In late 2010, Lady Gaga – wearing a meat dress, matching meat hat and boots, clutching a meat purse – walked to the stage at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Tears streaming down her face, she graciously accepted the award for ‘Video Of The Year’ for “Bad Romance” from Cher. After joking that she never thought she’d have to ask Cher to hold her meat purse, Lady Gaga uttered a few words that would go on to change the course of her career forever.
“I promised if I won this tonight I’d announce the name of my new record. It’s called Born This Way.”
She went on to sing the now infamous line of the title track’s chorus – “I’m beautiful in my way, ‘cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way.” From that moment, it became clear what the next era of Gaga would be about: self love, equality and providing a safe space for fans that were marginalized due to society’s deeply ingrained prejudices.
She dropped the album in May of 2011, and to celebrate the seminal record’s 10th birthday in 2021, she’s set to unveil a new version of it on June 25. Featuring a bunch of covers done by artists representative of the LGBTQIA+ community, Born This Way is about to be introduced to an entirely new generation, and reimagined for a generation who could never thank it enough.
But, like any record, there are key moments on Born This Way that not only conveyed all-too important messages, but also helped shape Gaga’s own career in years to follow. Here are the five most important tracks on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, as I see it.
“Marry The Night”
If you’ve ever heard Lady Gaga speak for more than a sentence, you’ll know that she is a proud New Yorker (and she’s Italian!). The city bleeds itself into almost every piece of art she creates and it’s no accident. “Marry The Night'' is a sprawling, ambitious and adventurous love song to Gaga’s home city, and putting it at the opening track on Born This Way helps contextualise the life and career of an artist that, at that point, was outspoken but still mysterious and enigmatic. There was an other-worldly feel to Lady Gaga: she was so vastly different to her pop contemporaries. “Marry The Night” – though still drowned in metaphor – helped humanise her. Lady Gaga didn’t always have Lady Gaga to hide behind. She was once only known as Stefani Germanotta, and we’ve since seen her return to using her real name on an array of different projects. But this almost-religious devotion to New York shown in “Marry The Night” – peep the church bells! – helped solidify her origins in art, not just in press or on social media. She’d said the vows, signed the certificate, and ten years later there’s still no sign of divorce.
“The Edge Of Glory”
By the account of almost every music critic who’s spoken on the matter, 2009’s “Bad Romance” is Lady Gaga’s Best song. It’s a hard one to argue with. But, if any track was going to come close to taking that crown, it would be Born This Way finale “The Edge Of Glory”. At its core, the subject matter of “The Edge Of Glory” is pretty dark. Inspired by the 2010 passing of her grandfather, the song sees Gaga basically give her interpretation of “you only live once”. But, nothing about it is cliché or tired – instead it’s powerful, refreshing and courageous.
The song asks the listener to face the inevitability of death – a theme rarely touched on in pop music. Lady Gaga begs you not to run away from it, or cower in fright, but to rise above it all and dance without hesitation. Death will come for us all one day, so why not dance until that day comes? The dark subject matter of the song is completely subverted by its euphoric and radiant production. There’s no sadness in “The Edge Of Glory”, there’s only acceptance and welcoming of things we cannot change. It’s a powerful moment in Gaga’s discography, and pop music overall, because we see Gaga recognise her own legacy just three years after she made her breakthrough. She wasn’t interested in chasing relevancy – in my mind she still isn’t. Yet in a bizarre way, that has only cemented how relevant she is to pop culture, even after all these years.
The only non-single on this list, “Scheiße” is widely regarded as a standout on Born This Way. Sung partly in faux-German, “Scheiße” is a biting, feminist Gaga anthem if there ever was one. And, in an album that is anchored in progressive messages of equality and social justice, it’s right at home.
But the message of “Scheiße” isn’t what makes the song so important – Gaga had been imbuing feminist messages in her songs and in her appearances since her debut. It’s the sound she and frequent collaborator RedOne explored that makes it so pivotal to her career.
Being a pop artist that dabbles in dance and electronic music, and then writing a song with a German title and German lyrics, it would be sacrilegious for Gaga not to pay homage to the German club sound. The beat is heavy and unrelenting, and the synths are grimy and pounding. On its own, this might not be a revelation, but when you consider how these sounds manifested in Gaga’s later work, “Scheiße” might have been the genesis of the Gaga we know today.
While she dared to adventure within this realm on her next album – 2013’s ARTPOP – it was widely considered a misfire due to its lack of refinement. But, seven years later, she would return to that sound when she took us all to Chromatica, and gave us soaring dance music that helped fans get through the pandemic. It’s hard to imagine a world with Chromatica had “Scheiße” not preceded it.
“You And I”
Like “Scheiße”, “You And I” is an important part of Gaga’s catalog because it foresaw sounds she would explore in later years. However, “You And I” could not be more different from “Scheiße”, or the rest of Born This Way for that matter. Gaga has never been above a gimmick – this is just a fact. While usually this emerged in her outfits and style, she has always been a fan of maximalist, excessive and hyper-produced pop – and she does it almost better than anyone. So, when the down-tempo, country rock, pub-friendly “You And I” dropped, Lady Gaga, once again, shocked us all.
Promoted with assistance of her male alter ego, Jo Calderone, “You And I” is honest, thumping and charged with electric guitar. The sparkling charm of “You And I” lies within Gaga’s alternate approach to maximalism. It’s not a muted or subtle song by any means, but it doesn’t rely on the heavy synths or rollicking dance beats she usually plays with. In fact, “You And I” probably owes its appeal to being such a sonic outlier on Born This Way.
However, “You And I” doesn’t stand as an outlier on Gaga’s discography as a whole. The song proved that she could do other things besides dance-pop, and in 2016 she proved it to us again with her subtle and vocally forward album, Joanne. But, she perfected the sound when she wrote her Grammy winning, Oscar-winning monster of a song, “Shallow”. Written for the soundtrack of A Star Is Born, of which she also starred, “Shallow” has gone on to be one of Gaga’s biggest hits. “You And I” walked so “Shallow” could run – and then jump off the deep end.
“Born This Way”
There is little to be said about “Born This Way” that hasn’t already been said. It’s Lady Gaga’s mission statement, a song that will define her legacy long after she, and the rest of us, have transcended the edge of glory ourselves. Gaga has always been one to champion the rights of the marginalised, “Born This Way” in particular has been adopted as an anthem for the LGBTQIA+ community that Gaga has always fought so hard, and so vocally, for.
I’m bisexual, and “Born This Way” came out when I was 16 years old – a really pivotal point for my life, and for my burgeoning sexuality and identity. Growing up in a regional town means exposure to queer communities was naturally more limited than it may have been in a capital city, and that lack of exposure can feel invalidating, especially when you’re still figuring yourself out.
I didn’t figure myself out until years after “Born This Way”, and I doubt I even have now, but “Born This Way” helped shine a global spotlight on so many identities that have historically been shut out from the mainstream. The explicit championing of marginalised groups by one of the world’s biggest stars wasn’t just validating, it was invigorating. It helped expand my sense of the world and my sense of community. Seeing the entire internet rally behind such an important and progressive cause was comforting.
I’m still on a journey of figuring out my identity, in all its forms. We all probably are. But, no matter where that takes me, “Born This Way” will continue to serve as a reminder that I am valid, and I am never alone.
“Born This Way” had that impact on me. A quick scroll shows that it impacted countless other people in countless other ways. “Born This Way” is a moment that’s bigger than Lady Gaga herself, but one that couldn’t have happened without her.