Lady Gaga. Wearer of meat. Oscar winner. Vegas show-stopper. Mother Monster. In 10 years of her career, Gaga’s achieved feats that no other pop star has. She smashed onto the pop music scene a decade ago, and she’s proven her worth time and time again. With five albums, one movie soundtrack, a collaborative album with Tony Bennett, sold out world tours, nine Grammys, an Oscar and a Golden Globe award, she’s put out some sultry, fist-pumping, inspiring records over the years.
While we wait for the eventual release of Gaga’s mysterious upcoming album LG6, I thought I’d take a look back and rank her albums from best to worst.
Also, I lied. This isn’t every Lady Gaga album. I left out ‘Cheek To Cheek’ and the soundtrack to ‘A Star Is Born’, mainly because they’re more side projects (an Oscar-winning, multi-week charting, record-breaking side project, I might add), but, for now, I’m just gonna focus on her actual, main-discography studio albums.
5. ‘The Fame’
Ah, Gaga’s infamous debut. ‘The Fame’ forever changed the face of pop music. Before ‘The Fame’, there was little use of electronic-infused beats used in pop music – at least not in the way that Gaga utilised the sound. Once Gaga grabbed that dirty, pop-fuelled production and ran with it, many have followed suit ever since. It wasn’t just that which changed the face of pop music forever, though. ‘The Fame’ didn’t just serve as an album filled with empty, electro-infused bops. The lyrics are more abstract than that of her contemporaries of her time, chucked full of metaphors and layers of hidden meaning, ones to discover when you listen to the album time and time again.
With Gaga’s launch of ‘The Fame’, she changed the face of pop music forever, and forced her fellow pop divas to step up their game and follow suit. She pushed boundaries of pop, turning it from mindless, pretty basic stuff into genre-bending, rule-pushing drama, a theatrical debut that went beyond the music itself.
And pop music never quite looked the same every again. Even 10 years later, ‘The Fame’ still holds up, sounding as sonically fresh as it did now as it did a decade ago. That’s the sign of true music, of music that’s built to last. Gaga made way more than a solid foundation for her career with her debut. She made a fucking castle.
With the release of ‘Just Dance’, Gaga caught the public’s attention. She was bringing something new to the table; but was she just a one trick pony?
The answer, of course, was no. ‘Poker Face’ cemented her as a hurricane in the world of popular culture; and from there on in she only went from strength to strength, creating an almost flawless debut album, cementing herself as one of the world’s greatest pop stars already.
From the filthy ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’ to the emotional, vocals-to-the-front ‘Brown Eyes’, Gaga has pretty much everything covered in this album.
‘The Fame’ is, interestingly, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Singing about how she yearns to be famous, tongue-in-cheek or not; her wishes certainly became a reality.
“I used to walk down the street like I was a fucking star… I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be – and then to fight so hard for it every day that the lie becomes the truth.”
Gaga’s debut album was also surrounded by an onslaught of artistic performances surrounding the attraction. Gaga wasn’t just dishing up an album and bailing. Oh no. She was strutting the streets dressed in leather, doing interviews wearing Kermit the Frog dresses, performing at the VMAs with blood dripping down her chest. She came onto the scene with a bang.
With a name like ‘Lady Gaga’, she was forcing us to pay attention. Making it one of the most iconic albums of our age.
And the world certainly paid attention. It’s 10-times platinum (!) in the UK charts, spent 7 weeks at Number 1, and had a 72-week stint in the top 10. Crazy shit.
That’s not to say that the album’s without fault, though. Despite its perfect introduction into the twisted mind of Gaga, there’s a few missteps along the way. The main one would be the lyric ‘love it when you call me legs / in the morning buy me eggs.’ Um, sure? Even 10 years ago, that’s just straight up lazy song writing. Still, at this point, it’s oddly charming. And ‘Boys Boys Boys’ is still a banger of a track, filled with fantastic imagery that more than makes up for this slight misstep.
