Goode Times Everywhere
bbfree, Music, Pop

Paws Up: A Lady Gaga ‘Born This Way’ Billboard Anniversary Roundtable Celebration

Looking back at it 10 years later, however, the album does still sound and feel largely like a triumph. While certainly flawed, the set contains highlights that have endured as some of Gaga’s finest — and removed from the seemingly endless promotional cycle that surrounded it, the album’s arguable bloat feels more charming for its ambition than over-extended in its reach. In honor of Born This Way‘s upcoming 10th anniversary, some of Billboard‘s now-grown Little Monsters have assembled to take stock of the album a decade later: discussing our memories of its release, the songs that have aged the best, the parts that still make us wince a little, and what we think the set’s ultimate legacy is in 2021.

1. Where were you in your life when Born This Way came out 10 years ago? Were you still excited for Born This Way by the time it was released, or were you getting wary of Gaga overexposure after two years of her being the biggest pop star in the world?  

Katie Atkinson: I had been working at MTV News for five years when Born This Way was released, and even after editing countless articles about Gaga and seeing her music videos on a loop at the office (nothing but mtvU playing on my work TV all day), I was still extremely excited for what she could possibly do to top her three-year The Fame era. I’m not sure if the sophomore pressure has been higher for an artist before or since, given that she arrived as such a fully formed Pop Star.

Stephen Daw: Full disclosure — when Born This Way first came out, I had just finished my sophomore year of high school. I was still deep in my pop-punk phase, meaning I pretended that I thought mainstream pop music was lame, and I used the term “sell-out” a lot despite not really knowing what that actually meant. However, I was also a closeted Lady Gaga stan, so when Born This Way came out, I immediately downloaded it onto my iPod and blasted it into my ears when I thought no one was paying attention. Needless to say, after all of the hype and mania caused by “Bad Romance” just a year before, I was extremely excited to see what she would do next. I was nowhere near sick of her yet. 

Nolan Feeney: I was a sophomore in college and not the least bit wary of overexposure. The Fame Monster — considered by many Gaga fans, I think, to be her best work — always felt closer to a full-length project than a stopgap re-release. Still, as much as she had accomplished at the time, Born This Way was only her second proper studio album, and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of musical universe Gaga could create with every resource at her disposal and a full confidence in her every whim.

Jason Lipshutz: I was… working at Billboard! Born This Way was the first Lady Gaga album released while I was on staff, and Editorial Assistant Jason marveled at her singular command of pop culture during that time. Gaga was inescapable by the time Born This Way dropped in 2011, especially considering the consistent onslaught of smash singles from The Fame and The Fame Monster over the previous two years. When Born This Way was unveiled, Gaga hadn’t really missed, so I couldn’t help but feel excited to hear (and write about) her latest opus.

Joe Lynch: Wary of Gaga overexposure in 2011? If anything, it saved me. As an entertainment journalism baby who blew off steam by dancing on the weekends, it legitimately improved the quality of my life when Sugarland in Williamsburg (RIP) had new Gaga songs to play. When those singles came on, it was like a celebrity entered the venue based on the crowd’s deafening response.

Andrew Unterberger: I had just started at my first (paid) music writing gig, writing for a pop music blog called Popdust. We basically lived and breathed Gaga content for most of 2011, so I couldn’t help but be a little wary by the time of Born This Way‘s release — but it was still an exciting time in pop, to be sure, and we all wanted to see if the album could possibly live up to the advance hype.

Denise Warner: At this present moment, I have a nearly 15-month-old and live with my family in Brooklyn. Ten years ago… my life looked a bit different (although I was in the process of moving to Brooklyn when the album came out). Let’s just say that Born This Way, especially “The Edge of Glory,” was the balm to get me through the days. To the overexposure question — for me at the time — I just wanted as much Lady Gaga as she would give us.

2. What do you remember of your first listen(s) to the album once it finally dropped? What did your initial take on the album settle in as?  

Katie Atkinson: I remember being especially surprised by the rock influences on the album after the straightforward dance pop of The Fame and The Fame Monster. I thought it was a supremely interesting album, but one that was a little more challenging than her debut(s) and didn’t necessarily have the obvious pop hits. It feels like that read was partially true, but many of those oddball songs muscled their way to the Hot 100 top 10 through the sheer 2011 power of Gaga.

