meta-scriptThe Evolution Of The Queer Anthem: From Judy Garland To Lady Gaga & Lil Nas X | GRAMMY.com
evolution of the queer anthem
(Top row) Donna Summer, Frank Ocean, Madonna, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Nina Simone (Bottom row) Culture Club, Lil Nas X, Beyonce, Diana Ross

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The Evolution Of The Queer Anthem: From Judy Garland To Lady Gaga & Lil Nas X

Music is a creative tool of liberation, with queer communities finding meaning — overt or otherwise — in songs by a myriad of artists. GRAMMY.com unpacks the long history of queer anthems, from a 1920s cabaret to the top of the charts.

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2023 - 01:50 pm

When a young Judy Garland sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in 1939, dreaming of a more exciting, joyous and colorful life elsewhere, few might have known that her words would go on to inspire generations of queer people who found a glimmer of freedom where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."

For decades, if not longer, music has continued to serve as a creative tool of liberation, with queer communities finding meaning — overt or otherwise — in songs either written directly for them or appropriated from the work of (seemingly) straight artists. Often with time, but occasionally immediately, such music becomes a queer anthem. While pride in one’s identity has often been a central theme, these anthems have also tackled the communal trauma — from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to discrimination that continues to this day. 

As the messages and musical styles have adapted with the times, what’s most powerful in the evolution of queer anthems is just how much more openly gay they have become. An increasing number of artists are able to unabashedly express their identity, including in genres that have been traditionally reticent or hostile to minorities. Tracing the history of the queer anthem provides an opportunity to see how far the LGBTQ+  community has come, and how creative expression can be used to fight for rights that are still being threatened. 

Press play on the Spotify playlist below, or visit Apple Music, Pandora or Amazon Music for an accompanying playlist of queer anthems.

In Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, music writer Sasha Geffen explores the history of queer anthems past and present.

"I think it's important to honor these ancestors in the queer narrative and point to how things don't always go from worse to better," Geffen tells GRAMMY.com. "Right now in our current historical moment, where we're seeing a lot of closing in and that can be really scary, but there has always kind of been this pulsing and there has always been the survival." 

A Global Musical Movement

In fact, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" wasn’t even the first gay anthem. One of the earliest is the 1920 German cabaret number "Das lila Lied" ("The Lavender Song"), a clear product of the relative sexual freedom of the Weimar Republic. Written around the time of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld hosting the First International Conference for Sexual Reform, the song recognized the struggles queer people faced while also declaring, "and still most of us are proud/ to be cut from different cloth!"

In Europe, musicals provided sly opportunities to explore queer themes, notably the work of English playwright Noël Coward, whose hidden sexuality was expressed in unrequited love songs such as "Mad About the Boy'' and "If Love Were All." In the United States, Black women defined many of these early queer anthems, notably Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday, with "Prove It on Me Blues" and "Easy Living," respectively. As Geffen says, their music was "playful and raunchy and it sold." 

Holiday and Rainey, along with her prodigy, Bessie Smith, were all bisexual — an identity that along with their race and gender threatened their professional careers. They faced not only social ostracization, but also legal threats due to their sexuality. Yet these pioneers still expressed their emotions openly, as Ma Rainey sings on "Prove It on Me Blues": "I went out last night with a crowd of my friends'/It must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men/ Wear my clothes just like a fan/ Talk to the gals just like any old man."

The war years and social conservative of the 1950s didn’t see many lasting gay anthems, as white, male musicians appropriated and made famous the rebellious rock and roll sound of Black musicians. This was clear in songs like Little Richard’s "Tutti Frutti" (with clear sexual undertones) and "Hound Dog" by Big Mamma Thornton, who wore men’s clothes and has been appreciated for representing Black queerness

Through the sexual revolution of the mid-20th century, Black women continued to produce some of the most boundary-pushing music. Nina Simone switched the gender preference in her bubbly version of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" — from Lana Turner to… Liberace — and Diana Ross delivered a sultry take on "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," showing the depths someone is willing to go for their paramour. 

Yet it’s impossible to include just one song by the disco diva in a compendium of queer anthems, overt or implied. The inspiration for 1980’s "I’m Coming Out" actually came out of a New York gay bar: Famed songwriter Nile Rodgers went to the bathroom and noticed a group of Ross impersonators. As Rodgers told Billboard in 2011, "I ran outside and called Bernard [Edwards, his frequent collaborator] and told him about it and said, ‘What if we recognize Diana Ross’ really cool alignment with her fan base in the gay community?’ So we sat down and wrote, ‘I’m Coming Out.’"

During this period of second-wave feminism, songs of female empowerment were also adapted by the queer community, such as Lesley Gore’s "You Don’t Own Me" (Gore herself came out as a lesbian in 2005). Some male acts embraced all that defied social norms, whether around identity or sexuality (although some of their depictions of race and gender can be questioned): "Lola" by the Kinks, "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed and "Rebel Rebel" by David Bowie, whose glam rock pushed against boundaries in terms of gender presentation.

More so than any genre before it, the arrival of disco in the 1970s provided a soundtrack for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, it could be said it was the first genre made for and by queer folks was disco, with high-rotation tracks like Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love," Chaka Khan’s "I’m Every Woman" or even ABBA’s "Dancing Queen." But arguably the most powerful queer anthem was Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive," an unabashed tribute to overcoming against all odds that can still be heard blasting from Pride floats today. 

In maybe a less nuanced but equally impactful sense during this time, the Village People also played with gay sexual fantasies in both their appearance and music, notably with their songs "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A." While the camp was turned up to 11, the Village People’s influence in bringing queer life to the mainstream cannot be underestimated.

Openly queer artists also began asserting themselves more than ever by the 1980s and the rise of synth pop, finding fans among straight and queer communities, often in a "you know if you know way," according to Geffen. The sound coming from British groups like Culture Club ("Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"), Soft Cell ("Tainted Love") or Bronski Beat ("Smalltown Boy") was inextricable from queerness; an uptempo beat and thematic undercurrent ran through many of the era's biggest pop songs. These artists were "talking about an experience that was very specific to the queer community — this idea of figuring out who you are and leaving home and not knowing where you're gonna be ending up and just trusting something out there might be better than what you've got," Geffen notes.