‘Starstruck’, while I love it, sounds the most dated now. But, in a way, it makes it all the more endearing. It’s like looking back at the sonic-candy era of the 2000s. That said, the aforementioned track, ‘I Like It Rough’, ‘Eh, Eh’ and ‘Summerboy’, while all now are nostalgia-infused, classic ‘Fame’-Gaga tracks, are, essentially filler. I love them, don’t get me wrong, but when comparing them to some of the other filler on her later albums, there’s just no contest.
With that said, I wouldn’t change a single thing about ‘The Fame’. Instead of introducing us to Lady Gaga, Lady Gaga introduced herself to the world, grabbing us by the ear and forcing us to pay attention. And I haven’t looked back since.
(Note: Sorry, I realise that was a lot of info-dumping. But despite its #5 ranking, I needed to show my appreciation for how iconic ‘The Fame’ truly is, and how it defined Lady Gaga as the pop force we know her as today).
Lady Gaga’s latest release, discounting the soundtrack to ‘A Star Is Born’. Ah, ‘Joanne’. Filled with a range of tracks, from the emotion title track to the fist-pumping, angst-infused, adrenaline-raising ‘Perfect Illusion’, there’s a little splash of everything in here.
Sonically, though, it somehow manages to be one of her more cohesive albums. There’s just a ‘vibe’ that Gaga manges to capture here. The album itself is red sunsets, overflowing ashtrays and long, empty roads, all trapped in a bottle. It’s just a feeling that Gaga manages to capture and then regurgitate into a 14-track record.
When it was realised, ‘Joanne’ was… divisive. Especially amongst the fanbase. Some Monsters cried that Gaga had ‘gone country’, while others claim it’s a personal effort. I’m firmly in the latter camp. At this point in her career, she had nothing left to lose. With ‘ARTPOP’s poor reception, Gaga could’ve gone in any direction. With album number five, however, she chose to scrap half the tracks she’d already created, and write something personal.
Named after her deceased aunt, ‘Joanne’ tackles a variety of themes. She’s always been a family gal, forever giving shout-outs to her parents during her live performances. Dedicating ‘Joanne’ to her aunt was a sweet move; addressing the trauma her family was put through at the loss, the hole in the fabric of their unity.
With that said, the theme does get a little bit… messy. ‘Dancin’ In Circles’, for example, is a little uncomfortable when you realise she’s singing about masturbation on an album that’s dedicated to a dead family member. It’s a great track, don’t get me wrong – it’s one of my faves! – but it kind of dilutes the theme a little. Then again, it’s Gaga, and she’s always enjoyed creating art that makes the average person uncomfortable, so maybe that’s her intent.
‘Million Reasons’ is one of the best tracks of Gaga’s entire career, the piano-based ballad capturing hearts all across the world when she performed at the Super Bowl in 2017. ‘A-YO’ is a cute summer bop, ‘John Wayne’ has a sick music video and beat… there’s just so much to enjoy here.
With that said, ‘Joanne’ suffers the same problem as ‘The Fame’. While its highs are high, there’s a few filler tracks seeping in. ‘Come To Mama’ and ‘Hey Girl’, while enjoyable, are hardly in the same league at the album’s lead single, and it shows. It’s okay, not every track has to be gold – and most of Gaga’s tracks are – but it’s just a nitpicky reason as to why ‘Joanne’ ranks in fourth place.
On the album art, Gaga’s literally facing another direction, representing her change in sound. In every other album cover, Gaga is facing forwards, staring into the camera (or, at least I assume, it’s hard to see with her iconic ‘Fame’ glasses). With ‘Joanne’, however, she’s facing the side, literally portraying that this album is going to be slightly off-key from her prior releases. And that’s rad! It’s brilliant when artists are comfortable enough to experiment with their sound; follow their creative muse and create the music and art that they wish to pursue. With a stripped-back, more country-infused sound, ‘Joanne’ is the most personal entry into Gaga’s plethora of sick records.
This album is severely underrated in the Little Monster fanbase. Although it achieved a #4 ranking, for reasons above, ‘Joanne’ still has a special place in my heart.
3. ‘The Fame Monster’
It didn’t rank as high as you thought, right? I do love ‘The Fame Monster’, and it only ranks at #3 because I prefer her other two entries more. It’s not out of fault of ‘TFM’, but more a testament to my love of her other albums. With that out of the way, I adore ‘The Fame Monster’. The concept behind it, the tracks, the visuals – everything about this EP is deliciously dark, lathering layer upon layer of twisted pop music.
