April 14, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Jan Alfaro
When I was 10, I made a PowerPoint presentation for my parents on why they should buy me Lady Gaga’s up-and-coming “Born This Way” album.
The highly anticipated 2011 album was released just shy of two years after “The Fame Monster,” a November 2009 rerelease/EP following her debut 2008 album, “The Fame.” Since the release of Gaga’s first single “Just Dance” in 2009, I have been a huge fan. (This is me outing myself and saying that she’s probably the biggest artist of my life and that I started listening to her when I was eight years old … and now I’m 22). My Catholic conservative parents weren’t Gaga fans as she was much too bizarre, sexy, and queer, yet her growing fame only further cultivated my obsession with her.
And as for my PowerPoint, it was expectedly unsuccessful in persuading my parents, and I had to find a way to get the CD elsewhere… from my neighbor… for my eleventh birthday. I blasted all of Gaga’s albums on a stereo my brother won in a city biking competition, and my parents, unsurprisingly, weren’t happy as I belted ludicrous lyrics from a “Satanic” popstar that was a bad influence.
Well, in the end, I turned out more than alright, my music taste now the least of my parents’ concerns. They’ve also come around to like Gaga, albeit more of her “tame” material, never her “Born This Way”era. Unfortunately for them, the barbaric and social provocateur Gaga will always be my favorite, and “Born This Way” remains an album that I will carry with me to the grave, so here I am to talk about it.
The mature pop record “Born This Way” was introduced to the media at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, when Gaga won video of the year for “Bad Romance.” In that perfect moment, she announced the album title while giving the acceptance speech dressed in none other than her infamous raw meat dress…
Come single time, she dropped “Born This Way” in February of 2011, just three months before the full album. “Born This Way,” both the single and the album, are cathartically uplifting. “No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life, I’m on the right track, baby / I was born to survive.”
She was born to be brave. You and I, too, were born to be brave, she says, simply by making it through another day as our unapologetic selves. This serves as a reminder of how much has changed in a decade for, at the time of its release, same-sex marriage had not yet been legalized in America; Gaga has always prominently pledged her fight for LGBTQ+ rights in alliance with her young, queer fanbase. This created much of the discourse around her music and persona, but at the same time continued to fuel the fire for her march on love and justice.
Themes of same-sex romance run through the record, making it, by any metric, risky for its time. As a whole, the record pays homage to rock all while elegantly and gloriously blending in electric dance. Most songs have strong choruses, making them unforgettable, and rich rock-heavy drums, accompanied by intense vocals throughout; an unmatched intensity lived in the album. All music videos were hyper-theatrical, which was nothing surprising, but the almost 14-minute music video for “Marry the Night” is not something to overlook.
The album was apparently recorded while on tour for “The Fame,” giving a certain kind of rawness to it. One can’t really go into the album with any expectations as titles like “Government Hooker,” “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love),” and “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” don’t lend much to knowing what one is about to listen to.
Sounds range from Gregorian chants in “Bloody Mary” to echoey organs in “Highway Unicorn.” A ridiculously crispy saxophone solo in the fist-bumping album closer, “The Edge of Glory” echo through listeners long after they have completed the album’s duration.
“You And I” is the closest the album comes to any country music, its music video even filmed in Nebraska, and Gaga states that the only three men she’ll serve her entire life are her dad, Nebraska, and Jesus Christ.
Biblically, the album can be quite wonderfully blasphemous. “Judas” does not shy away from Biblical references, as its bridge goes, “In the most biblical sense, I am beyond repentance / Fame hooker prostitute wench, vomits her mind.” Then, “Bloody Mary” features the line, “When Punktious comes to kill the king upon his throne / I’m ready for their stones.” As if Gaga needed more controversy to her name, right? There’s more friskiness in the album, but you’ll just have to find it yourself.
The album, from start to finish, has no skips. Even after a decade, the messages of love and self-acceptance ring loud and true. This is an album that has and will continue to carry me through my highs and lows. It has reminded me to love and accept myself when I’m otherwise feeling doubtful; it has also been there to amplify feelings of absolute fierceness. I truly don’t know who I’d be without Gaga. How lucky we are to have Gaga.
The associated playlist was about to be comprised of tracks from “Born This Way”, but instead, I filled it with 2011 tunes that bring feelings of nostalgia for what else was playing on the radio at the time of its release.