Also during the 1980s, queer anthems also began to proliferate beyond English-language music, proving that a desire to express queerness through music was universal. This was notably seen in Canadian-French artist Mylène Farmer’s "Libertine" and "Sans contrefaçon" about embracing androgyny. And in the Spanish-speaking world, there was Alaska y Dinarama's "¿A quién le importa?" which translates to "who cares?" 

Anthems Rocked By Trauma

But this relative opening in terms of gay acceptance in popular culture was quickly shaken by the HIV/AIDS crisis, when queer anthems took on an even stronger political role. Whether it be Queen’s "I Want to Break Free" or "Somebody to Love," Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s "Relax" or Sylvester’s "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," these anthems were unabashed about expressing romantic feelings and sexual desire, as well as fighting back against violence, silence and stereotyping. 

Known for his falsetto voice, Sylvester was one of the leading voices in San Francisco’s growing queer community before passing away from AIDS-related complications in 1988. His song "Stars" is one of Geffen’s favorite queer anthems, particularly for how he conveyed both the joy and hardship of the queer experience. 

"He had such a powerful voice and powerful control over the subtleties of using it," Geffen continues. "There was this kind of melancholy that I can hear coming through sometimes of celebrating the world that you're in, this kind of sub-world inside the world where these forms of relationships are possible."

Read more: 'Spiceworld' At 25: How The Spice Girls' Feminine Enthusiasm & Camp Became A Beacon For Queer Youth

Female artists — many of whom were open allies of the queer community — also addressed the devastation of the epidemic. TLC’s "Waterfalls" (a cautionary tale with a hopeful note to "believe in yourself") and Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors," a torch song to light the way in the darkest of times. Although, this relationship of seemingly straight artists to the queer community was not without faults. Madonna became a queer icon for her string of hits before kicking off the 1990s with "Vogue," a track that brought queer ballroom culture to a mainstream audience. While Madonna was clearly celebrating this art form, and giving a certain amount of recognition to those who created it, she was also making money off the talent and creativity of underrecognized queer communities of color.

Outside of mainstream music, the 1990s saw queer female artists asserting their identity, accompanied by the riot grrrl movement and Lilith Fair. These ranged from the Indigo Girls’ reflective "Closer to Fine" to k.d. lang’s yearnful "Constant Craving" to Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl," "the queen of my world." 

The Sound Of A New Millennium

The turn of the millennium heralded the beginning of a more assertive acceptance, with anthems coming from sometimes unexpected sources: Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful," P!nk’s "Raise Your Glass,'' Robyn’s "Dancing on My Own" or Macklemore's "Same Love." With the political fight for marriage equality quickly gaining ground in the U.S., pop artists began responding with overtly pro-LGBTQAI+ messages in their music: Lady Gaga kicked off the 2010s with "Born This Way," with the theme that there is nothing abnormal about being queer.

 More recently, anthems have shed any need to hide their queerness through hidden messages or innuendos. Proudly queer artists are creating music clearly for their communities, and beyond: think Janelle Monae’s ode to female pleasure "Pynk," Perfume Genius’ searing "Queen" or Hayley Kiyoko’s "Girls Like Girls," whose title says it all (and was followed up with the more cheerful anthem "for the girls"). 

Perhaps most notably, genres that have been slower to embrace LGBTQAI+ artists have also had their share of anthems. Rap in particular has embraced queer artists from Cupcakke ("LGBT") to Frank Ocean ("Channel") to Leikeli47’s ​​("Attitude") to anything by Mykki Blanco. This also has been true in country: See Katie Pruitt’s "Loving Her," Kacey Musgraves’ "Follow Your Arrow'' or Orville Peck and his interpretation of "Smalltown Boy." This honoring of queer history and pioneers defines many modern queer anthems, perhaps most strongly in Beyoncé’s Renaissance.

Read more: How Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" Made An Important Statement About Acceptance — For Society And Herself

While her whole discography is full of bangers that have entered the queer pantheon, her latest release Renaissance is an ode to the queer and Black tradition of disco and house. Tracks like "COZY," an embrace of being "comfortable in my skin," quickly entered into heavy rotation at clubs around the world. Beyoncé has centered queer artists like Big Freedia, the queen of New Orleans bounce who wrote a powerful anthem in 2020’s "Chasing Rainbows" featuring Kesha (who herself named an album Rainbow and released "We R Who We R" after a series of suicides of gay teens across the U.S.).

Most significantly, songs about the queer experience are now defining the careers of many artists and garnering them unprecedented large audiences. This is the case for MUNA with "Silk Chiffon," King Princess with "1950" Troy Sivan with "Bloom'' or even Sam Smith and Kim Petras with "Unholy." This last sexy jam bought Petras unprecedented acclaim after years in the music industry and made her the first openly trans person to win a GRAMMY Award.

This trend might be most clearly seen in the rise of Little Nas X, who grew up mastering the language and codes of the internet before breaking through and quite quickly coming out. Geffen highlights how he uses shock to garner attention and push back against the homophobic haters, like giving Satan a lap dance in the music video "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)."

"I think of Little Nas X as a troll who trolled his way to the top," says Geffen," knowing what people will respond to positively and what will piss people off."

Contrasting this increase in openly queer anthems and depictions of queer people in media is a sharp political reality: anti-trans laws proliferate in many states and lawmakers attempt to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people, threatening many of the forward momentum in queer liberation. 

Read more: The Rise Of The Queer Pop Star In The 2010s

This moment in social and political history highlights the importance of an anthem, which  serves as a form of celebration and signaling of allegiance, as well as a salve against repression and motivation to continue the fight.