Stephen Daw: I definitely remember being challenged by the album at first — I loved The Fame and The Fame Monster, and while elements of both those albums were definitely present on Born This Way, it felt a lot more experimental and “out there” from my limited perspective as a high school student who didn’t want people to know he listened to Lady Gaga. After getting through it a few times, I ultimately that I liked it a lot, and that I appreciated the big swings she was taking — even if there were multiple songs that landed pretty flat for me.

Nolan Feeney: I felt like the music had finally caught up to Gaga. The singles off The Fame are absolute classics, don’t get me wrong, and they absolutely played a role in pushing dance music and four-on-the-floor beats to the mainstream. But at times in The Fame era, the art of being Gaga — the looks, the performances, the concepts, the intellectual way she approached pop music — seemed to operate at a higher, more extravagant level than the songs themselves. Born This Way didn’t have that problem. From faux-German techno to ‘80s-style arena rock, she got to run wild — in a way only she could.

Jason Lipshutz: Because songs like “The Edge of Glory” and “Hair” were released as advance tracks prior to the full LP, I remember expecting a Springsteen-indebted ode to heartland pop-rock… which Born This Way ended up being, to some degree. Yet I also remember reveling in the bombast of an album whose album cover is a pop superstar’s head attached to a motorcycle, with techno-pop songs like “Marry The Night” and “Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)” contributing to the more-is-more approach from Gaga. Overall, Born This Way didn’t seem to have the no-brainer smashes of The Fame Monster, but it was immediately appreciated as a major-key spectacle.

Joe Lynch: It was both weirder and more normal than I expected. You got hints of the ARTPOP insanity to come with “Government Hooker” and “Schieße” but the latter half of the album is fairly mainstream and palatable – that’s not a knock, but it’s definitely an odd collection of styles. My initial take on it was less critical, more functional: I will force my Bushwick loft roommates to listen to this a lot.

Andrew Unterberger: I was both exhilarated and slightly underwhelmed, blown away by a handful of songs and left puzzled by others. Having to write about every song on its own — back in those Popdust days, we would review every song individually as its own post when an album was released (or, more often, was leaked) — also made the album feel a little more disjointed than it really was, and forced us to focus on its flaws more than was maybe fair. It was a long time before I was able to listen to the album casually in full without fixating on those things.

Denise Warner: Enjoyably bizarre and weird at points with a few great songs (the five singles, “Hair”) and some misses (“ScheiBe” “Government Hooker,”) — everything I’d come to expect from Mother Monster, yet not as good as The Fame Monster. It felt like a very valiant sophomore effort that tried too hard at points but suffered in the shadow of her previous work.

3. The Born This Way rollout dominated basically the entirety of 2011 — and at least a little bit of the years on both sides of it. What’s your most vivid memory of Gaga’s ambitious promo cycle in support of Born This Way

Katie Atkinson: Definitely the Jo Calderone performance at the 2011 VMAs. Gaga fully committed to the character, even walking the red carpet and doing backstage interviews as her male alter ego, and looking back, it remains shocking that she was given nine uninterrupted minutes of screen time to open the show. The performance of “Yoü and I” with Queen’s Brian May was undeniably great, but Jo might have overstayed his welcome with a four-minute monologue and two other hammy appearances onstage throughout the night. Whatever the criticisms, though, it was 100% memorable.

Stephen DawYou know it’s the egg — apologies, the “vessel,” as she called it. Gaga had already made a show of doing weird, wild stunts on red carpets, but there was something about her being carried into the Grammys inside of a massive jade egg that she then hatched out of for her performance that just felt so patently strange for the sake of being strange. I don’t know if it was a particularly “smart” promotional tactic (although she certainly got people talking about her after claiming she spent three days inside the egg), but it was definitely one that got lodged into my brain and refused to leave.

