Retrospectives cover albums that have been out in the world for at least five years — allowing them time to be properly digested by the general public — and are spurred by the anniversary of their release. These special reviews will be written intermittently, dissecting records that have made impact on the cultural zeitgeist.
Every now and then, an artist releases an album that completely changes the course of their career. Lady Gaga has had several of these kinds of records, but 2011’s Born This Way is probably the most important of them all. Throughout her career, the singer has pushed popular culture, mainstream music, and politics into exciting areas, often pissing off the general public in the process. The Fame and The Fame Monster — her immaculate debut and its foreboding repackaging, respectively — ushered in the electro-tinged sound of the early 2010s, setting the stage for Gaga’s manifesto that would become Born This Way.
Written and recorded entirely while on tour, the album features sounds from across the globe. From the Spanish guitar on “Americano” and the German techno of “Scheiße” to the New York disco of “Marry the Night” and the Gregorian chant of “Bloody Mary,” Born This Way is the idea of inclusivity — both musically and lyrically — taken to its absolute limit. The title track is the rallying cry of an entire generation of people that are either queer, of color, other, or a combination of all three; a synth-rock celebration of all that is unique about her devout Little Monsters.
Thought to be largely an experimental work in the aspect that it refuses to be pigeonholed into any one genre, it’s the record’s lyrics that are meant to invoke fascination (and maybe a little controversy). Second single “Judas” conflates the betrayal of Jesus Christ into an allegory of a toxic relationship; “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” shouldn’t make sense as a song title — much less an actual lyric to be sung — but it absolutely does; and “Heavy Metal Lover” possesses the most iconic opening line this decade. While the album can border on preachy after repeated listens of its seventeen anthemic tracks, it is also the most sincere Gaga has ever been with her audience, and why Born This Way stands as her most accomplished body of work thus far.
Standout tracks: “Marry the Night,” “Government Hooker,” “Heavy Metal Lover,” “The Edge of Glory”