Of course, this list of queer anthems is far from exhaustive. Artists as diverse as the B-52s, Eurythmics, the Pet Shop Boys, Elton John, Cher, George Michael, RuPaul, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, the Smiths, Kylie Minogue, Brandi Carlile, Carley Rae Jepsen, Sufjan Stevens, SOPHIE, Taylor Swift and many, many others have released music that has deeply impacted the queer community. 

And really, any song can be a queer anthem if it speaks to someone on a personal level, providing a sense of connection and belonging. As Geffen notes, the magic occurs when a piece of music creates a moment of collective celebration or momentary bliss.

"There's nothing else quite like that feeling of the physical release of having a song run through you when it's also running through tons of other people who are in the crowd with you," they said, highlighting the power of that anxiety of whether you fit in dissolving away: "It opens a window into what's possible, in a world beyond the one we're in right now."

Queer Christian Artists Keep The Faith: How LGBTQ+ Musicians Are Redefining Praise Music

Photo of Lady Gaga performing during The Chromatica Ball in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 2022. Lady Gaga is wearing a pink costume pink head dress with goggles.
Lady Gaga performs during The Chromatica Ball in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 2022.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

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Lady Gaga's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Show Her Avant-Garde Pop Prowess

As fans relive the exhilarating spectacle of Lady Gaga's 2022 stadium tour with a new HBO Max concert film, 'GAGA CHROMATICA BALL,' jam out to 15 of her signature songs, from "Poker Face" to "Rain on Me."

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 07:29 pm

Nearly two years after bringing her 2020 album Chromatica to life with a sold-out stadium tour, Lady Gaga is bringing The Chromatical Ball to your living room. GAGA CHROMATICA BALL, an HBO Original special that premieres May 25 exclusively on MAX, will take Little Monsters into the mesmerizing, colorful world the 13-time GRAMMY winner crafted with her sixth studio set. 

The Chromatica Ball was a joyful cultural triumph as the world emerged from lockdown, hitting 20 stadiums across Europe, North America and Asia in the summer of 2022. While it was named after Chromatica and featured the majority of the dance-driven album's track list — including the smash Ariana Grande duet, "Rain On Me," and lead single "Stupid Love" — the tour was a celebration of the breadth of her acclaimed career as a whole, which has spanned decades, genres, styles, and entire industries. 

GAGA CHROMATICA BALL documents Lady Gaga's sold-out September 2022 show at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, which was one of the biggest venues on the tour. Showcasing a stage inspired by brutalist architecture and a set list stretching from the pop star's 2008 debut album, The Fame, to her Top Gun: Maverick track, "Hold My Hand," the film will also take fans inside the raw passion Gaga brings to each and every live show. 

In celebration of the concert film, GRAMMY.com revisits 15 of Gaga's most career-defining songs to date, from early hits like "Poker Face" to stunning deep cuts like Chromatica's "Free Woman."

"Just Dance" (feat. Colby O'Donis), The Fame (2008)

Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in 2008 with a fully realized point of view and pop star persona, but her debut single actually wasn't an immediate smash on the charts. Instead, "Just Dance" served as the sleeper hit that kick-started Gaga's legendary career, landing at the precipice of the Billboard Hot 100 after a 22-week climb from its initial entry at No. 76 to the nascent pop star her very first No. 1 hit. 

A polished dance floor banger produced by RedOne and co-written with Akon, "Just Dance" perfectly crystallizes the dance-pop resurgence of the late 2000s that Gaga not only helped spearhead, but masterfully rode into the upper echelon of 21st century pop stardom. Notably, the song also earned Gaga the first GRAMMY nomination of her career for Best Dance Recording in 2009 — a full year before her debut album would announce itself as a major force at the 2010 ceremony.

"Poker Face," The Fame (2008)

If "Just Dance" set expectations sky high for the music Gaga had up her well-manicured sleeve, "Poker Face" majorly surpassed them — and subsequently, became one of the defining pop songs of the decade. With its relentless rhythm, sing-song  "Po-po-po-poker face, po-po-poker face" refrain, and winkingly naughty lyrics ("'Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin," anybody?), the song proved Gaga knew how to expertly construct an earworm while delivering a high-concept visual spectacle in spades. 

"Poker Face" became the singer's second consecutive No. 1 single on the Hot 100, marking the first time a brand-new artist had accomplished the feat since Christina Aguilera's one-two punch of "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants" a full decade prior. By year's end, "Poker Face" had become top-selling single of 2009 across the globe, and the following year, it earned Gaga her first nods for both Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year at the 2010 GRAMMYs, with The Fame also being nominated for Album Of The Year.

Though the song and LP ultimately lost in the major categories, they respectively took home the golden gramophones for Best Dance Recording and Best Electronic Dance Album, officially making Gaga a GRAMMY-winning artist after less than two years in the industry. 

"The Fame," The Fame (2008)

While it was never released as an official single, the title track off Gaga's 2008 debut album serves as something of an early thesis statement for the avant garde star who so confidently declared, "POP MUSIC WILL NEVER BE LOWBROW" as she burst from New York City's underground scene to the global stage.

Gaga lays bare her ambitions with brazen clarity on the punchy electronic track, as she gushes over her single-minded love for "runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles" and sings, "Give me something I wanna be/ Retro glamor, Hollywood, yes we live for the fame/ Doin' it for the fame/ 'Cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous." Later on the song's bridge, the pop star vows, "Don't ask me how or why/ But I'm gonna make it happen this time," and in retrospect, there's no denying Gaga accomplished everything she set out to achieve at the start of her career. 

"Bad Romance," The Fame Monster (2009)

The Fame heralded Gaga as the next big thing in pop music. But rather than spend a couple years fine-tuning her follow-up, the newly minted star decided to double down while the iron was red hot by reissuing the album as The Fame Monster, complete with eight new songs. And in doing so, she catapulted herself to superstar status with just five syllables: "Ra-ra-ah-ah-ahh." 

