GG‘s Number Ones column reviews every Billboard Hot 100 #1 single of the last 10 years.
Lady Gaga‘s story is one of the constant rebirth and reinvention. She exemplifies the journey of psychological transformation. Growing through self-discovery and artistic creativity, Gaga came to embrace a unique public persona. And within her work, few songs speak as strongly about this innermost aspect of her personality as 2011 single ‘Born This Way.’
With statements like ‘Born This Way’, Lady Gaga defied conformity and fought for social freedom. She broke out of an impersonal pop star persona and showed the world something unlike anything else. And when she did millions of fans around the world found themselves ready to do the same.
Lady Gaga Grew Up an Outcast
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta grew up in New York City. She knew from an early age she wanted to be a star. At four she began piano lessons. By 11 was taking weekend acting classes. At 13 she had written her first ballad.
School was difficult. A Self-described “theatre girl” Stefani grew up dealing with the taunts and jeers of cruel peers. Throughout her childhood, she felt excluded. Her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, recalls the young Gaga as “creative but her peers didn’t always appreciate things that made her unique – and different.”
She didn’t run with the crowd. For years the girl who would become Lady Gaga felt like a misfit, someone who struggled to find her identity. Depression as well as chronic illness compounded these troubles and left her with a pervasive feeling of emptiness. Art was her escape.
Stefani was admitted to university early, enrolling early in New York’s Tisch School for the Arts at 17. Growing into her own creatively, she withdrew from study within a year. Instead, she embarked on her journey of self-discovery. From this point onward, life would be her teacher.
How She Found Fame
Gaga began performing as a solo burlesque dancer on New York City’s Lower East Side. As she began to draw crowds at the clubs she had snuck into as a child, she buried her inner hurt with drugs and failed relationships. During this time Gaga would experiment with cocaine and MDMA. In 2005, she signed by Def Jam Records only to be devastated when she was dropped by the label a few months later.
R&B singer, Akon discovered Gaga whilst she was performing at what she called her ‘Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue’. Impressed by Gaga’s ability to capture an audience’s attention, the pop star offered her a record deal with his own label Kon Live Distribution. This paved the way to a joint deal with Kon Live and Interscope Records. Gaga was 20 years old when she signed on the dotted line.
From 2007 to 2008, Lady Gaga recorded the debut album The Fame. It was an enormous success. One of the album’s leading singles, ‘Poker Face‘ topping charts in almost every category and in almost every country. Following positive reviews, the album was nominated for and won two Grammy awards. Dismissing claims she was a one-hit-wonder (alongside conspiracies she was a man in drag) Gaga consolidated her hold on pop culture with dancefloor hits ‘Just Dance’, ‘Bad Romance’ and Beyoncé collaboration ‘Telephone‘.
Beyoncé collaboration ‘Telephone’.
Born This Way Made Gaga a Global Phenomenon
From here Lady Gaga transcended the role of musician and performing artist to become a global phenomenon. Yet despite her early success, many fans were not sure who she was under the dazzling glamour of her elaborate outfits. It was during the recording of 2011’s Born This Way that Gaga looked into herself and asked a similar question. As she did, she began to find the person she really was.
The music videos which accompanied Born This Way made those who saw them bear witness to a transformation of not only Gaga’s sound but of her image too. Gaga took control of her public persona. She was bold, frank and openly political at a time when it was still a risk to do so. The world responded. It was Gaga’s first Number album in the US (and her third consecutive album to receive a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year).
The era of Born This Way was one of fan mania. Gaga’s popularity continued to rise dramatically. As she herself famously commented, she was a rockstar in all but gender. ‘Born This Way’ was the leading single from the album of the same name. It marked a musical revolution.
Her fans, Little Monsters transformed the way the world would receive her music. This growing army of GaGa obsessives made #BornThisWaylyrics the top trending topic worldwide on Twitter. The full lyrics to the song tweeted before its release.
One thing which defines the career of Lady Gaga is that she is strongly connected with her fans. “My fans are a revolution,” Gaga informed Rolling Stone in 2011. “They are living proof that you don’t have to conform to anything to change the world.”
Gaga was the first artist to have a US Number One single that contained the word ‘transgendered’. The song’s lyrics discussed self-empowerment, with a focus on racial minorities and the LGBTQIA+ community. The song showed off Gaga’s songwriting skills. It cut through with raw and honest lyrics which spoke directly to fans. Moreso, Gaga presented a well-crafted sound that was more mature, defining and distinguishable than poppier leanings of her earlier work.