The yin to ‘The Fame’s yang, ‘The Fame Monster’ is cohesive, has no filler, and features some of Lady Gaga’s most well-known tracks. Opening with perhaps her most iconic song ‘Bad Romance’, Gaga made sure we realised that this bitch wasn’t going anywhere.
Each track on ‘The Fame Monster’ represents one of Gaga’s different fears. There’s the Fear of Sex Monster, the Fear of Love Monster, the Fear of Death Monster, and so on. It’s the dichotomy between this and her first record that makes ‘The Fame Monster’ such an interesting record. She’s capable of singing about more than wanting to be famous and parties and drugs and sex; she already opened herself up to show the raw, rah-rah bitch that was hiding beneath the disco sticks during her sophomore album, and that’s a rare thing to do. She shook off that infamous sophomore slump without even trying.
While only featuring eight tracks, ‘The Fame Monster’ is a tightly woven experience, a journey into the darkness of Gaga’s mind, that would be tainted had it had any extra tracks thrown into the midst. ‘Dance in the Dark’ has always been a fan-favourite, its dark and sultry beat and high-pitched vocals resonating with Monsters around the globe. If only it got the proper single treatment it deserved. Sigh.
“Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia… Tell ’em how you feel girls. Work your blond Benet Ramsey, we’ll haunt like Liberace. Find your freedom in the music, find your Jesus, find your Kubrick. You will never fall apart Diana, you’re still in our hearts. Never let you fall apart, together we’ll dance in the dark.”
There’s also the usual Gaga ballad here, too. ‘Speechless’, penned for her father when he was going through heart surgery. Again, it shows another edge to Gaga that isn’t just a tits-on-fire, balls-to-the-wall kind of singer. Give her a piano, and she can still belt out a tune and put on one hell of a show.
With ‘The Fame Monster’ also came on the most intricate and iconic tours the world’s ever seen: The Monster Ball. Watching the gig is like tumbling head-first down a rabbit hole into Lady Gaga Land. Filled with living dresses that flutter in the breeze, gigantic monsters that are killed with photographs, glitter pathways that light the way to her goal… it’s truly out of this world (perhaps one day I’ll review the whole gig, it’s just that good).
As Gaga says herself on ‘Bad Romance’, she’s a free bitch, baby. And I wouldn’t have her any other way. This fearless album (which is ironic, seeing as it deals with her own fears), is crafted with love, fear and everything in between.
Fun fact: When I saw Gaga’s ‘Enigma’ show in Vegas, I made eye contact with her when she was singing ‘Alejandro’!
‘ARTPOP’ deserves nothing but love, praise and affection. It’s filled front to back with absolute bops, imagery and witty lyrics that received undeserved hate back in its day. The concept of merging art and pop, of flipping pop art on its head was one that many rolled their eyes and scoffed at, thus not giving the album its proper dues. That, my friends, was a terrible, terrible mistake.
‘ARTPOP’ is pop heaven for any pop music fan. It’s twisted, in the usual Gaga fashion, to suit her Gaga tendencies, but I feel this album truly opens the door into who she is an artist, and what she has to say. While she wasn’t in the best mind-set when she made the record, the music itself bleeds through; coating the time in her life with psychotic colour, heavy synths and delectable dance numbers. From her pain, Gaga created true art.
But what exactly is ‘ARTPOP’? In Gaga’s words, it’s a “celebration and a poetic musical journey” and an exploration of the “reverse Warholian phenomenon in pop culture.” High brow stuff, then?
In a way, yes. And in another way, not so much. ‘ARTPOP’ is about putting your creativity first, putting the actual creation of the art on the same pedestal as the pop star herself. It’s a cool concept – and certainly unique, no other pop singer has attempted such a thing – and for many, it fell flat. For me, though, I think it’s marvellous. This rebellious 15-track album didn’t hold back any punches. Its brash, bold and in your face, and Gaga doesn’t give two fucks.
“Fuck you pop music, this is ARTPOP!” she screamed at one performance of ‘Swine’, while riding on a mechanical bull and having a performance artist throw up paint over her exposed body. I mean, that’s quite the statement.