If the Gaga of "Just Dance" and "Poker Face" was a flashy striver fighting her way to the center of the cultural zeitgeist, "Bad Romance" presented Gaga as a high-fashion pop queen ready to turn her coronation into a victory lap. Not only did "Bad Romance" score Gaga her fifth consecutive top 5 hit on the Billboard 200, it also won her the GRAMMYs for Female Pop Solo Performance and Music Video/Short Form in 2011. (The Fame Monster, meanwhile, took home the golden gramophone for Pop Vocal Album — the first of Gaga's four nominations and counting in the category.)

"Telephone" (featuring Beyoncé), The Fame Monster (2009)

"Hello, hello, baby, you called, I can't hear a thing…" On its face, "Telephone" may sound like a garden variety electro-pop bop, but Gaga turned the track into an unforgettable club banger of the highest order by recruiting the one and only Beyoncé. The two superstars play off one another with panache as they shrug off responsibility and incessant calls from home in favor of giving into the music.

The single's murderous, Jonas Åkerlund-directed visual remains one of the most iconic in Gaga's storied visual history. Fourteen years after Gaga and Honey B drove off in the Pussy Wagon with the promise to never come back, Little Monsters and the Beyhive are still clamoring for a follow-up. Need proof? Just look at the internet frenzy Queen Bey caused when she appeared driving a similarly hued taxi in a teaser for the album that became COWBOY CARTER earlier this year.

"Born This Way," Born This Way (2011)

Almost from the moment she emerged onto the national consciousness, Gaga was considered a gay icon in the making, proudly advocating for the queer community — and in turn, cultivating a passionate, devoted LGBTQ+ fan base who worshiped at the feet of Mother Monster. So, naturally, she used her 2010 sophomore album to gift the masses with the Pride anthem of a generation

Drawing comparisons to Madonna's "Express Yourself," "Born This Way" became a defining hit of the 2010s and helped empower listeners from the clubs, to the streets, to the inside of the closet to embrace what makes them special and fearlessly declare, "Baby, I was born this way!" Additionally, the gay anthem holds the distinction of being the 1,000th No. 1 hit in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, as well as Gaga's first single to bow at the top of the chart upon its debut.

"Yoü And I," Born This Way (2011)

Though she would go on to explore the genre further in 2016's Joanne, Gaga pretty much perfected her interpretation of classic Americana with the country-rock stomp of "Yoü and I" in 2011. Released as the fourth single from Born This Way, the gutsy power ballad found the singer driving a muscle car right through the glitzy, electro-pop aesthetic of her past as she wailed, "This time I'm not leavin' without you" over a sample of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and an original electric guitar line by none other than Brian May himself.

The music video for "Yoü And I," meanwhile, was classically high-concept in the most Gaga of terms. It saw the star transform into a number of alter egos including Yüyi the mermaid and the snarling, chain-smoking Jo Calderone. Whether running through the Nebraska cornfields of the song's setting or being brought back to life a la bride of Frankenstein by future ex-fiancé Taylor Kinney, Gaga proved that she could make a visit to America's heartland as avant-garde as ever.

"Marry The Night," Born This Way (2011)

Among Born This Way's litany of hits, "Marry the Night" is widely regarded among Little Monsters as something of a cult favorite. Though it didn't ascend quite as high up the charts as preceding singles like "Judas" or "The Edge of Glory," the track's music video might just be the most autobiographical visual the New York City native has ever released. 

As the fantastical clip opens on an unconscious Gaga lying prone in a hospital bed wearing "next season Calvin Klein" and custom Giuseppe Zanoti, the singer lays out her entire approach to her artistry. "When I look back on my life, it's not that I don't want to see things exactly as they happened, it's just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way," she explained. "And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it…

"It's sort of like my past is an unfinished painting," she continues. "And as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It's not that I've been dishonest; it's just that I loathe reality." Gaga's rejection of the ordinary in favor of artistic reinterpretation has given fans not only the creative explosion of "Marry the Night," but the entirety of the pop star's avant-garde oeuvre.

"The Lady Is a Tramp" (with Tony Bennett), Duets II (2011)

Smack dab in the middle of Gaga's Born This Way era, Tony Bennett invited Gaga to duet on his 2011 album, Duets II. The pair's charming, spunky rendition of the Rodgers and Hart classic "The Lady is a Tramp" not only opened the album, but it showcased an irrepressible chemistry between the two stars that led to two more collaborative full-length albums, 2014's Cheek to Cheek and 2021's Love For Sale — both of which won GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. 

The song ultimately became something of a cheeky hallmark to how much Gaga and Bennett adored one another; even after they'd released an album full of jazz standards like Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" and Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," the young pop ingénue chose to sing "The Lady Is a Tramp" for Bennett's 90th birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall, dedicating it to her friend as he beamed from the front row.

The pair's sweet friendship would continue on all the way until Bennett's death in 2023 following a years-long battle with Alzheimer's disease. In a heartfelt social media tribute, Gaga shared the impact of Bennett's friendship: "Sure he taught me about music, about showbiz life, but he also showed me how to keep my spirits high and my head screwed on straight."

"Applause," ARTPOP (2013)

She lives for the applause! For the lead single for her 2014 album ARTPOP, Gaga shined a spotlight back on the parasocial relationship and adoration that comes with fame. This time, though, the pop star demands listener participation rather than simple voyeurism as she belts, "Give me that thing that I love/ Put your hands up, make 'em touch!" 

In the song, Gaga also shares the complex philosophy behind the album's title ("Pop culture was in art, now art's in pop culture in me.") But between shouting out famed sculpturist Jeffrey Koons (whom she commissioned to create the iconic ARTPOP cover art) and referencing everything from Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to the pop iconography of Andy Warhol in the surrealist music video, Gaga's message was deceptively simple: She lives for the A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E, baby.

"Aura," ARTPOP (2013)

When it came time to present the highbrow themes of ARTPOP to the masses, Gaga chose to open the 2013 iTunes Festival with "Aura," a frenetic exploration of fame, celebrity, suppression and identity built over a skittering sonic palette inspired in equal parts by Middle Eastern music, spaghetti Westerns and mariachi.

