When Lady Gaga released "Born This Way" last year, I didn't instantly love it. It was a catchy pop song, but it was one of those songs that just kind of stuck in my head in a not-entirely-positive way, and I was annoyed by its similarities to Madonna's "Express Yourself." I was also torn about the "Born This Way" message - if it was a direct commentary on being a member of the LGBT community, was I really "born this way"? Should it matter if I was even "born this way" in the first place? Doesn't that just emphasize the gender and sexuality binary that plagues people in our world so often?
But when the president of Ithacappella, the all-male a cappella group at Ithaca College, proposed the idea of doing a collaborative a cappella cover of "Born This Way" with Premium Blend, the all-female group at IC, and IC's coed group, IC VoiceStream, for which I serve as president, I had to take a closer look at the song.
At its heart, "Born This Way" is about expressing who you are and telling the world that they can fuck off if they don't like you. It's about encouraging people to be themselves, live life with confidence, and embrace their quirks. And as a group of 50 a cappella nerds, we all have our quirks.
Premium Blend and my group signed onto the endeavor - arranging, learning, performing, recording, and producing an a cappella version of "Born This Way" - and I'm so glad we were able to do it. It's a great bookend to my senior year at Ithaca College and a perfect way to wrap up my three and a half years with IC VoiceStream. The song was released on iTunes yesterday, and it's been getting a ton of support from the a cappella community, LGBT media, and otherwise. 100 percent of the sales from the track will be split between two awesome organizations, the Ali Forney Center, a center for homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City, and the Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga's new organization dedicated to youth self-empowerment. Here's the link to the song on iTunes if you want to check it out, and embedded below is a preview of the song.
I'm proud of a lot of things about the song. I'm proud of our kickass soloists, and I'm so excited that our track features The Pentatonix, the gzow-mazing a cappella quintet that won the third season of NBC's The Sing-Off. I'm stoked we were able to connect with the group, who delivered one of my favorite a cappella covers ever with their rendition of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know."
I'm even more happy that we retained the original lyrics of the song - "No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life, I'm on the right track, baby, I was born to survive." Lady Gaga and Glee have inexplicably straight-washed the lyrics in the past, and I'm proud that our three a cappella groups - a collaboration of over 50 students, a team of producers, and The Pentatonix - didn't try to "de-gay" our version of the song. Keep in mind that the Pentatonix faced some straight-washing when they were on The Sing-Off - they visited The Trevor Project as their charity of choice, and the show's editors or producers decided to leave out the fact that The Trevor Project is specifically a lifelife for LGBTQ youth.
I'm also happy to shine light on an amazing, amazing organization that a lot of people throughout the country, including many of my a cappella colleagues, haven't heard of - The Ali Forney Center. AFC is an incredibly well-run center for homeless LGBTQ youth in NYC, and it deserves any and all attention that people can give it. The money our single will raise will directly benefit the center, which can use the money to fund more beds, more resources, and more staff personnel.
The Born This Way Foundation also has a ton of potential. Its social media presence is huge, its public relations is ridiculously large, and Lady Gaga and her team are really positioning it to be a positive facilitator of youth self-empowerment. I'm excited to see what the foundation will do this year, and I'm glad that our Ithaca College community can throw some of our support behind this.
The amount of support we've received from our community has been outstanding. The LGBT Resource Center at Ithaca College has promoted "Born This Way" with vigor, and a number of LGBT blogs, Broadway stars, and celebrities have pointed to the track as a positive example of collaboration with a purpose. Apart, our groups and the Pentatonix could do great things, but together, we're able to do even greater things.
Yes, I may not love the original version of "Born This Way," and yes, I may have been initially apprehensive about the song, but now, in the context of bringing a community of individuals together for a worthwhile group cause, I understand its significance.
I hope you'll check out the single and the pages for the Ali Forney Center and the Born This Way Foundation. And enjoy the fruits of our labor on iTunes.
Cover Art by Jimmy Knowles