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GREY MATTERS: Anatomy of a “Bad Romance”

GREY MATTERS: Anatomy of a “Bad Romance”

By Ian Grey

“I am a songwriter before I’m a human.”
— Lady Gaga from her Twitter feed

“Bad Romance” was co-written with RedOne when the artist was 23.

The landmark video was directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants). Aside from direct visual Kubrick quotes—most overtly, the use of sleep pods like those from 2001: A Space Odyssey except with the addition of the word “MONSTER” and a crucifix—the video was important for the first appearance of claw-hand gesture which immediately become the international Sign of the Monster used by all her fans in the same way the “flashing the horns” lets one metal fan communicate to another that they are as one without saying a word.

Anyway–the key is A minor. The verse chords are Am–C–F–C–G; for the chorus, they alternate between F–G–Am–C and F–G–E–Am.
The tempo is 119 beats per minute (BPM), a pleasant medium velocity that Gaga completely abuses with a relentless, four-on-the-four groove.

I’m examining the song as follows:
If you see “0:25 – 0:43”, it means I’m looking at the events that happen in the song within a time frame of twenty-five and forty-three seconds. If I only make note of “1:13” it means I’m looking at what happens at the one minute and thirteen seconds mark and onwards until the next moment of note.
Okay! Super obsessive ladies and gentlemen, get out your MP3 players, your copy of Gaga’s fiendishly brilliant song, and let’s have a “Bad Romance”! And if (when) you find the stuff that makes your head explode feel free to post about it often!

0:00 – 0:16 seconds:
Song beings! The queen of direct address just up and starts singing the hell out of a melody we’ll never forget as trance-synths open heaven’s door:
“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! /Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!
Caught in a bad romance!” (repeat)

0:17 – 0:24 seconds:
First iteration of “Rah-ra-ah-ah-ah-Roma-roma-ma”—one of music’s great instant WTFs–which is autographed when she adds, “Gaga-ooh-la-la”
Looking at it in advertising terms, where your average ad spot is 30 seconds, she has, in in 24 seconds, established the most surface-level exciting element of a new product (the “Rah-ra-ah-ah-ah-Roma-roma-ma” hook) and the part of the product that will make you a dedicated customer (the chorus parts).
And it doesn’t resolve—it kind of hangs there–you actually already have a need to hear more of it.

0:25 – 0:43:
Straightforward iteration of first verse melody with washes of trance-associated synths with endearingly annoying electronic percussion element.
Part of the strange psychology of music listeners is that we like moderately annoying things: see cowbell, history of.
Anyway, the verse continues:
“I want your ugly / I want your disease.
I want your everything / As long as it’s free
I want your love”

Her no-frills—if vaguely Euro-trashy vocal style–takes on a dismissive nasal, sassy quality: has she listened to Bowie? Why yes, I think she has:
“Love, love, love
I want your love”

0:49 – 1:04:
Second verse, same as the first, except for the vocal style.
She’s singing more from the chest now, like those Jameson boilermakers are kicking in and maybe she’s a little tipsy and more than a bit ready for, well, a romance of dubious classiness:

“I want your drama /The touch of your hand (Hey!)
I want you leather studded kiss in the sand/ I want your love
“Love, love, love/I want your love”

Not only does she talk the bridge, she has multiple overdubs of herself talking the bridge. Subtext: she wants you so much she’s enlisted an army of Gagas to get the point across:
“You know that I want you
And you know that I need you
I want it bad
Your bad romance”

Okay, before we examine this chorus that most likely millions of people across the globe have enjoyed pretty much the same way that you have enjoyed, which means the Lady Gaga, like Brahms, Procol Harum, ABBA and Gary Numan before her, has managed to craft cohesive sound patterns that go straight to the brain’s primitive limbic system which then sends messages to the cortex—sort of the brain’s information manager—which then says, “Yeah, it’s a safe and good idea to give it up for this seriously weird song”

And so you do, which means that, according to a recent Time magazine article, brain hormone levels are being seriously tweaked, including the release of endorphins and other cool substances that are basically your brain’s natural heroin.