Though she initially faced some backlash over accusations that she had appropriated the wearing of a Muslim burqa in the song's lyrics, "Aura" effectively set the stage for ARTPOP as a piece of sophisticated performance art unlike anything Gaga had created before — all while promising fans a glimpse "behind the curtain" at the girl underneath the camp and artistry. And though ARTPOP may have been more than a bit misunderstood at the time of its release, it arguably remains the boldest and bravest album in Gaga's manifold discography.

"Joanne," Joanne (2016)

Gaga found inspiration for her fifth studio album from the life and death of her late aunt (and namesake), Joanne Stefani Germanotta. The singer never met her relative, but Joanne's spirit was imbued throughout the album, from its homespun lyricism to its stripped-back sonic palette that found the singer exploring the sounds of country, soft rock and Americana.

Nowhere on the record is Gaga's profound connection to her aunt more evident than the title track, which she recorded two different versions of and released as the album's third and final single. "Take my hand, stay Joanne/ Heaven's not ready for you/ Every part of my aching heart/ Needs you more than the angels do," she sings softly over a spare piano line on "Joanne (Where Do You Think You're Goin'?)."

With its roots in her family tree, the song clearly holds a special place in Gaga's heart — especially considering she chose to mix it with "Million Reasons" for her performance at the 2018 GRAMMYs. (A full year later, she took home the GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance in 2019 for the acoustic piano version.)

"Shallow" (with Bradley Cooper), A Star Is Born (2018)

"I can see myself in the movies/ With my picture in city lights," Gaga memorably sang in "The Fame." And a decade later, she manifested her dream into reality with a starring role in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born

Opposite Bradley Cooper, the singer proved she had plenty of star quality on the silver screen on top of her status as a pop supernova. The movie musical's soundtrack was also dominated by Gaga's vulnerability and vocal abilities, fully giving herself over to the story of a star-crossed love that ends in superstardom and tragedy — particularly on the emotional keystone that is "Shallow." In fact, by the time she lets out her famous, guttural wail in the song's emotional bridge, it's easy to forget that "Shallow" is, in fact, a duet rather than a dazzling showcase of Gaga's chops. 

On top of being an essential touchstone in Gaga's canon, "Shallow" is also memorable for being the song that turned Mother Monster into an Oscar winner after she, co-writer Mark Ronson and the rest of their collaborators took home the trophy for Best Original Song at the 2019 Academy Awards. (The song also won a GRAMMY for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance that year.)

"I've worked hard for a long time," Gaga said through tears while accepting her Oscar. "And it's not about winning, but what it's about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There's a discipline for passion, and it's not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you're beaten up. It's about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going." 

"Rain On Me" (with Ariana Grande), Chromatica (2020)

Gaga's Chromatica era began with "Stupid Love" and its colorful, Power Rangers-chic video, but the star hit peak pop excellence by joining forces with Ariana Grande on the album's second single "Rain on Me." 

"I'd rather be dry but at least I'm alive/ Rain on me, rain, rain," the two superstars harmonized on the house-fueled disco fantasia's upbeat refrain, before letting the beat drop and giving in to the impulse to dance it out. Released in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the track provided hope, joy and a message of hard-fought resilience at a scary, unpredictable and unprecedented time when it felt like the world was ending as we knew it.

The following year, Gaga and Grande won the GRAMMY for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance at the 2011 ceremony, becoming the first female collaborators to take home the award in GRAMMYs history. 

"Free Woman," Chromatica (2020)

"Free Woman" was a bit overlooked when it was released as Chromatica's fourth and final single in the spring of 2021, but the narrative Gaga shares on the jubilant track is central to her personal history and experiences in the music industry. Over a thumping Eurodance-leaning beat, she recounts the PTSD she suffered from after being sexually assaulted by an unnamed producer early in her career.

Gaga also offers a rallying cry for her beloved LGBTQ+ fan base on the song, particularly those in the trans community, as she belts, "This is my dance floor I fought for/ Ain't hard, that's what I'm livin' for…We own the downtown, hear our sound." Ultimately, that empowering lyric is a notion that encapsulates the overarching theme of Gaga's career thus far — one that fans around the world can revel in again and again with GAGA CHROMATICA BALL.

Explore The World Of Lady Gaga

Amy Winehouse performs "Rehab" during 2007 MTV Movie Awards
Amy Winehouse in 2007

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How Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' Changed Pop Music Forever

Ahead of the new Amy Winehouse biopic 'Back To Black,' reflect on the impact of the album of the same name. Read on for six ways the GRAMMY-winning LP charmed listeners and changed the sound of popular music.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 01:05 pm

When Amy Winehouse released Back To Black in October 2006, it was a sonic revelation. The beehive-wearing singer’s second full-length blended modern themes with the Shangri-Las sound, crafting something that seemed at once both effortlessly timeless and perfectly timed. 

Kicking off with smash single "Rehab" before blasting into swinging bangers like "Me & Mr. Jones," "Love Is A Losing Game," and "You Know I’m No Good," Black To Black has sold over 16 million copies worldwide to date and is the 12th best-selling record of all time in the United Kingdom. It was nominated for six GRAMMY Awards and won five: Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album. 

Winehouse accepted her golden gramophones via remote link from London due to visa problems. At the time, Winehouse set the record for the most GRAMMYs won by a female British artist in a single year, though that record has since been broken by Adele, who won six in 2011.

Written in the wake of a break-up with on-again, off-again flame Blake Fielder-Civil, Black To Black explores heartbreak, grief, and infidelity, as well as substance abuse, isolation, and various traumas. Following her death in 2011, Back To Black became Winehouse’s most enduring legacy. It remains a revealingly soulful message in a bottle, floating forever on the waves. 

With the May 17 release of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s new (and questionably crafted) Winehouse biopic, also titled Back To Black, it's the perfect time to reflect on the album that not only charmed listeners but changed the state of a lot of popular music over the course of just 11 songs. Here are five ways that Back To Black influenced music today.

