Lady Gaga. Mother Monster. Stefani Germanotta. It doesn’t matter which name she goes by, it’s undeniable that Lady Gaga is one of the most exhilarating pop stars of this generation. Ever since her major-label debut with 2008’s The Fame, she’s donned many hats: a human-motorcycle hybrid for her sophomore album Born This Way (which turned 10 on May 23rd), a Warholian figure for 2013’s ARTPOP, a smoky jazz singer who doubled as Tony Bennett’s BFF, a political advocate for the underrepresented youth, an Oscar-nominated actress (and -winning musician), and a businesswoman who oversees everything from her Born This Way Foundation to her Haus Laboratories cosmetics line. She even took the hat-wearing literally, going full cowgirl for 2016’s Joanne.
Lady Gaga’s journey is an inspiring one: from scoring gigs in the Lower East Side of her native Manhattan to trying to replicate the genius of David Bowie, Queen and Madonna to becoming a fully realized artist whose greatest attribute is fearlessly being herself. Her vulnerability and willingness to experiment with every inch of her sound and looks has rubbed off on a new generation of quirky singers, who now also have a chance at fame thanks to Lady Gaga helping to pave the way.
In celebration of Lady Gaga’s rising icon status, we present a ranking of our favorite songs.
30. “LoveGame” (The Fame, 2008)
Lady Gaga wrote “LoveGame” in just four minutes the day after she went clubbing, using a guy she thought was hot as her muse. The pickup line she uttered — “I wanna ride on your disco stick” — transformed from the song’s intro into a literal rock candy-shaped disco stick that was seen everywhere from the music video and her live performances to Halloween costumes. While it hasn’t aged the best compared to the rest of The Fame, “LoveGame” was essential in Gaga’s building blocks of her pop music takeover.
29. “Sour Candy” (Chromatica, 2020)
Here, the singer lets her guests take over the show. K-pop girl group Blackpink’s sticky-sweet harmonies bring the song’s title to life, charming listeners in both their native Korean and English tongues. Gaga’s vocals are somewhat of a moody shadow, looming over the infectious deep house beat (courtesy of dance-pop masters BloodPop and Burns) that’ll make mouths water all over the dance floor.
28. “Sinner’s Prayer” (Joanne, 2016)
The pink cowboy hat that Lady Gaga donned throughout her Joanne era founds its purpose on “Sinner’s Prayer.” A jangling “take me as I am” midtempo tune, it’s a heartfelt fusion of bluegrass, indie folk, and pop — a product of its eclectic collaborators Mark Ronson, Father John Misty, and BloodPop. Gaga isn’t looking for any kind of redemption here, contrasting the string of biblical references tossed throughout the song. It’s a wonder Quentin Tarantino has yet to snatch this to soundtrack his next spaghetti western.
27. “Teeth” (The Fame Monster, 2009)
The Fame Monster gave us the first glimpse of just how brilliantly weird Lady Gaga was going to become, and “Teeth” is the ultimate marker. Co-written and co-produced by New Jack Swing legend Teddy Riley, the track is a standout from the rest of the EP’s synth-pop. “Take a bite of my bad girl meat,” the singer commands over a wobbly, funkified production that’s lifted from the most guttural parts of the Bible Belt. Leave it up to Gaga to make oral fixations sound so gnarly.
26. “Million Reasons” (Joanne, 2016)
The Joanne era found Gaga stumbling a bit as she tried to seamlessly meld country and pop. And while “Million Reasons” isn’t her strongest ballad, it’s certainly one of her most touching. The song’s tenderness appears to resonate with Gaga as well. It was the closer of her Joanne World Tour and she performed it nearly every chance she got, from the Grammy Awards (where it earned a Best Pop Solo Performance nomination) to her 2017 Super Bowl halftime show. “Million Reasons” even crept into her promotional run for A Star Is Born two years later, taking on a new life as the now-infamous “There can be 100 people in a room” quote.
25. “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” (The Fame, 2008)
Sure, some fans may call this track “basic.” But not every Lady Gaga song is meant to smack you across the face with otherworldly synths. “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” is refreshing because of its simplistic nature. Borrowing from ‘90s Eurodance melodies as heard in Ace Of Base, the song is irresistible bubblegum pop bliss. The Joseph Kahn-directed video amplifies this feeling, with Gaga embracing her Italian heritage as a housewife ready to find a new man in a ‘50s-inspired Little Italy dream world.