Anyway, the chorus, all 32-or-so seconds of it. The deviously clever thing about Gaga introducing bits of the chorus at the very beginning of the song is it turns you into a small child out of Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”
But you don’t get some more for an entire minute, during which, as we’ve seen, all this really exciting stuff has been happening but still, the gruel-seeking child is going, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

And finally, at

she gives it to us. And it is sublime.

Some muso thoughts on why it’s sublime:
The thing that makes this The Hit That Ate The World is so, so, so, so simple.
The first time through the chorus the chords are
The second time:
It’s that “E” chord—you don’t need to be a musician to hear it–that made millions and delights us endlessly. That awe-inspiring turn-around.
The words, in case there isn’t an entire part of your brain dedicated to recalling them:
“I want your love / And I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your love / And all your lover’s revenge
You and me could write a bad romance”

“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! /Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!
“Caught in a bad romance”

Finally, some relief! As in we get the “Rah-ra-ah-ah-ah/Roma-roma-ma” again and a verse and the bridge which means that, as exotic as this confection is, it’s still pop for God’s sakes, it isn’t like Lady Gaga is King Crimson or something.

Still, pop music brains are defined by ADD and finding out how an artist will treat that ADD is part of the adventure of the listening experience.

So—some of the tweaks and highlights that perk us up during this second verse/chorus:

The “Love, love, love, I want your love” line is no longer Bowie-ish—it’s now a very, very pleasing two part harmony.

Gaga turns a seemingly random list of Hitchcock titles into a totally functional verse:
I want your Psycho / your Vertigo shtick /want you in my Rear Window

During the “You know that I want you” bit, on the left side of the stereo pan, Gaga boasts “Cuz I’m a free bitch baby!” and it just sounds, well, kind of cute. Big secret: “Cute” is a major weapon in the Gaga arsenal. Now you know. Tell your friends.

Second chorus. Same words. The harmonies in “Caught in a bad romance” are more pronounced the first time she sings them and just when we are again begging for more of the same, she denies us, dammit, as the next “caught in a bad romance” is in unison, no harmonies.

Time for some “Rah-ra-ah-ah-ah, Roma-roma-ma”, an assertion of the brand name “Gaga-ooh-la-la” and then…

…and then there’s that thing musicians call ‘the middle eight’ which refers to the number of bars given to a musical part that happens in the middle of a song that happens nowhere else, a part that stops a song from being a repetitive bore, like that was a problem here, right?

In The Beatles “No Reply” the middle eight would be the part that starts with “If I were you, I’d realize that I” and so on.

But a long time has elapsed since the mid-60s. Anyway, Gaga is sort of stealth-building her way into a wonderfully unholy gene-splice of Queen and Edith Piaf and of course her middle-eight would be longer and it starts with:

We get narration of a runway show that I’ll bet your house you were not expecting which is the point. It’s a brilliant maneuver, like you changed stations to another really cool song by the same artists at the same BPM:
“Walk, walk fashion baby /Work it /Move that bitch crazy”
And so on, repeating until the money-shot line:

3:36/3:37 – 3:38:
“I’m a free bitch baby”

Kitchen sink meets Lady Gaga.
Were this “Eleanor Rigby” you’d be hearing slicing cellos and violas playing the super dramatic ascending symphonic synth chords that replace the now-gone drums.
She sings “I want your love /and I want your revenge/ I want your love /I don’t wanna be friends”

She switches to French “Je veux ton amour / Et je veux ta revenge / Je veux ton amour/ I don’t wanna be friends!”

At the same time the stereo-pan gives up a small choir of Gagas singing the woo-oh-oh-o-h—caught in a Bad Romance” she insists with increasing fervor: “I don’t wanna be friends!”

She hits the song’s highest, most passionate note, an A5 with another

“I don’t wanna be friends!!!”

The fake-out. Where it seems the song has ended. Where there’s nothing but Gaga scream-singing
“Want your bad romance!”

The chorus, thank God for our exploded hearts and frayed nerves, returns, runs its two repeats, returns to

Gaga alone, no instruments, and is it just me that feels a bit of grin in her voice here?
“Rah-ra-ah-ah-ah!/ Roma-roma-ma! / Gaga-ooh-la-la! /Want your bad romance!”

Song ends.

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