She Heralded The Arrival Of The Alt Pop Star

When Amy Winehouse hit the stage, people remarked on her big voice. She had classic, old-time torch singer pipes, like Sarah Vaughn or Etta Jones, capable of belting out odes to lost love, unrequited dreams, and crushing breakups. And while those types of singers had been around before Winehouse, they didn’t always get the chance — or grace required — to make their kind of music, with labels and producers often seeking work that was more poppy, hook-packed, or modern.

The success of Back To Black changed that, with artists like Duffy, Adele, and even Lady Gaga drawing more eyes in the wake of Winehouse’s overwhelming success. Both Duffy and Adele released their debut projects in 2007, the year after Back To Black, bringing their big, British sound to the masses. Amy Winehouse's look and sound showed other aspiring singers that they could be different and transgressive without losing appeal.

Before she signed to Interscope in 2007, "nobody knew who I was and I had no fans, no record label," Gaga told Rolling Stone in 2011. "Everybody, when they met me, said I wasn’t pretty enough or that my voice was too low or strange. They had nowhere to put me. And then I saw [Amy Winehouse] in Rolling Stone and I saw her live. I just remember thinking ‘well, they found somewhere to put Amy…’" 

If an artist like Winehouse — who was making records and rocking styles that seemed far outside the norm — could break through, then who’s to say someone else as bold or brassy wouldn’t do just as well? 

It Encouraged Other Torch Singers In The New Millenium

Back To Black might have sounded fun, with swinging cuts about saying "no" to rehab and being bad news that could seem lighthearted to the casual listener. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s clear Winehouse is going through some real romantic tumult. 

Before Back To Black was released, Fielder-Civil had left Winehouse to get back together with an old girlfriend, and singer felt that she needed to create something good out of all those bad feelings. Songs like "Love Is A Losing Game" and "Tears Dry On Their Own" speak to her fragile emotional state during the making of the record, and to how much she missed Fielder-Civil. The two would later marry, though the couple divorced in 2009.

Today, young pop singers like Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez are lauded for their songs about breakups, boyfriends, and the emotional damage inflicted by callous lovers. While Winehouse certainly wasn’t the first to sing about a broken heart, she was undoubtedly one of the best.

It Created A Bit Of Ronsonmania

Though Mark Ronson was already a fairly successful artist and producer in his own right before he teamed with Winehouse to write and co-produce much of Back To Black, his cred was positively stratospheric after the album's release. Though portions of Back To Black were actually produced by Salaam Remi (who’d previously worked with Winehouse on Frank and who was reportedly working on a follow-up album with her at the time of her death), Ronson got the lion’s share of credit for the record’s sound — perhaps thanks to his his GRAMMY win for Best Pop Vocal Album. Winehouse would even go on to guest on his own Version record, which featured the singer's ever-popular cover of "Valerie."

In the years that followed, Ronson went on to not only produce and make his own funky, genre-bending records, but also to work with acts like Adele, ASAP Rocky, and Paul McCartney, all of whom seemingly wanted a little of the retro soul Ronson could bring. He got huge acclaim for the funk-pop boogie cut "Uptown Funk," which he wrote and released under his own name with help from Bruno Mars, and has pushed into film as well, writing and producing over-the-top tracks like A Star Is Born’s "Shallow" and Barbie’s "I’m Just Ken."  To date, he’s been nominated for 17 GRAMMY Awards, winning eight.

Ronson has always acknowledged Winehouse’s role in his success, as well, telling "BBC Breakfast" in 2010, "I've always been really candid about saying that Amy is the reason I am on the map. If it wasn't for the success of Back To Black, no one would have cared too much about Version."

Amy Showcased The Artist As An Individual

When the GRAMMY Museum hosted its "Beyond Black - The Style of Amy Winehouse" exhibit in 2020, Museum Curator and Director of Exhibitions Nicholas Vega called the singer's sartorial influence "undeniable." Whether it was her beehive, her bold eyeliner, or her fitted dresses, artists and fans had adopted elements of Winehouse’s Back To Black style into their own fashion repertoire. And though it’s the look we associate most with Winehouse, it was actually one she had truly developed while making the record, amping up her Frank-era low-slung jeans, tank tops, and polo shirts with darker eyeliner and much bigger hair, as well as flirty dresses, vibrant bras, and heels.

"Her stylist and friends were influential in helping her develop her look, but ultimately Amy took bits and pieces of trends and styles that she admired to create her own look," Vega told GRAMMY.com in 2020. While rock ‘n’ rollers have always leaned into genre-bending styles, Winehouse’s grit is notable in the pop world, where artists typically have a bit more of a sheen. These days, artists like Miley Cyrus, Billie Eillish, and Demi Lovato are willing to let their fans see a bit more of the grit — thanks, no doubt, to the doors Winehouse opened.

Winehouse also opened the door to the beauty salon and the tattoo studio, pushing boundaries with not just her 14 different vintage-inspired tattoos — which have become almost de rigeur these days in entertainment — but also with her signature beehive-like bouffant, which hadn’t really been seen on a popular artist since the ‘60s.It’s a frequent look for contemporary pop divas, popping up on artists like Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Dua Lipa.

The Dap-Kings Got The Flowers They Deserved

Six of Back To Black’s 11 songs, including "Rehab," got their "retro" sound via backing from the Dap-Kings, a Brooklyn-based soul act Ronson recruited for the project. 

While Winehouse’s lyrics were mostly laid down in London, the Dap-Kings did their parts in New York. Ronson told GRAMMY.com in 2023 that the Dap-Kings "brought ['Rehab'] to life," saying, "I felt like I was floating because I couldn’t believe anybody could still make that drum sound in 2006." Winehouse and the Dap-Kings met months later after the record was released, and recorded "Valerie." The band later backed Winehouse on her U.S. tour. 

Though the Dap-Kings were known in hip musical circles for their work with late-to-success soul sensation Sharon Jones, Back To Black’s immense success buoyed the listening public’s interest in soul music and the Dap-Kings' own profile (not to mention that of their label, Daptone Records).