Nolan Feeney: Honestly, more than any video or performance, the number of buzz singles and pre-release tracks felt G.O.A.T.-level — and I’m not talking about a government owned alien territory! I don’t think I will ever be as excited for a pop album as I was when we got “Edge of Glory” and “Hair” — two of her most transcendent anthems — back-to-back in the two weeks before the album drop. I remember hearing the former in my dorm room after class one afternoon and thinking, “It just can’t get any better than this.” (In fact, I had started seeing someone at the time, but when I realized none of our dates had approached the high I felt after listening to “Edge of Glory,” I ended things. Thanks, Gaga!)

Jason Lipshutz: It’s gotta be Gaga showing up inside a giant egg at the 2011 Grammys ahead of her “Born This Way” performance. Totally mind-blowing, and yet, completely unsurprising, considering the performance-art spectacles that Gaga had made her signature move around that time. I’ve spent the past decade wishing to be given the chance to arrive somewhere inside a giant egg, but that opportunity still eludes me.

Joe Lynch: This is fairly random, but when Lady Gaga sat at a piano raised 14-feet above the stage and performed “Yoü and I” at a Clinton Foundation gala in 2012 with lyrics rewritten to call out Bill and Hillary, I was kinda-sorta moved. Here was this New York art-rock weirdo on an extremely mainstream platform, and she was killing it without compromising her oddness one iota. And when it wrapped, she f–king segued into “Government Hooker” in front of a goddamn American president. A true hero.

Andrew Unterberger: I think I’ve blocked a lot of it out from my memory ten years later, but the Jo Calderone VMAs occupies permanent residence as emblematic of both the best and worst of the Born This Way era. The “Yoü and I” performance was absolutely electric — remember the impossible glee on Dave Grohl’s face in the audience when Brian May made his appearance? — but Jo’s later speech awarding Britney Spears her Video Vanguard award was self-indulgent and conceptually undercooked, and just felt… endless. Still, it accomplished its ultimate goal: For the third straight year, everyone left the VMAs talking about Lady Gaga.

Denise Warner: With apologies to The Cut, I think about both Gaga‘s Lonely Island joint “3-Way (The Golden Rule)” and her turn dominating the VMAs that year a lot — and not necessarily in a good light.  A decade later, neither really hold up. No one needs the gay panic of the Andy Samberg-Justin-Timberlake-Gaga menage-a trois now. And Gaga‘s alter-ego Jo Calederone is just a footnote of her many more successful personas. Still, they are etched in my brain all these years later.

4. There were five official singles released from Born: The title track, “Judas,” “The Edge of Glory,” “Yoü and I” and “Marry the Night.” Which of the five do you remember most fondly a decade later? 

Katie Atkinson: “The Edge of Glory” remains my favorite song on the album, thanks to its ’80s pump-up vibe. It was made for a movie montage, and a big part of its vintage charm is that classic saxophone solo — a magnificent final showcase for E Street Band legend Clarence Clemons, who died less than a month after the release of Born This Way.

Stephen Daw: I will always have love for the title track, but we need to talk about how “Judas” was maligned upon its release. From beginning to end, the song is an absolute dark-pop banger, and the “controversy” that religious groups stirred up only distracted people from what a good song it actually was. The lyrics are excellent, the warbling bass hits in the production are absolutely fantastic, and it just feels like we never got to fully appreciate the sheer greatness of this song. Justice for “Judas,” and an honorary mention for “Marry the Night” for having one of the best outros of any song in the last 20 years.

Nolan Feeney: “Edge of Glory.” I was surprised it only got a quick shout-out during her Super Bowl halftime show because, to me, it occupies the same spot in her discography that Madonna’s own Super Bowl set closer, “Like a Prayer,” does — a concentrated dose of pure feeling that defies the binary of joyful and melancholy.

Jason Lipshutz: “Marry the Night” has become one of my all-time favorite Gaga songs, a wonderfully propulsive pump-up anthem marked by a deceptively quiet intro, a heavens-aimed bridge and the declaration “I’m gonna burn a hole in the road,” which is just a kickass pop line. “Born This Way” is the most enjoyable karaoke song of the bunch, particularly its final string of choruses, but “Marry the Night” remains the strongest all-around single.

Joe Lynch: I’m going with “Judas.” At the time, I loved it, but I thought it was a lesser “Bad Romance.” I don’t dismiss the similarities, but I think I underrated its longevity because of that. Ten years later, of those five singles, “Judas” will never betray you on the dancefloor. Pucker up, bitch.