24. “Dancin’ In Circles” (Joanne, 2016)
Who knew Beck was such a freak? The experimental rock artist is the co-writer of this self-love anthem, which doubles as the millennial version of Divinyls’ 1990 classic, “I Touch Myself.” A fusion of reggae, ska, and pop, “Dancin’ In Circles” finds Gaga yearning for pleasure… if only her partner was around. The singer has praised masturbation before (see The Fame Monster’s “So Happy I Could Die” and ARTPOP’s “Sexxx Dreams”), but here she makes loneliness feel oh-so-good.
23. “Stupid Love” (Chromatica, 2020)
After Joanne’s lukewarm reviews and Gaga leaping further into the movie industry, many wondered if she was capable of returning to her original form as pop’s wild child. Well “Stupid Love,” the lead single from Chromatica, proved that spark never left. The blippy, disco-pop melodies combined with soaring ‘80s-style vocals transported doubters back to the early days of her career. It’s partly thanks to co-writer and pop mastermind Max Martin, marking the first time the pair collaborated. “Stupid Love” is a silly, joyous club jam that doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving us all with no choice but to “freak out, freak out, freak out, freak out”.
22. “Electric Chapel” (Born This Way, 2011)
There’s a song on Born This Way titled “Heavy Metal Lover,” but “Electric Chapel” is where heavy metal is actually found. Whipping up the best of Iron Maiden, Van Halen, and Judas Priest into a blender, the track transports you to the genre’s ‘80s glory days as soon as that dagger-sharp riff kicks in. Like many songs on the album, it’s a stellar mix of religious and pop music metaphors, with Gaga substituting a traditional church for a chrome-colored safe space for fans and lovers alike.
21. “G.U.Y.” (ARTPOP, 2013)
ARTPOP remains Gaga’s strangest era, and it’s a shame that “G.U.Y.” got stuck beneath all the theatrics. A power-bottom anthem for the ages, the song is for the girls and gays who take pride in being submissive — but only in the bedroom. Standing for “Girl Under You,” Gaga teamed up with Zedd for a buzzing tune stuffed with clever double-entendres (the “retweet” line references the Twitter icon resembling the 69 position). The seven-minute-long short film took the song’s campiness to new heights, starring the cast from Bravo’s reality show The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills who revel in the artist’s over-the-top extravaganza.
20. “So Happy I Could Die” (The Fame Monster, 2009)
For most pop singers, a song titled “So Happy I Could Die” is more flippant than metaphorical. But Gaga has always been one to take her meanings a step further. This trance-like Fame Monster deep cut has a somber undertone, straddling the line of enjoying alcohol-induced liberation and fear of addiction. Throughout this inner conflict, she just happens to meet a lavender blonde that piques her bi-curiosity. Overall, “So Happy I Could Die” exudes pure euphoria that makes you want to ascend to the heavens after a single listen.
19. “Applause” (ARTPOP, 2013)
“Applause” signified just how massive Lady Gaga had become. She was no longer the NYC Italian-American girl struggling to find gigs at local venues. No, she was a bonafide superstar whose every breath relied on the praise of her diehard fans. That kind of codependency was the basis for “Applause,” which was written in the aftermath of the singer taking a six-month hiatus following hip surgery. During that time, she craved the attention from Little Monsters screaming her name at sold-out arenas. The music video, directed by fashion photography duo Inez and Vinoodh, was equal parts self-aware musician and off-the-wall theater kid. She herself summed it up best: “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me!”
18. “Scheiße” (Born This Way, 2011)
Like the majority of Born This Way, “Scheiße” was the product of Lady Gaga’s tour bus recording sessions as she bulldozed through Europe during The Monster Ball Tour. The song is utter chaos in a way that only Gaga could pull off, kicking off with purely nonsensical German tongue. It’s a ridiculously catchy headspin of Eurodisco, techno, and electroclash found in the deepest corners of Berlin, wired together by whirring synths and a head-pounding bassline. “Scheiße” is one of her most liberating tunes, commanding the dance floor just as strongly as she commands female empowerment rights: “If you’re a strong female / You don’t need permission.”
17. “Swine” (ARTPOP, 2013)
If “Scheiße” is chaotic, then “Swine” is the mayhem that tornadoes around it. The ARTPOP deep cut is a melodic madhouse, with Gaga using her sexual assault by a music producer at age 19 as an emotional release. Being the genius she is, she transformed that traumatic memory into an unsettling call-out to those who take advantage of others. “You’re just a pig inside a human body / Squealer, squealer, SQUEAL OUT, you’re so disgusting!” she wails on the chorus, which she intensified during a vomit-filled performance at 2014’s SXSW. After the song is over, you’re left feeling repulsed and uneasy — not only by the predatory men that still freely roam the earth, but the inner demons that you’ve tried and failed to suppress.