Writing ‘Born This Way’
In 2011 Gaga revealed to radio host Howard Stern that the chorus to ‘Born This Way’ came to her while she was taking a shower. This is not an uncommon occurrence for musical artists. “Showers are a safe place that provides a dopamine high, relaxed state, and distracted mind,” self-help website The Difference notes, “factors that are ideal for the creativity and idea formation.”
The Message of ‘Born This Way’
The message for ‘Born This Way’, described by Gaga herself, is that of becoming the version of yourself that you aspire to be. “You can be reborn,” she has stated of the song, “as many times you like in your life until you feel like you found the person you can love the most in yourself.”
‘Born This Way’ represents a turning point in Gaga’s career. The message of her music came prominently into the fore. She wanted to make statements and promote change. In many cases, this was more important than her public image and career. Many of these statements were controversial.
‘Born This Way’ was a song about freedom. To the pop audience at large, it was universal. For society’s outsiders, it was deeply personal. Gaga’s message of freedom hit Number One in over 25 countries. It was her third single to top the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold 8.2 million copies sold worldwide. it has since been recognised as one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Don’t Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen
Lady Gaga has been an outspoken ally of the LGBTQIA+community throughout her career. In 2011 Gaga performed at the MTV Music Video Awards as male alter ego Jo Calderone. The following year she denounced the Russian government’s anti-gay legislation during a live Born This Way Ball World Tour performance. Her words were not without consequence. The Russian government threatened Gaga with arrest. Her promoter was later fined for promoting “gay propaganda” after a Russian court found the performance had “promoted homosexuality”.
Gaga then stood in solidarity alongside the grieving Queer Community following 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. As an advocate for not only for the Queer Community, but also people of colour, survivors of sexual assault, and sufferers of chronic illnesses, Gaga created her own charity for mental health support, appropriately called the Born This Way Foundation. Acts like these have won Gaga a large following within the LGBTQIA+ community. A survey conducted by Buzzfeed News in 2019 showed 53 per cent of LGBTQ Americans considered Gaga a gay icon. (This places her ahead of Cher at 40% and Madonna at 36%.)
A deeper look into Gaga’s personal life was shown through Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. During the film, Gaga spoke candidly about her past. Her candid personal revelations opened conversations on issues of addiction, feminism and sexuality for many others. She also spoke openly about her battle with depression and a chronic pain condition fibromyalgia.
99 Don’t Believe In You, But One Will…
“There can be 100 in a room,” Gaga has famously proclaimed, “99 don’t believe in you but just one does. And that can change your life.” Her words come from several speeches and interviews commending director Bradley Cooper for casting her as Ally Maine for her breakout acting role in A Star is Born. In what many fans considered to be long overdue, the 2018 role was Gaga’s first serious acting part, one which led mainstream audiences to finally giver the credit she had been long since due.
After more than 10 years in the entertainment industry, Gaga became the first female artist to win all five big oscar award nominations in one season. With ‘Born This Way’ Gaga showed fans they could be themselves. Ten years later her acting breakthrough demonstrated that if they too could come to believe in themselves there could be few limits on they could achieve.
Gaga Keeps Getting Better
Over the entirety of her career, Lady Gaga has continuously exhibited a strong commitment to artistry. Lady Gaga is not content to retread old ground. She strives for the future, something that is going to push her, her fans and her creativity. She exists in a state of constant rebirth and reinvention.
By pushing social freedom through her music, as with ‘Born This Way’, Gaga inspired people of all backgrounds to accept themselves. In 2020, the song was still being championed by queer youth. It recently made headlines after child star Jojo Siwa used it to come out on TikTok.
Time and time again Gaga has proven that she cannot be put into a box. She shape-shifts to embrace different versions of herself with each new single, album and film. Her career has spanned over a decade and the release of her 2020 album Chromatica– which included her fifth US Number One single ‘Rain On Me‘ – shows she is not any danger of slowing down soon. The only thing for a fan to do is to wait and see what happens next.
‘Born This Way’ Chart Positions
US/Billboard 100: #1 (20 weeks on chart)
Australia/ARIA: #1 (27 weeks on chart)
UK/Official Charts: #3 (42 weeks on chart)
Lady Gaga 'Born This Way'7
She took a risk
Hid phenomenal vocals
The best of Gaga was yet to come