Andrew Unterberger: “Marry the Night” for me, done dirty as the fifth single release from Born This Way — by which point it felt like the album had already been out for a half-decade. As the set’s opener, though, it stuns every time as an absolutely barnstorming anthem about meeting the night on its own terms, which also doubles as a love letter to both the dancefloor and to New York City. And that bridge… well, I’ve raved about that enough recently.

Denise Warner: Could I be the biggest A Star Is Born stan if I didn’t say “Yoü and I”? Even before my Ally and Jackson obsession began, the ode to Gaga‘s ex was a refreshing breather from the pulsating dance beat that carries most of BTW. And you know that Jackson Maine would approve of what she had to say with this southern-rock-pop banger.

5. Those five singles all also of course had ambitious accompanying videos — which of those do you feel has held up best? 

Katie Atkinson: They’re all fascinating in their own way, but “Judas” is the visual spectacle for me. Only Lady Gaga would imagine Jesus’ 12 apostles as a biker gang, with Norman Reedus playing the titular traitor and Rick Gonzalez’s Jesus wearing a golden crown of thorns. The makeup and costumes are ornate, the biblical imagery is abundant, and everything is doused in water to drive home the theme of baptism. It’s the perfect deployment of Gaga‘s theatricality.

Stephen DawFor me, despite outrageously clocking in at almost 14 minutes, the music video for “Marry the Night” is one of Gaga’s all-time best, full stop. It’s got all of the fashion, excessive production value and choreography that you would expect from a Gaga video, but it also has this weird cohesion that pulls all of those things together in a way that a lot of the videos of this era don’t. 

Nolan Feeney: “Judas” felt like the biggest visual feast of them all — I could probably paint on that ornate, music-note-looking eye makeup in my sleep at this point. And I think the choreography for that song, while maybe not as instantly recognizable as “Bad Romance,” is near iconic, not to mention an athletic feat in its own right. I get winded just watching her SNL performance of the song.

Jason Lipshutz: I always appreciated the art direction and imagery of “Judas,” from the opening sequence of Gaga’s technicolor outfit standing out in a black-and-white, to the idea of a Biblical motorcycle gang. None of the Born This Way videos have held up quite as well as Gaga videos like “Bad Romance” or “Telephone,” but “Judas” was always the most memorable to me.

Joe Lynch: “Marry the Night,” and it’s 100% because Jason Lipshutz is quoted on the Wikipedia page for the music video.

Andrew Unterberger: This wasn’t my favorite Gaga video era in general, so I might go with “The Edge of Glory” for being the lone clip from this period to take a less-is-more approach — just Gaga, a fire escape, a vacant, smoke-filled street, and some emotional support from the Big Man. Mother Monster and her Haus of Gaga team bet that the song would be big enough to fill in the video’s empty space, and they were right to do so.

Denise Warner: With the album’s other four clips, it felt like Gaga was trying to outdo the smash success of “Bad Romance.” But in “The Edge of Glory,” she stepped back and combined a little Paula Abdul and a lot of Bruce Springsteen for an ’80s visual that stands out because it was so different and more subdued (for Gaga).

6. Which of the non-singles or bonus tracks from BTW still stands out as your favorite? 

Katie Atkinson: Even though (or especially because?) it could soundtrack a modern-day SNL “Sprockets” skit, my favorite is the gibberish-German “Scheiße.” When Gaga pulled this one out during her Joanne World Tour in 2017, I didn’t know how much I’d missed it until I danced to it with tens of thousands of my fellow Little Monsters.

Stephen DawThere is no doubt that “Schieße” is one of Gaga’s weirder songs. There is also no doubt that it is one of my all-time favorites. Everyone may talk about the German-gibberish at the start of the song, but not enough people talk about the chorus. As soon as Gaga wails “I wish that I could dance on a single prayer,” it’s just the right kind of blissful dance-pop that makes you want to fly to Berlin and just start raving on a dance floor. It’s got the electro-house elements to keep it fresh and interesting, lyrics about female empowerment, some of Gaga’s best-ever vocals — “Schieße” lives up to every bit of hype and then some.