16. “Just Dance” (The Fame, 2008)
Picture this: it’s the beginning of spring in 2008 and students who are just returning from break are still longing to party ‘til the sun comes up. In comes a relatively unknown singer from New York City who has her eyes set on dominating the pop world. “Just Dance,” produced by RedOne and co-written by Akon, was Lady Gaga’s drunken daze of a debut single. Using dance as the remedy for our problems, the song replicated that rush to the sticky-and-sweaty club floors for millennial kids everywhere. It was a sleeper hit: finally topping the Billboard Hot 100 after five months of being on the chart, showing Gaga was here to stay. One can’t say the same for Colby O’Donis, whose clichéd guest verse remains trapped in late ‘00s clubs.
15. “I’ll Never Love Again” (A Star Is Born, 2018)
Lady Gaga is at her best when she’s stripped away from all the wacky (but still beloved) synths and solely accompanied by a piano. She’s recorded plenty of piano ballads, but the Grammy-winning “I’ll Never Love Again” is absolutely devastating. Serving as the final scene of A Star Is Born, the track combines two tragedies: the fictional loss of Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine and Gaga’s real-life loss of her childhood friend Sonja Durham. Gaga, who arrived from the film’s set to the hospital just 10 minutes after Durham passed from cancer, poured every inch of her grief into the song and the scene. It’s one of the most powerful film moments that sits right up there with Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from 1992’s The Bodyguard.
14. “Bloody Mary” (Born This Way, 2011)
Love is the sweetest sin on “Bloody Mary”, one of the most sonically wicked tunes in Mother Monster’s arsenal. Here, Lady Gaga plays the role of Mary Magdalene who she called “the ultimate rockstar’s girlfriend”. Her unshakeable devotion is ultimately too seductive to ever make it beyond the steps of the Catholic Church — but that’s what makes it so satisfying. There may be Gregorian-inspired chants and promises to dance like Jesus said, but the warped vocal effects and pained shouts of “LOVE!” keep the song distinctively Gaga.
13. “Rain On Me” (Chromatica, 2020)
It’s always an event with Lady Gaga collaborates with a fellow pop star, and “Rain On Me” was no exception. She called on fellow Italian girl, Ariana Grande, for this uplifting single that provided listeners with hope at the start of the pandemic. They briefly dwell in their pain, but also churn it into positivity. During a 2020 interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Gaga revealed the line “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive” also references her ongoing struggle with sobriety, a subject she’s tackled since the beginning of her career. That vulnerability is what keeps “Rain On Me” weighted and not simply just a radio-friendly pop tune.
12. “The Edge of Glory” (Born This Way, 2011)
Born This Way celebrates the — ahem — glory days of ‘80s rock and pop, and “The Edge Of Glory” fully encapsulates the decade’s sonic freedom. It’s a total rush, with Gaga’s vocals ballooning enough to fill stadiums that would later sing along. Inspired by the passing of her grandfather, Gaga channels her inner Bruce Springsteen to stress the importance of cherishing every waking moment of life. And what better way to honor The Boss than by calling on Clarence Clemons? Here, the late E Street band’s saxophonist adds an additional feeling of hope to the already-galvanizing track.
11. “You And I” (Born This Way, 2011)
Where “Million Reasons” had a shaky attempt at modern country, “You And I” excelled at it. Gaga’s signature kookiness is still at the heart of this Grammy-nominated honky-tonk midtempo, but (like with many songs on Born This Way) she fearlessly tackled an untouched sonic territory. An ode to her “cool Nebraska guy” (the origin of her then-boyfriend Lüc Carl), it’s the purest moment on Born This Way. Drenched in whiskey and kisses, it was meant to be an All-American classic thanks to the sample of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” (Brian May plays guitar on the track) and production by arena-rock legend Mutt Lange. “You And I” also served as the introduction to Gaga’s rowdy make alter-ego Jo Calderone, who’s in dire need of a reappearance.
