The iconic album Born This Way by Lady Gaga is regarded as one of her best bodies of work by fans and critics alike, nine years after its release. The album still resonates with listeners because it boldly experimented with the confines of pop music and dared listeners to take chances while living unapologetically. The album’s blend of genres illustrates the multifaceted identities of its intended audience, expertly blending pop, glam rock, heavy metal, country, and techno all into one coherent body of art. Born This Way particularly speaks to marginalized people and challenges the constraints placed on those who don’t fit in an oppressive, white supremacist, patriarchal society.
Born This Way was released at the start of a new decade, in an ever-changing social and political climate. It feels like there is symbolism in the album being released at the beginning of the 2010’s with me having also just begun my teenage years. My body’s changing, my mind is evolving and the world around me is pushing for more equality, representation, and freedom.
I was 13-years-old when the album came out, starting my awkward teenage years and just finishing seventh grade. Like most people coming into adolescence, I was an extremely insecure, self-conscious, and anxious individual. Learning how to love myself was proving difficult in a world that made it hard for young black girls to do so. There were times I felt becoming truly confident was hopeless. However, the power of art prevailed because in May of 2011, Lady Gaga released her second studio album titled Born This Way. The album is an anthem of self-love and acceptance that I desperately needed at the time. It greatly helped me learn to unapologetically love every facet of myself, even the parts I didn’t yet understand.
The album takes a note from its own book and experimented with its marketing, song releases, and visuals. Around the time of its release, aspects of Born This Way were misunderstood by music critics, including but not limited to the album cover which displays Lady Gaga as the head of a motorcycle. Critics mocked the imagery, ignoring Gaga’s illustration and commentary of being made into a machine by oppressive industry standards.
Controversy also surrounded the second song on the album and one of the album’s awaited singles titled, “Born This Way” (named after the album). Among other criticisms, the song stirred controversy at the time for its reference of trans individuals on a mainstream song from a mainstream artist. Consequently, critics attempted to project their internalized prejudice onto a body of work that existed freely and challenged others to do the same, contradicting the entire purpose of the album.
Admittedly, at 13 I wasn’t entirely knowledgeable about gender identity or expression. However, that didn’t stop me from resonating with the message of the song. When I listen to Born This Way, even now, I feel free from marginalization; for 4 minutes and 20 seconds, I simply feel unfiltered, uninterrupted fun. I especially remember the announcement for the song. Lady Gaga stood on the stage at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, dressed in her now legendary meat gown, belting “I’m beautiful in my way ‘cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.” Unbeknownst to 12-year-old me at the time, this moment would change my life forever.
In a 2016 article for Dazed, Jake Hall analyzed Born This Way’s impact years after its release. Regarding what the album meant for Lady Gaga as an artist while also being a pivotal pop-culture moment he states, “[Born This Way] was the moment that [Gaga] stopped being branded an artificial pop behemoth and started to become the searingly honest, sometimes over-emotional human being that we now know well.” From 2000 to 2009, pop music was very traditional in the sense that female pop artists had to conform to society’s hyper-feminine, heteronormative expectations of women. At the start of the 2010s, Lady Gaga deliberately sought to not just challenge those oppressive norms but obliterate them.
At the 2011 VMAs, Lady Gaga performed another album single from Born This Way titled, “Yoü and I.” During her performance, she played the role of Jo Calderone, acting as the male love interest in her own song, which further defied the expectations of what was expected from women in pop. These subtle normalizations of gender identity and expression as well as uplifting messages of finding perfection in uniqueness and marginalized identity helped me begin to slowly understand the world outside of myself.
At 13, I didn’t have it all figured out right away. I was still struggling with finding my confidence, but Born This Way laid the foundation for me to become the outspoken, open-minded, risk-taker I now am at 22-years-old. There’s a reason this album still resonates with fans almost a decade later. An album that encourages others to confidently become the best, most honest version of themselves without permission will never get old.
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