"Soul music never went away and soul lovers never went away, but they’re just kind of closeted because they didn’t think it was commercially viable," Dap-Kings guitarist Binky Griptite said in the book It Ain't Retro: Daptone Records & The 21st Century Soul Revolution. "Then, when Amy’s record hit, all the undercover soul fans are like, I’m free. And then that’s when everybody’s like, Oh, there’s money in it now."

The success of Back To Black also seems to have firmly cemented the Dap-Kings in Ronson’s Rolodex, with the group’s drummer Homer Steinweiss, multi-instrumentalist Leon Michaels, trumpeter Dave Guy, and guitarist/producer Tom Brenneck appearing on many of his projects; the Dap-Kings' horns got prominent placement in "Uptown Funk."

Amy Exposed The Darker Side Of Overwhelming Success

Four years after Winehouse died, a documentary about her life was released. Asif Kapadia’s Amy became an instant rock-doc classic, detailing not only Winehouse’s upbringing, but also her struggles with fame and addiction. It won 30 awards after release, including Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards and Best Music Film at the 58th GRAMMY Awards.

It also made a lot of people angry — not for how it portrayed Winehouse, but for how she was made to feel, whether by the British press or by people she considered close. The film documented Winehouse’s struggles with bulimia, self-harm, and depression, and left fans and artists alike feeling heartbroken all over again about the singer’s passing. 

The documentary also let fans in on what life was really like for Winehouse, and potentially for other artists in the public eye. British rapper Stormzy summed it up well in 2016 when he told i-D, "I saw the [documentary, Amy] – it got me flipping angry... [Amy’s story] struck a chord with me in the sense that, as a creative, it looks like on the outside, that it’s very ‘go studio, make a hit, go and perform it around the world, champagne in the club, loads of girls’. But the graft and the emotional strain of being a musician is very hard. No one ever sees that part." 

These days, perhaps because of Winehouse’s plight or documentaries like Amy, the music-loving population seems far more inclined to give their favorite singers a little grace, whether it’s advocating for the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship or sympathizing with Demi Lovato’s personal struggles. Even the biggest pop stars are still people, and Amy really drove that point home.

We Only Said Goodbye With Words: Remembering Amy Winehouse 10 Years Later

Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X
Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X

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New Music Friday: Listen to Songs From Megan Thee Stallion, Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, BTS' RM & More

May 10 is quite the stacked day of new music across all genres — from Post Malone & Morgan Wallen's country collab, to Stray Kids' team-up with Charlie Puth, to The Chainsmokers and Kings of Leon. Check out some fresh releases to enjoy this weekend here.

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2024 - 06:55 pm

As the summer quickly approaches, artists from every genre continue to unveil new music for warmer weather. Friday May 10 is particularly packed with anticipated and surprise releases from both emerging talents and established names.

The new albums alone prove just that: pop songsmith Alec Benjamin's 12 Notes, folk-rock band Judah & the Lion's The Process, regional Mexican stars Grupo Frontera's Jugando a Que No Pasa Nada, and GRAMMY-winning R&B singer Andra Day's Cassandra, to name a few.

Meanwhile, a big, cool glass of major rap releases is here to help wash down the piping hot Kendrick and Drake beef served up over the last week. Full album releases debuted from Gunna, Chief Keef, and Ghostface Killah — the latter featuring guest spots from Nas, Kanye West, Raekwon, Method Man and more. Hottie Megan Thee Stallion's powerful new single, "BOA", sets the stage for her Hot Girl Summer tour which officially starts on May 14. New songs from Ice Spice, Kodak Black, NLE Choppa, Coi Leray, G-Eazy, Yung Gravy, Ski Mask the Slump God set the playlist for a weekend full of slappers.

There's tons of collaborations, too, including the much-teased pairing of Post Malone and Morgan Wallen with "I Had Some Help," a track that showcases Malone's furtherance into country in a catchy, reflective anthem. But country music lovers also have more to enjoy this weekend: Orville Peck's duets project, Stampede Vol.1, features the likes of Willie Nelson and Elton John," while Scotty McCreery's Rise & Fall and Avery Anna's single "Blonde" fill the fuel tank for a rodeo-ready summer. 

BTS's RM delivers another solo track "Come Back to Me" and Stray Kids dropped a new collaboration with Charlie Puth, coming fresh off the K-pop group's appearance at the Met Gala earlier this week. And the electronic and rock scenes are not left behind, with A.G. Cook exploring a new twist on Britpop and Sebastian Bach's release of Child Within The Man.

Dive into today's releases from Megan Thee Stallion, The Chainsmokers, RM, Stray Kids with Charlie Puth, Camila Cabello with Lil Nas X, Post Malone and Morgan Wallen below. 

Megan Thee Stallion, "BOA"

Megan Thee Stallion's new single "BOA" continues to play up the themes of empowerment and self-realization that define her current musical phase and comes just days ahead of her Hot Girl Summer Tour starting on May 14. The song's cover art features Megan with a striking snake, a recurring symbol of rebirth that has been significant in her recent work, appearing in tracks like the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Hiss" and the 2023 song "Cobra." 

"BOA" is a continuation of Megan's snake-themed narrative, but serves as a saccharine homage to her favorite late-'90s and early 2000s anime and video game classics. The music video features references to Scott Pilgrim, One Piece, Dance Dance Revolution, and iconic 3D fighting games like Mortal Kombat, complete with visuals and Gantz-inspired outfits.

Speaking to Women's Health about her upcoming summer album, Megan discussed the personal growth and renewal she has experienced, inspiring this new era of music. "I was inspired to create this album about rebirth because I feel I am becoming a new person physically and mentally," she shared.

Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, "HE KNOWS"

Camila Cabello teams up with Lil Nas X for the tantalizing new song "He Knows," delivering a radio-friendly track that's as catchy as it is lustful. The new music mirrors the infectious energy of their recent appearance at FKA Twigs' Met Gala afterparty, where they both were seen dancing the night away behind the DJ booth. 

