edge of Glory” in that you can’t help but get swept up in its ridiculousness. The song tries too hard (and fails) at synthesizing three genres in one go, but ends up kind of working in spite of itself. “You and I” is on the surface great, but is kind of clunky on introspection. Could be better, but things could be a lot worse.