The title track is the most ethereal track she’s ever done; the surreal beats lulling you into the world of all things ‘ARTPOP’. ‘Mary Jane Holland’ is an explosive stoner anthem, with a sick bridge. ‘G.U.Y.’ is perfect to bang on at any party or when you need a pick me up. ‘Venus’ is an out of this world experience. ‘Donatella’ makes you feel like a fierce bitch who’s running your own empire. I could go on. ‘ARTPOP’ was born in a haze of fearless spirit, and it’s one that feuds into the music perfectly.
The thread of art flows through the album, from the Jeff Koons sculpture (referenced in ‘Applause’ and on the album cover), to featuring the Birth of Venus, which, obviously, has influences in the track ‘Venus’ itself. It’s delightfully obscure, strange, yet filled with songs you can’t help but bop along to.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its problems, though. From the problematic collab with R. Kelly (which, eventually, Gaga removed entirely from the album on streaming services), to the messy roll out. “‘Venus’ is the second single and it’s getting a music video. No, wait, it’s ‘Do What U Want’. The video’s soon. Nope, that’s been scrapped. Onto G.U.Y!” For even the most hardcore Little Monster, the way ‘ARTPOP’ was delivered to us was… confusing. Added to a hard-to-swallow swerve into the heavy EDM-based sound, it was divisive. But that’s why I love it. Take all of that away, strip away all of its problems, and just listen to the music. To the muse. It’s filled with peak Gaga tracks, ones that are perfect to whack on when you’re getting drunk or stoned or about to head out.
There’s not a bad track on ‘ARTPOP’. Not a single one. Whenever I’m listening through the bursting synths and pop perfection, I’m never tempted to hit that skip button. Track after track, Gaga takes you on a wild ride into her passions, her pain and her creativity. After, you’ll feel as though you’ve been on a high with the eccentric star, and it’s a feeling like no other.
Lyrically, the album is superb. “Lovers kites are flown on beaches in public sight,” “I love you better than my darkest sin, Russian hookers, and cheap gin,” “You’re out of this world, galaxy, space, and time. I wonder if this could be love.” They’re all bordering on abstract, which only reinforces the very special atmosphere that ‘ARTPOP’ manages to create. It’s bursting with colour. With love. With art.
1. ‘Born This Way’
Okay so, confession: ‘Born This Way’ is my favourite album of all time. So, of course it had to rank as my #1 album. In my eyes, it’s perfect. The dark, brooding production, the big, dramatic sound, the obscure lyrics… it’s truly a masterpiece (not that I’m biased or anything, of course). It’s the most dramatic work Gaga’s put out, by far. In her own words, it’s a “giant musical-opus theater piece.”
The message of ‘Born This Way’ is, on the surface, pretty simple. It’s all about loving yourself, accepting yourself and others to create a more accepting, happier society. But it goes beyond that. ‘Born This Way’ is also about how you can reinvent yourself, time and time again, whilst staying authentic to the core of who you are. That’s truly what ‘Born This Way’ is about, and I think it’s such a great message. It goes beyond the basic “love yourself!” motto that many pop artists cling onto, hoping to use the insecure to boost their record sales. It’s about taking the darkness within yourself, making peace with it, and then deciding who you want to become.
‘Marry The Night’, for example, is one of my favourite Gaga songs of all time. Gaga herself is marrying her darkness, rather than running away from it. All of the trauma in her life, all of the negativity, the gloom – rather than ignoring it, she decides to fully accept it for who she truly is. It’s a part of her. And she wants us to follow suit.
‘Born This Way’, as I mentioned, is about transforming yourself time and time again, loving yourself more and more until you’ve become the best version of yourself. It’s so much more than just a “gay-anthem-rip-off-of-Express-Yourself” that people like to scream. It’s deeper than that.
‘Shiesse’ is heavy pop at its absolute best. It’s a fan-favourite among Monsters, and for good reason. The beat’s infectious, like a chorus of self-love pumping through your veins, telling you that you’re a badass motherfucker. ‘Hair’ follows in a similar vein, though with a more personal touch about Gaga’s own life.