10. “Telephone” (The Fame Monster, 2009)
Lady Gaga and Beyoncé first gave the collaboration thing a try with 2009’s “Video Phone” from the latter’s I Am…Sasha Fierce. But lightning officially struck with the dynamic pair traded in a then-burgeoning technology for a more classic telecommunications device. Originally meant for Britney Spears, the Grammy-nominated “Telephone” is a pop whirlwind that was made even more crazed with the nine-minute-long short film that picks up where “Paparazzi” left off. Inspired by Quentin Tarantino classics like Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Pulp Fiction (which carried on the Reservoir Dogs-inspired “Video Phone” video), it follows Beyoncé picking up her best gal-in-crime from jail as they both plan a colorful murdering spree at a diner. It’s cheeky (“Let’s make a sandwich!”), dancefloor-shattering (“This is a DISAS-TUH!”) and just fun to watch two pop stars create magic. “Telephone” was such a spectacle that you almost forget that a powerhouse like Beyoncé is sparingly utilized.
9. “Poker Face” (The Fame, 2008)
Sure, “Just Dance” was Lady Gaga’s debut single. But if you let fans tell it, it’s “Poker Face” that signifies her major breakthrough. The chart-topping, Grammy-winning tune is a naughty twist on the popular Texas Hold ‘Em card game. But rather than playing for chips, Gaga is playing her man who doesn’t know she’d rather be with a woman. And her allure is just as addicting as the song, with its robotic Mum-mum-mum-mah’s, pure pop chorus, and lyrical winks like “’Cause I’m bluffin’ with my muffin”. “Poker Face” was saved from being too cheesy with Gaga’s theatrical piano rendition that was later covered on hit shows like Glee and sampled on Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say” single.
8. “Speechless” (The Fame Monster, 2009)
At the time of The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga was seen more for her wacky costumes. But beneath the hair bows and bubble dresses was an immensely talented vocalist and pianist. She showcased such on “Speechless,” which could’ve fit in Queen’s arena-filling heydays just as easily as beneath the bright lights of Broadway. Written as a plea for her father Joseph Germanotta to have open-heart surgery, the ballad is an impassioned urge enveloped in ‘70s rock melodies. Do yourself a favor and check out her live rendition, which drowns the original with overwhelming emotions.
7. “Dance In The Dark” (The Fame Monster, 2009)
Ask any Little Monster to choose their pick for Lady Gaga’s most underrated song, and all signs will point to “Dance In The Dark”. It was meant to be The Fame Monster’s third single, but was overlooked for the ABBA-and-Madonna homage “Alejandro”. Nevertheless, “Dance In The Dark” remains adored for its raw body image themes. At first listen, it’s an orgasmic experience fit for the grittiest of BDSM basements. But once the lights go down, it reveals a string of insecurities of not wanting your partner to see your naked body. That sense of shame is cemented in the plastic surgery-referencing opener: “Silicone, saline, poison / Inject me baby / I’m a free bitch”. The tragic glamour continues with the bridge, which evokes Madonna’s spoken word on “Vogue,” paying respects to fallen pop-culture deities like Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, JonBenét Ramsey, and Princess Diana.
6. “Shallow” (A Star Is Born, 2018)
It’s hard to remember the last time a movie delivered a striking duet like A Star Is Born’s “Shallow.” Sure, it was exciting to hear Bradley Cooper explore musical terrain. But the thrill of the song was the humanization of Lady Gaga, who became the former’s equal while showcasing just how strong her vocals have grown. “Shallow” is all about taking a leap, whether that be with faith or love, and the pair dove headfirst. After winning two out of four Grammy Awards, the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Song (among other accolades), and becoming Gaga’s longest-running No. 1 on the Billboard Digital Songs chart, “Shallow” has grown bigger than the song itself. Just like Cooper’s Jackson Maine couldn’t help but to take another look at Gaga’s Ally, the entire world couldn’t help but hit that “repeat” button just one more time.
5. “Judas” (Born This Way, 2011)
A theme song for holy fools everywhere, “Judas” is all about betrayal. But rather than a simple retelling of Judas Iscariot, Gaga crowns herself as Mary Magdalene as she struggles between choosing Jesus (righteousness) or Judas (temptation). Her lyrics about wanting forgiveness for her past sins are nearly stomped out by intense industrial-inspired synths. Even Gaga herself can’t make up her mind about the sonic direction, alternating between a robotic, quasi-Caribbean tone in the verses and bubbly power pop on the radio-crafted chorus. The gothic undertones come alive in the music video, which reimagines Jesus and his Twelve Apostles as a rowdy biker gang, with Judas played by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus. If any other pop counterpart attempted to pull off “Judas,” it would fail miserably. But the magic of Mother Monster is that she can make something completely unhinged look beautiful.
