Mother Monster changes the face of pop music with her sophomore album.
This Day In Pop is a reoccurring piece, where BreatheHeavy examines a monumental anniversary in pop music. Whether it be a blockbuster release, game-changing performance, live mishap, or something in between, we’re here to dig through the archives and highlight some of the biggest moments in pop music history.
Lady Gaga released Born This Way on May 23, 2011.
Back in late 2010, Lady Gaga told a crowd of screaming fans in Gdsank, Poland that her second studio album, Born This Way, would be “the greatest album of this decade.” Almost 10 years later, the declaration still rings true. The blockbuster LP changed up the game for Mother Monster, elevating her off kilter pop contributions to new degrees of weird cool. In the process, it turned off a few folks, but regardless of whether you championed her creativity or turned your nose at the spectacle, it was certainly an era worth watching. For BreatheHeavy’s latest installment of This Day In Pop, we’re revisiting Gaga’s mega-release as she works steadily on her sixth studio album.
By the turn of the ‘10s, Lady Gaga was the biggest thing in pop music. After putting the music video on CPR with the dazzling clips for “Bad Romance” and the Beyoncé-assisted “Telephone,” Mother Monster had already proved that she was much more than a pop singer, but instead a student of the pop music machine. With the release of her debut album, The Fame, and its accompanying re-release in The Fame Monster, behind her, Gaga was riding off some of the very celebrity that she sang about in her previously released tunes and was flooded with inspiration for her next album.
“It came so quickly. I’ve been working on it for months, and I feel very strongly that it’s finished right now. Some artists take years. I don’t. I write music every day,” she told The Guardian in June 2010. Unlike the synth-pop sound of her debut, Born This Way saw RedOne and Fernando Garibay honed in on their relationship with the singer to create something with a bigger mission statement. In doing so, she turned a different direction and took a few pages from some of her biggest musical muses: Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Madonna.
On the standard version, Born This Way clocked in at 14 songs, including its title track, “Marry the Night,” “You and I” and “The Edge of Glory.” If the public had not fully understood the woman known as Lady Gaga (or her musicianship pre-fame), she made her point loud and clear with a set that showcased as much of her varied talents as it did her levels of extra. She touched on opera, heavy metal, industrial techno, mariachi, disco — you name it. She collaborated with E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons and Queen guitarist Brian May. The set pushed Gaga far passed her musical boundaries at a time when we were all welcoming extreme experimentation. On the promotional end, Born This Way was larger than life and only appropriately matched the persona, attitude and stage styling of the superstar. Sometimes it was a miss. The art cover for both the original and deluxe still raises eyebrows, but I’d argue that the campaign did more positive than negative, particularly with her messaging.
Most notably, the LP gave us “Born This Way,” Gaga’s most important single to-date. Minus all the Madonna comparisons, the anthem created something that pop music had not seen in years: wildly explicit embrace for the LGBTQ+ community. It was her freedom song. “I want to write my this-is-who-the-****-I-am anthem, but I don’t want it to be hidden in poetic wizardry and metaphors. I want it to be an attack, an assault on the issue because I think, especially in today’s music, everything gets kind of washy sometimes and the message gets hidden in the lyrical play,” she said in an interview with Billboard. “Harkening back to the early ’90s, when Madonna, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and TLC were making very empowering music for women and the gay community and all kind of disenfranchised communities, the lyrics and the melodies were very poignant and very gospel and very spiritual and I said, ‘That’s the kind of record I need to make. That’s the record that’s going to shake up the industry.’”
Born This Way went on to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after selling 1,108,000 copies in its opening week, in part thanks to a tactical 99-cent Amazon deal, and became the third-best selling album of 2011. But for all the occasions that she did too much during this time, it rarely eclipsed her passion for creating or pleasing her fans. It drove home the idea of what it meant to be a Little Monster and pushed forward a culture of online fandom that thrived for acceptance.