Nolan Feeney“Fashion of His Love,” for a very nerdy reason. Every Gaga superfan has their favorite leaked track from the vault, and mine is “Earthquake” — it never officially saw the light of day, but Gaga at least had the sense to recycle the track’s pre-chorus (“No, I just can’t seem to forget you…”) and turn it into a bridge here. Good enough for me!

Jason Lipshutz: “Hair” rules! It’s not quite as flashy as “The Edge of Glory” but its saxophone blasts are arguably more effective, its piano line indelible, its hook downright empowering. “Hair” was released ahead of Born This Way but never received the full radio push, which I always found disappointing.

Joe Lynch: This is the question I’ve been waiting for. Including the singles, my absolute favorite Born This Way songs are “Government Hooker” and “Scheiße.” They’re just insane, bizarre, no-f–ks-given dance bangers. Gaga helped the wider culture warm up to the LGBTQ community with “Born This Way” (I truly believe it helped change hearts and allow younger people to feel seen), but when Gaga intoned, “I don’t speak German but I can if you like OwwwwOOOK”?! That was the real gift to the gay community.

Andrew Unterberger: Give me “Hair,” Gaga’s full-chested tribute to the GOAT of over-the-top piano-rock theatricality, the late Jim Steinman. When her jukebox musical is released, this is absolutely gonna be the killer Act One number that wins over the last few remaining unconvinced in the audience.

Denise Warner: Despite some silly lyrics (“I’ll die living just as free as my hair,”) I love the genuine earnestness and yearning of “Hair.”

Courtesy Photo

7. The album’s Motorcycle Gaga cover image: appropriate, hideous, or both? 

Katie Atkinson: Appropriate. With a decade’s distance, I like the Gaga-bike centaur much better than I originally did – but I still think the chrome title font is a travesty.

Stephen DawIt’s weird and creepy and makes me feel a little bit gross whenever I look at it — and it’s perfect. 100 percent, the art is appropriately hideous. 

Nolan Feeney: Both. I remember finding it garish (in a bad way — not dress-made-of-Muppets garish in good way) but I also will passionately defend pop stars’ rights to make choices that feel authentic to them, even if they risk confounding or annoying their fans. I think her NME clap back regarding “Born This Way” as the lead single choice actually applies to the album art as well: “The worst mistake I could have made was not putting out ‘Born This Way’ as the first record. It’s completely balls-to-the-wall, love-it-or-hate-it… Get in or get off the f–king boat.”

Jason Lipshutz: At first I thought it was hideous, now I find it pretty hilarious. Imagine being the biggest pop star in the world and going, “The cover to my next album is going to have my head, but my body will be a MOTORCYCLE. Why? Because I said so!” Give Gaga props for shying away from half-measures and living her off-kilter truth to the fullest.

Joe Lynch: I legit thought it was a joke at the time. I have not warmed up to it.

Andrew Unterberger: Both. I’ll almost always go to bat for an album cover that purely “Sure, why the f–k not?” in intent and execution — especially when it ends up matching the spirit of the album contained within pretty perfectly. That said, it was probably a good early sign that this album was gonna end up being a little more For Monsters Only than aimed towards winning over the previously uninitiated.

Denise Warner: At first, I remember thinking WTF and never wanted to see it again. (I much preferred the special edition cover — a closeup of her head without the two-wheeler body.) Now, I kind of like it.

8. Cover aside, as is inevitable with an album that takes as many big swings as Born This Way does, some parts don’t connect. What song — or what lyric, or what other general moment — from Born This Way still makes you cringe just a little bit? 

Katie Atkinson: For as progressive as it was, the title track has a few lyrical missteps, like its uses of “Orient” in place of Asian and “Cholo/a” in place of Latino/a — always bristles when I relisten.

Stephen DawI know that a lot of people feel like the title track is pandering — but to this day, I can’t listen to “Americano” without feeling a little embarrassed. It doesn’t feel like Gaga was really trying to embrace Latin music, it feels a bit like she was trying to talk about immigration, same-sex marriage, and a bunch of other hot-button issues over an “Alejandro”-adjacent melody. 10 years later, “Americano” just feels hollow. 