There’s ‘Bad Kids’, probably the weakest on the record, but even that says ‘don’t be insecure if your heart is pure’. There’s little golden sparkles of acceptance, unity and love sprinkled throughout, and that’s why it’s not only my favourite Lady Gaga album, but my favourite album of all time.
Despite its uplifting content, sonically, ‘Born This Way’ is dark. It’s heavy, aggressive, brash and in your face. It’s not bubblegum pop. It’s not shy and retiring. The album borders on being over-produced, but that’s why I love it. It’s so messy and brash, like that drunk bitch in the bathroom of a house party telling you to love yourself and to move on from your trash ex.
Fernando Garibay is one of my favourite producers of all time, too, so having him work with Gaga was a treat. They created something that’s pure magic. It’s leather, it’s studded denim, it’s spilt whiskey and lipstick on cigarettes. It’s… Gaga.
The heavy, loud synths on ‘Marry The Night’, Gaga screeching ‘hooooookahhhh’ on ‘Government Hooker’, the demonic ‘Bloody Mary’… it’s all such bold, aggressive pop music. After the worldwide success of ‘The Fame Monster’, Gaga could’ve quite easily carried on with that trend, making mid-tempo pop like ‘Alejandro’ and ‘Telephone’. Instead, she chose to create this thunderous 17-track record about her own darkness and acceptance. Lady Gaga said when she pitched the album to her record label, they told her it was a pretty niche avenue to go down. After selling 2.4 million records in the US, I’d say that’s a pretty big niche.
The opening and closing tracks are perfect, too. From the deep breath she takes at the start of ‘Marry The Night’ to the saxophone cooing gently against the fading base in ‘The Edge of Glory’, the album takes you on a journey through the darkest corners of Lady Gaga’s mind, and it’s a place you’ll fall in love with. The two tracks are like bookends of self-love, dressed up with loud synths and saxophone solos.
Lyrically, ‘Born This Way’ is Gaga at her peak. In ‘Bloody Mary’, Gaga takes on the role of Mary Magdalene; living her life halfway between fantasy and reality. The funeral-esque electro rave ballad epitomises the general atmosphere of the record; steeped in fantasy, darkness and self-love. The abstract lyrics “When Pontius comes to kill the king upon his throne, I’m ready for their stones,” are ones that only Gaga herself could pen. Each and every track is filled with avant-garde writings like this, and it only adds to the intrigue that ‘Born This Way’ possesses.
“Starry night come inside me like never before, don’t forget me when I come crying to heaven’s door. I will fly on a challenger across the sky, like a phoenix so you can remind them of the dream I bore.”
There’s an abundance of little details on ‘Born This Way’ that I love, too. From her whispering ‘iku iku’ on ‘Government Hooker’ (which means orgasm in Japan), to her uttering ‘church’ in the depths of ‘Born This Way’s layered production. There’s so much hidden within the folds of each and every track, and even all of these years later, I’m still discovering new little Gagaisms.
Outside of the album, the ‘Born This Way’ era was one of the best to be a Monster. The fashion was incredible; from her studded leather to her literally putting implants in her face (some of the best looks are on display at her Haus of Gaga museum in Las Vegas!), Gaga wasn’t fucking around when it came to serving theatre.
The Born This Way Ball is also the best gig I’ve ever been to in my entire life. It’s like the record itself, but on acid. From Gaga riding in on a mechanical horse, to her giving birth, to the finding our home at ‘Electric Chapel’, it’s such a dark, sultry and unique experience that I’ll never, ever forget.
Of course, music is all subjective. But, for me, ‘Born This Way’ resonates with me on a level that no other album ever has. It’s a part of me now, in all of its weird, leather-wearing, smokin’, heavy-bass glory.
And that’s it for my ranking! ‘Born This Way’ coming out on top due its sonically themetical coherency, and ‘The Fame’ coming last due to its more filler-fuelled tracks. What do you think about my order? Do you agree? Let me know in the comments down below!
For another albums rate, check out my ranking of every Killers album! Or, find out what we know about Lady Gaga’s upcoming album, LG6. Or, for even more Gaga goodness, check out what I thought of her ‘Enigma’ show in Vegas.