4. “Marry The Night” (Born This Way, 2011)
Lady Gaga often turns her pain into art, and her trauma overflows on “Marry The Night.” Looking at the title, it may seem like a mere four-on-the-floor tune. But the accompanying 14-minute-long short film reveals both the turbulent and beautiful parts of her life story. “I’m going to be a star,” she tearfully says in the video, meaning every single syllable. “You know why? Because I have nothing else to lose.” She’s battled sexual assault that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, debilitating mental health, fibromyalgia, being rejected by major record labels, alcoholism, and more. But what always saved her was her love for her family and, of course, music. “Marry The Night” is about wholeheartedly succumbing to your dreams. For Gaga, that meant finding solace in her hometown’s bars and clubs where she could create safe spaces and ultimately launch her career. Clearly, this isn’t meant to be your average fairy tale. “Marry The Night” is a message of resilience, tenacity, and strength all wrapped up into an irresistible dance anthem. What more could you ask for?
3. “Born This Way” (Born This Way, 2011)
They don’t call her “Mother Monster” for nothing. A longtime advocate for the LGBTQ+ and marginalized ethnic communities, the singer tapped into her maternal instinct to provide comfort to those who were shunned for living in their truth. When the infamous meat dress-clad Lady Gaga first teased this chorus during her Video Of The Year acceptance speech for “Bad Romance” at the 2010 MTV VMAs, no one could predict just how momentous the song would truly become. Yes, it directly lifts from the uplifting melodies of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” (the icon later performed a taunting mashup along with “She’s Not Me” during 2012’s MDNA Tour). Yes, it was one of Gaga’s first missteps as her choice words of “chola” and “orient” was met with criticism. But, like with any ground-breaking pop song, the controversy only added to its appeal. “Born This Way” is an anthem that blasts just as loudly through the streets of annual Pride parades worldwide as it does in the girl group poster-filled walls of Middle America’s queer youths. But its meaning manages to dig deeper than that, growing into a socio-political moment that’ll be etched in history books for generations to come.
2. “Paparazzi” (The Fame, 2008)
From Princess Diana’s tragic death to the brief downfall of Britney Spears, the paparazzi have become one of the more insidious yet inseparable parts of Hollywood. And on “Paparazzi,” Lady Gaga fields it through a lens of horror. The singer’s sickly sweet tone pretties up the track in order to disguise listeners from its subtle sinister qualities. Celebrities’ relationship with the media and the paparazzi is a shameful tug-o-war, all relying on each other to float above fame’s choppy waters. It’s her most clever song to date, perfectly balancing a double meaning of stalking both a lover and a celebrity. “Paparazzi” later solidified its place in pop culture history with the cheeky music video. With its references to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, it follows Gaga’s fall and rise to fame after killing her equally attention-starved boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgård). A year after its release, Gaga’s bloodied theatrical performance at the MTV VMAs that left her swinging from the ceiling proved she wasn’t your average pop star.
1. “Bad Romance” (The Fame Monster, 2009)
Ask any Lady Gaga fan about the first time they watched the “Bad Romance” video and they’ll detail the memory with excitement. For me, it was my freshman year of college: A few floormates and I gathered around my janky laptop to watch the premiere on her official website. Our expressions rapidly alternated between a fit of giddy excitement and jaw-dropping awe. As soon as that “Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah / Roma, Roma-ma / Gaga, ooh la la” buzzed in our ears, we knew we were witnessing history.
“Bad Romance” was the first taste of the formula that Gaga still uses to this day: pure pop melodies, nods to her love for ‘80s and ‘90s dance, pop culture references (the entire second chorus calls out Hitchcock classics like Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window), a radio-friendly chorus that sticks on the charts like honey, and a hefty dose of “WTF” weirdness that keeps the singer in her own lane. The song sliced through the cutesy pop that was weighing down the genre at the time, hypnotizing with its clamoring beats and shocking with an explicit music video. It’s sheer performance art that borrows from Michael Jackson’s love for over-the-top spectacle and Stanley Kubrick’s visual delirium. Here, Gaga is kidnapped and sent to a Russian bathhouse where she’s forced to perform for the highest bidder. But rather than settling, she burns it all (including the dirty gangster in her bed) down. In the words of Miley Cyrus, she couldn’t and will never be tamed.
“Bad Romance” made it clear Lady Gaga wasn’t a singer to be fu*cked with — an attitude that she’s carried throughout her career ever since. And even though she’s traded those iconic Alexander McQueen Armadillo boots seen in the video for a more demure look, the star continues to crush anyone who dares to step in her path.