Nolan Feeney: I was anticipating saying “Americano,” but after listening to it again for the first time in years, I find the absolute insanity of it more charming than I remember. So I’ll say that I would not be terribly sad if we left the bridge/breakdown of “Born This Way” behind in future performances. Love the rhythm of “whether life’s disabilities left you outcast, bullied or teased.” Love a song that makes an explicit show of support for the transgender community. But “You’re Black, white, beige, cholo descent/You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient” — I’ll just say it snaps me out of the moment.

Jason Lipshutz: For 10 years I have believed that “Born This Way” would be an all-time Gaga song if the production were a little more distinct. The lead single is a wide-hearted, full-blooded anthem — with a hook that recalls Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” but honestly, more pop songs should recall “Express Yourself,” since it owns — and one of Gaga’s most theatrical, engrossing vocal performances to date. Yet the production beneath her whirs, zaps and womp-womps with signs of life but no real payoff. A mixed bag, for sure, and what I believe to be a giant missed opportunity.

Joe Lynch: Even in 2011, the references to “chola” and “orient” stuck in my craw and were understandably targeted/questioned by numerous critics and activist groups. It’s still a little confounding they didn’t get left on the cutting room floor, IMHO.

Andrew Unterberger: Bad accents and regrettable/outdated terminology aside, the thing that continues to needle me — probably for no good reason — is Gaga’s use of “Nebraska” as a shorthand nickname for the “cool Nebraska guy” love interest in “Yoü and I.” It kinda works at first, but then she just keeps digging in on it — by the time she’s wailing, “NEBRASKA, NEBRASKA, NEBRASKA!” it just takes me out of the song altogether. And it’s a great song otherwise! One of her finest! Might’ve left an edit in the Google Doc about that one, though.

Denise Warner: Even back in 2011, her use of the term “orient” in Born This Way never sat right, and there’s no way anyone could get away with that now. But I also have to wonder what she was thinking with the operatic intro to “Government Hooker,” and then the entirety of “Government Hooker” itself.

9. In 2012, the NME named Born This Way one of the most pretentious albums ever released. Fair or foul? 

Katie Atkinson: Foul! I don’t think we should punish one of our most creative pop stars for swinging for the fences. That’s what has made her career so compelling.

Stephen DawLook, I get it — Gaga does things that are extremely earnest, over-exaggerated, and yes, at times, a little bit pretentious. But “one of the most pretentious albums ever released?” I think not. There is a level of self-awareness and campy extravagance that Gaga has possessed since the outset of her career that actively subverts and recontextualizes that pretense from Important Commentary to Excellent Performance. Besides, Born This Way isn’t even the most pretentious of Gaga’s albums (Artpop, I love you so much, but you used the line “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me” unironically).

Nolan Feeney: If only they had waited a year and heard ARTPOP! I’m half-kidding — but even that album’s defenders would agree that calling it a “reverse Warholian expedition” is a lot.

Jason Lipshutz: If by “pretentious” you mean “showy in its grandiosity,” then absolutely. But “pretentious” also suggests artificiality, and there’s nothing here that’s half-assed or insincere — Gaga buries herself deep inside each of her eras, embodying her projects physically and emotionally while using them as chapters in her story. Accuse Gaga of many things, but you can’t call a project like Born This Way fake.

Joe Lynch: Foul. It’s not even the most pretentious of Gaga‘s albums. (That would be either Artpop or Joanne — and neither of those would rank as one the most pretentious ever either.)

Andrew Unterberger: Fair — but fun! Part of the thing that I think is cool about Born This Way is that it showed how pop albums (even those not made by straight white males) could be just as ambitious and over-reaching and conceptually garbled as the biggest, proggiest classic rock albums. I feel like Gaga would almost take it as a compliment. I do on her behalf, anyway.

Denise Warner: Foul. It’s not even the most pretentious of Gaga‘s albums. (That would be Artpop just for “Applause” itself– and that wouldn’t even rank as one of the most pretentious either.)

10. Viewed from 10 years out, what kind of legacy do you think Born This Way holds in the grand scope of 21st century pop? About where do you personally rank it in Gaga’s catalog? 

