For The Record: The Liberating Joy Of Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' At 10

Lady Gaga


For The Record: The Liberating Joy Of Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' At 10

Released in May 2011, 'Born This Way' is remarkable for its unrelenting reinvention of the woman we know as Lady Gaga. Nominated for three GRAMMYs, Mother Monster's third album gave the world an eternal gay pride anthem in "Born This Way."

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2021 - 09:07 pm

It's hard to imagine a more theatrical arrival to any event than Lady Gaga at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 13, 2011. Encased in a translucent ellipsoid, carried like a palanquin down the red carpet by a quartet of latex-clad models, Gaga herself was barely visible, but her presence was undeniable. Later that night, when she emerged from the egg-like container onto the GRAMMY stage, she wasn't simply performing her new single-she was introducing the world to a new era of her artistry.

Released on May 23, 2011, Born This Way was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year; upon release, it sold more than 1 million copies in its first week, making Lady Gaga only the fifth female artist to reach that milestone. While eye-catching couture was de rigueur on her pre-release tour between February and May, the topic of her red carpet "vessel," as she called it, was still hot when she appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on release night.

It was a symbol of her rebirth, she explained, deliberately facing the studio audience. "I believe that you can be reborn over and over again until you find that part of you that is the best you that you can be. I encourage everyone to do that."

She then cheekily turned to Letterman. "I wonder what would happen if I put you in an egg."

In some ways, the ease with which Gaga can flow from sincere expressions of depth to ribald humor is the essence of the artist. At once, she is both serious and facetious. It's how she can simultaneously convey absurdity and ferocity on the cover of Born This Way, which pictures her as an anthropomorphized motorcycle, or how she can take liberties with the German language on the song "Scheiße" without undermining a pining love song like "You and I."

If the biker babe aesthetic of the cover wasn't enough of a clue that Born This Way was here to rock, the album opens with the full-throttled aggression of the guitar-heavy "Marry The Night." In what would become one of her signature songs, Gaga declares herself a free spirit while simultaneously committing to a figurative union with darkness, in a vocal produced with radiant clarity by Fernando Garibay.

The sonic motif continues on the penultimate track, "You And I," the most surprising collaboration on the album. Known for producing albums by AC/DC and Def Leppard as well as Shania Twain, co-producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange delivers his pop-by-way-of-metal pedigree, which is uniquely suited for the moment, if only to remind listeners that the guitars on Born This Way aren't a fluke and neither are the hooks.

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Even though Garibay, along with producer RedOne, had worked with Lady Gaga before, neither rehash their former glories here. Born This Way is remarkable for its unrelenting reinvention of the woman we know as Lady Gaga. A classic house and experimental techno enthusiast, Garibay is perhaps most audible in the album's decided turn away from Gaga's polished electro past toward a more raw, EDM-influenced future. Tracks like "Government Hooker" and "Heavy Metal Lover" play with Gaga's vocal as if she's inhabiting different skins, each reflecting various parts of herself and all creating soundtracks for stomping across strobe-lit dance floors.

On album closer "The Edge Of Glory," Garibay and Gaga deliver a benediction. "There ain't no reason you and me should be alone tonight," the song starts, implying the impending end of the LP isn't the end of our time with the singer. Before performing the song for Oprah in the final weeks of the host's daytime talk show, Gaga described how she wrote it at her piano as a tribute to her grandmother shortly before her passing. The rawness of her emotion is palpable as the song is both a celebration of life and a full-throated embrace of vulnerability. Even though E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons underscores Gaga's rock and roll daydreams with a record-defining run on the bridge, this ain't Gaga's "Thunder Road."

Instead, Born This Way is Lady Gaga's Ulysses. From her rebirth to her acceptance of mortality, the album is an epic journey of an artist as a young woman. At times, it comes across like a casual stream of consciousness by a pop star who knows how to conquer a dance floor and is laying claim to more. Elsewhere, she subtly reveals that she's actually always in total control. Just as James Joyce's novel once courted controversy, so, too, did Born This Way.

It's easy to forget how the overtly political title track was culturally polarizing only a decade ago. The song's message of self-empowerment through self-acceptance wasn't necessarily new on its own, not even when set to a high-energy dance beat. In fact, for decades, the combination of dance floor bangers with universally relatable lyrics had been embraced as unofficial gay anthems, signaling an unspoken but loudly sung message of validation and equality to LGBTQ+ audiences while carefully never disrupting the sensibilities of listeners intolerant of what was often described as a "lifestyle choice."

On "Born This Way," Lady Gaga, who is bisexual, is unequivocal: Not only are all people worthwhile, "no matter gay, straight, or bi," she sings on the track, but their sexuality is a birthright to be proud of. It's a succinct statement of love and visibility that's hard to dispute. As Oprah put it, "you encourage people to be comfortable being born the way they are, being born that way."

Just as it's hard to imagine a time before Lady Gaga was a household name, it's hard to remember that before 2011, LGBTQ+ rights weren't widely accepted or even openly discussed. For decades, artists had been discouraged by their managers and labels from taking similar stances, either in their music or in the press. Paralyzed by fears of alienating parts of their audiences or becoming targets of morality campaigns, pop artists were quiet at best when it came to issues of LGBTQ+ equality. With the forces of change moving quickly toward progress, thanks to a string of legal and legislative victories, "Born This Way"—as a credo and the first bona fide gay anthem that explicitly advocates for gay rights—arrived at the exact moment when Americans needed it.

In the hands of an artist without Lady Gaga's credibility, a song like "Born This Way" could have been dismissed as pandering or propaganda. In the three years between releasing her 2008 debut album, The Fame, and Born This Way, Gaga had already established herself as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. For all her theatricality, as an artist who existed beyond the confines of concert stages, music videos and even music itself, Gaga routinely shattered the illusion of a fourth wall to connect with her audience. Her 24/7 commitment to being Lady Gaga created often-unfiltered content for emerging social media platforms, notably Twitter, where fans were eager to like, retweet and devour her every move. Whether she was walking the 10 feet from her hotel to a car or staying up all night with a bottle of wine to respond to tweets about her album on the eve of its release, Gaga made herself accessible, reachable and knowable. She also knew her fans.

As much as she expressed herself through her art, Lady Gaga was unapologetic about who that art was for. While the story of most fan bases speaks to the positioning of an artist in the market and the reception of their work by customers, the relationship between "Mother Monster" and her legion of "Little Monsters" became uniquely vital to her craft on Born This Way. Lady Gaga showed the world that her fans weren't simply there to respond to her work—they were actively inspiring it.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

Lady Gaga

Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images


Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2017 - 11:03 pm

On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.

Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.

"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."

The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.

"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images


Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17. 

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons


ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

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