"He Knows" serves as a precursor to Cabello's highly anticipated fourth solo album, C,XOXO, — set to drop on June 28 — and teases a glimpse of Cabello's evolving artistic direction. The single follows on the heels of her recent hit "I LUV IT" featuring Playboi Carti, part of the  reimagining of her sound and artistic brand.

RM, "Come Back To Me"

BTS member RM has released a new single, "Come Back To Me," accompanied by a music video. The relaxed track gives fans a taste of his upcoming second solo album, Right Place, Wrong Person, set to release on May 24. 

In the song, RM explores themes of right and wrong, capturing the complex emotions of wanting to explore new avenues while wishing to stay comfortable in the present. "Come Back To Me" features contributions from OHHYUK of the South Korean band HYUKOH, and Kuo of the Taiwanese band Sunset Rollercoaster. Additional credits include JNKYRD and San Yawn from Balming Tiger. RM first performed "Come Back To Me" during a surprise appearance at BTS bandmate Suga's concert in Seoul last summer, noting it as a favorite from his forthcoming album. 

The music video for "Come Back To Me" was written, directed, and produced by Lee Sung Jin, known for his work on the Netflix show "Beef." The video features actress Kim Minha from the Apple TV+ series "Pachinko" and faces themes of identity and self-reflection, showing RM confronting different versions of himself. Its cast includes notable Korean and American actors such as Joseph Lee, Lee Sukhyeong, and Kim A Hyun.

Post Malone & Morgan Wallen, "I Had Some Help"

Post Malone and Morgan Wallen blend their distinct musical styles in the much-anticipated release of their collaborative single "I Had Some Help." Merging Malone's versatile pop sensibilities while leaning into his country roots with Wallen's, well, help, the duet is a unique crossover that has had fans clamoring to hear more since the two first teased the song earlier this year. 

Finally premiering during Wallen's headlining performance at Stagecoach Festival on April 28, the uptempo song explores themes of mutual support and shared experiences, encapsulated by the lyric, "It ain't like I can make this kind of mess all by myself."

The collaboration has sparked significant buzz and showcases the duo's chemistry and shared knack for storytelling. This single highlights their individual talents as well as their ability to bridge genre divides, already promising to be a hit on the charts and a favorite among fans.

The Chainsmokers, No Hard Feelings

Maestros of mainstream emotion, The Chainsmokers continue to master the art of turning personal reflections into global anthems with their latest EP, No Hard Feelings. The six-song project see Alex Pall and Drew Taggart exploring the emotional highs and lows of modern relationships, weaving their signature dance beats with pop sensibilities as they have since 2015's "Roses." 

The duo's latest release serves as a soundtrack to both sun-kissed days and introspective nights. The collection includes the single "Friday," a collaboration with Haitian-American singer Fridayy, described by the duo as a direct descendant of "Roses." Other tracks, such as "Addicted," also underscore the Chainsmokers' knack for capturing the zeitgeist of contemporary love and loss.

Kings of Leon, Can We Please Have Fun

Kings of Leon return with their signature blend of rock and introspection on their ninth studio album, Can We Please Have Fun. The LP finds the band infusing their established sound with fresh, unbridled energy, reminiscent of their early days yet matured by years of experience. The album features standout tracks like "Mustang" and "Nothing To Do," which mix playful lyrics with serious musical chops, showcasing Kings of Leon's unique ability to combine rock's raw power with catchy, thoughtful songwriting.

The band is set to bring Can We Please Have Fun to life on their 2024 world tour, starting in Leeds, United Kingdom on June 20 and wrapping in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Oct. 5. Fans can expect a high-energy series of performances that blend new tracks with beloved classics, all delivered with the Kings of Leon's legendary fervor.

Stray Kids & Charlie Puth, "Lose My Breath"

Stray Kids have teamed up with Charlie Puth for their latest release, "Lose My Breath," a track that blends K-pop dynamism with Western pop flair, written by Stray Kids' own producer team 3racha (Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han) along with Puth. The TK song details a whirlwind of emotions, describing symptoms of breathlessness and heart-palpitating moments encapsulated in the lyrics: "I lose my breath when you're walking in/ 'Cause when our eyes lock, it's like my heart stops." 

"Lose My Breath" is described as a "warm-up" for Stray Kids' forthcoming album, set for release this summer. The track further highlights the global appeal of Stray Kids ahead of their highly anticipated headlining set at Lollapalooza in August. It also continues Puth's engagement with K-pop, following his previous work with other K-pop acts including his collab with BTS' Jungkook, "Left and Right," and "Like That," a song he co-wrote for K-pop girl group BABYMONSTER

15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More

Lady Gaga holds her 2019 GRAMMY Awards
Lady Gaga

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Lady Gaga Advocate For Mental Health Awareness During Her 2019 Win For "Shallow"

Lady Gaga accepts the Best Pop/Duo Group Performance award for "Shallow" from 'A Star Is Born' at the 2019 GRAMMYs while encouraging the audience "to take care of each other."

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2024 - 04:00 pm

Between two award seasons, A Star Is Born received seven nominations — including Record Of The Year and two nods for Song Of The Year — and four wins for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media, Best Song Written for Visual Media twice, and Best Pop/Duo Group Performance.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, travel to 2019 to watch Lady Gaga accept one of the album's first GRAMMY wins for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance for "Shallow."

After thanking God and her family for their unwavering support, Lady Gaga expressed gratitude for her co-star, Bradley Cooper. "I wish Bradley was here with me right now," Gaga praised. "I know he wants to be here. Bradley, I loved singing this song with you."

Gaga went on to express how proud she was to be a part of a movie that addresses mental health. "A lot of artists deal with that. We've got to take care of each other. So, if you see somebody that's hurting, don't look away. And if you're hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep, tell somebody, and take them up in your head with you."

Press play on the video above to hear Lady Gaga's complete acceptance speech for A Star Is Born's "Shallow" at the 2019 GRAMMY Awards, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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