Katie Atkinson: I’ve somehow made it this far without acknowledging how monumental the title track and the album title itself were 10 years ago in mainstream pop — and JoJo Siwa even used the song to come out just this year! As for the rest of the album, Gaga subverted what fans expected from her second era and made a thought-provoking album that wasn’t beholden to genre or radio. It remains genuinely captivating — and weird! — 10 years later, which is no easy feat. I’d rank it as my No. 3 behind The Fame and The Fame Monster.

Stephen DawCall it pretentious, call it overly-earnest, call it whatever you want — Born This Way proves that you can combine important, life-affirming messages of acceptance and peace with some truly incredible dance-pop sounds. The fact that the title track has since become one of Gaga‘s defining singles, while also openly acknowledging and uplifting LGBTQ individuals everywhere is important to remember. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges, and maybe has one too many songs, but Born This Way is Gaga at her Most Gaga. In terms of my own personal ranking, I’d place Born This Way right in the middle — it’s not her best work, but there’s something so effectual about it that refuses to go unrecognized. 

Nolan Feeney: It’s part of my Gaga Holy Trinity, along with The Fame Monster and Chromatica. It’s a big swing from a woman who made a career of big swings — and every project like it makes it a little easier for other pop stars to swing big, too. We celebrate Lady Gaga for being the kind of artist who goes fully down the rabbit hole of her inspirations every time. It doesn’t always line up with what the industry is doing, or even with what her fans think they want from her. But here, accepting the mantle of Mother Monster, vowing to push the limits as far as she can, Gaga proved you can deliver what people want from you — and still blow their minds at the same time.

Jason Lipshutz: In Gaga’s catalog, Born This Way represents her victory-lap moment, following the enormous success of her The Fame and The Fame Monster eras; those projects turned her from a pop radio curiosity to undeniable superstardom, and Born This Way — which debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart with Gaga’s biggest first-week numbers by far — cashed in on that sprawling new fandom. Yet if the album’s legacy is tethered to the commercial success that preceded it, Born This Way still sounds bold and risk-ready. After all, Gaga could have understandably tried to replicate the sound and style of the smash singles that came before Born This Way, but instead of busted out of her giant egg and tried on a whole bunch of new artistic outfits. I’d rank the album in the middle of Gaga’s discography, but Born This Way signaled that Gaga was never going to be a one-trick pony.

Joe Lynch: I think it’s hard for a lot of us to remember what things were really like for the LGBTQ community in 2011. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had not been repealed; gay marriage wasn’t legal, even in Gaga‘s home state of New York; on national TV, it was socially acceptable to say same-sex marriage was wrong. It’s hard to measure how culture changes minds, but as someone with Midwestern roots who has traveled the country and settled in New York City, I see “Born This Way” (and to be quite frank, Glee) as things that helped turn the tide, even if in small ways. I think historically, this album can lay claim to being part of that final push toward acceptance (after which, lo and behold, the sky did not fall in). In her catalog? Tough question. Maybe second or third best album? It’s near the top for me.

Andrew Unterberger: To me, it’ll always be the quintessential too-big-to-fail album from the turbo-pop golden age of the turn of the ’10s. After two years of Gaga’s brand of super-charged pop absolutely taking over radio — with help from Katy Perry, Kesha, and Rihanna, and pumped-up rappers like Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull and Flo Rida — Born This Way felt like the moment it had all been building towards, with the moment’s greatest star making her grandest statement. You could look at its somewhat underwhelming performance uncharitably as a beginning-of-the-end moment — like the Be Here Now of this megapop era — but the album really contains too much greatness for it to be remembered anything but fondly. It’s up there with Chromatica and the Star Is Born soundtrack for me as far as Gaga goes, just a tier below the tidier perfection of The Fame Monster.

Denise Warner: “Born This Way” certainly paved the way for Gaga‘s latest album “Chromatica” — which took the main ingredients of “BTW,” let them simmer a little bit and produced something a little more elegant and refined. There wouldn’t be a “Rain on Me” without the voice-overs of “ScheiBe,” and “Chromatica I, II and II” owe their existence, in my mind, to the aforementioned intro to “Government Hooker.” Yet, I don’t think Born This Way leaves its mark the way that The Fame Monster did. (Not everything can be a seminal work.) As for where it fits in her catalog for me personally — below both Fames, Star and Chromatica, but above JoanneArtpop and Cheek to Cheek.