BORN THIS WAY THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY
In 2008, Lady Gaga made her grand debut with The Fame, an album predicated on the subversion of what pop music could be. Relatively straightforward in sound and style, The Fame wasn't so much concerned with stepping outside of pop conventions as it was about elevating them, playing as an examination of celebrity and exploiting its most superficial aspects for spectacle's sake. The approach worked: Singles like "Poker Face," "Just Dance," and "Paparazzi" helped Gaga attain the exact renown she leveraged to get there.
Where she had established herself as a master of pop's hallmarks on The Fame, she centered herself as a true musician on its follow-up, The Fame Monster, an addendum that arrived the following year. Not only was she adept at crafting seamless dance floor commanders, but she was also an artist who understood the machinations of pop songwriting beyond them. Tracks like "Bad Romance" and "Telephone" built on the sparkly foundation of The Fame, while offerings like "Speechless" and "Alejandro" conveyed the extent of her creativity in other pop arenas.
By the time she released her second proper album in 2011, Gaga had snuffed out the notion that her vision was confined to a singular era. As a singer so focused on making pop music a high-level art form, she had no choice but to tease out her sound to match that ambition. The resulting Born This Way embraced pop grandiosity and cultural theater, making for a project that can barely contain the force majeure behind it. The songs were dexterous and pliable—so much so that for its 10th anniversary edition, Gaga enlisted LGBTQ+ and ally artists including Orville Peck, Big Freedia, Kylie Minogue, Years & Years, Ben Platt, and The Highwomen to cover the set's most iconic songs.
If Gaga is a chameleonic visionary, that reveals itself further in the reimaginings of some of Born This Way's brightest moments. The songwriting speaks to Gaga's strengths in the craft, with songs so malleable that they fit into any context. For Freedia, that meant transforming "Judas" into a throbbing NOLA bounce banger. Elsewhere, Peck adds country twang to the title track, while Minogue and Years & Years sprinkle disco dust on "Marry the Night" and "The Edge of Glory," respectively. They're songs that resonate today, even in different forms, a testament to the durability of smart pop prowess.
For Born This Way, Gaga largely teamed back up with The Fame architects RedOne and Fernando Garibay, as well as producers DJ White Shadow, Jeppe Laursen, and Clinton Sparks for a handful of tracks. It denoted a departure for Gaga from some of the more shallow, party-rearing fodder of her earlier work and into an arena where music was the message—at its core a club-kid soundtrack with threads of heavy-metal thrash, proto-Americana, and twinkling '80s electro-pop. The record's title track and lead single became an instant rallying cry for the LGBTQ+ community, a steamrolling pop fête with shades of Madonna's "Express Yourself." But it also proffered universal appeal—rarely does a pop star who's standing on a global stage proudly acknowledge what it's like to be an outsider, let alone actually be an outsider, and so capably filter that understanding through a message of acceptance and positivity.
"Born This Way" became an international smash, and broke the record for the fastest-selling song on iTunes at the time. It was the crown jewel on an album dotted with gems, from the country-fried "You and I" and bombastic "The Edge of Glory" to the grunge-inflected "Electric Chapel." Born This Way skates past the "disco stick" tittering and into more controversial terrain, in a way that some of the best pop music has previously done. Christianity and religious iconography play a central role on the album, often in explicit metaphor: "Judas," a breathless wallop of a pop anthem, romanticizes the titular biblical figure while referencing scripture. And in true Gaga fashion, some songs experiment in extremes: "Scheiße" is a greasy runway number that employs German gibberish, while the mariachi-colored "Americano" protests Prop 8 (a California state amendment passed against same-sex marriage) and Arizona immigration laws in Spanish.
In the scope of Gaga's everlasting music career, Born This Way marked a turning point for the star, one whose pop dominance seemed so untouchable after The Fame Monster. Gaga has become pop's de facto creature of reinvention—in some ways drawing from Madonna's playbook—and Born This Way stands as one of her most daring to date. It was a moment for Gaga to show the world that she was always one step ahead of the expectations she'd already set, and that when it comes to creating pop music, there are, in fact, no limits to how far she can go.