With her extravagant persona, dozens of global hits, millions of album sales, billions of YouTube views, countless awards, and legendary performances, it’s easy for one to miss her biggest contribution to the world; Lady Gaga has a message. And what a message it is! When you find out the price she has had to pay personally to get it out there, it becomes even more impressive.
New Yorker, Stefani Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga, is an activist: a tireless fighter for the LGBTQ community, all women, and anyone who is ‘different’. She is a victim of sexual violence and struggles with extreme chronic pain stemming from a physical trauma. She is honest, persistent, and tough. Tough as nails. How do I know all of this? It’s all in the lyrics! Get to know this woman on a mission through her 5 most iconic songs. She’s practically written a biography in her own lyrics.
5. Paparazzi – Lady Gaga (The Fame, 2008)
Lady Gaga’s impressive career started worldwide in 2008 when she released her debut album The Fame. She was inspired by Andy Warhol, among others, and made it her goal to create highbrow art via the lowbrow medium known as pop music. She succeeded (and is still succeeding)! With hits like Just Dance, Poker Face, and LoveGame, she became an international phenomenon.
The Fame is an album about self-worth; how everyone can feel beautiful, treasured, and famous.
The lyrics are noteworthy to say the least; LoveGame was even found to be too explicit in many countries (‘Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick. I wanna take a ride on your disco stick). This song was, for this very reason, not chosen as the third single, and was replaced by Paparazzi.
Although you may expect Paparazzi to be about the press stalking Gaga relentlessly, it’s actually about Gaga who is filling the role of the paparazzi herself.
We are the crowd
We’re c-coming out
Got my flash on, it’s true
Need that picture of you, it’s so magical
We’d be so fantastical
Leather and jeans
Not sure what it means
But this photo of us, it don’t have a price
Ready for those flashing lights
‘Cause you know that, baby, I…
If you pay close attention, it seems that fame is not the only theme, but the love also plays a role. Gaga stalks her prey as fanatically as only the paparazzi can:
I’m your biggest fan
I’ll follow you until you love me
Baby, there’s no other superstar you know that I’ll be
Promise I’ll be kind
But I won’t stop until that boy is mine
Baby, you’ll be famous
Chase you down until you love me
Paparazzi – Lady Gaga
I wonder if Gaga knew how relevant this track would be to her later in life when she penned it?
4. Dance In The Dark – Lady Gaga (The Fame Monster, 2009)
On her album, The Fame Monster, which came out one year after The Fame, Gaga describes how fame is not necessarily a walk in the park like people think. The album is a re-release of The Fame, with an additional 8 very personal tracks, including the hits Bad Romance, Alejandro, and Telephone (a duet with Beyoncé).
“Each one represents a different demon that I’ve faced in myself. It’s all about my fear of death and my fear of love and my fear of sex and my fear of loneliness”, Gaga said of the new tracks.
Her fear of the ‘judgment monster’, or rather the media and critics, is described in Dance in the Dark. She states from the beginning exactly how it feels to be who she is, someone different:
Some girls won’t dance to the beat of the track
She won’t walk away, but she won’t look back
She looks good, but her boyfriend says she’s a mess
She’s a mess, she’s a mess
Now the girl is stressed
She’s a mess, she’s a mess, she’s a mess, she’s a mess
When the ‘judgment monster’ peeks around the corner, she hides in the dark:
Baby loves to dance in the dark
‘Cause when he’s looking, she falls apart
But she knows she’s not the only one:
Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia,
Tell ‘em how you feel girls!
Work your Blonde Benét 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
Dance In The Dark – Lady Gaga
Marilyn Monroe died tragically young of a drug overdose, just like the American actress and singer Judy Garland. Poet, novelist, and essayist Sylvia Plath committed suicide and child beauty pageant contestant JonBenét Ramsey was murdered at a young age. Liberace was a successful pianist who passed away due to complications from AIDS. He hid his sexuality for years because he was afraid of being judged for it. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of the tragic story of Lady Di.
Through music, Lady Gaga tries to encourage herself (and everyone who relates to her) with the hope that they find their own Jesus or Kubrick (film director Stanley Kubrick is a huge artistic inspiration for Gaga), and find freedom. Dancing together in the dark. Beautiful!
3. Born This Way – Lady Gaga (Born This Way, 2011)
Lady Gaga sings about subjects dear to her heart in English, French, German and Spanish on her album Born This Way: sex, religion, cars, and… her hair! She seduces men, women, God, and dead presidents singing ‘Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy’ (Government Hooker) and ‘I want your whiskey mouth, all over my blond south’ (Heavy Metal Lover).
But the lyrics with the greatest impact are found in the title track Born This Way:
It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
‘Cause you were born this way, baby
Gaga famously fights for equal rights for the LGBTQ community: this song is about finding freedom and loving yourself the way you are, regardless of your background, gender, or preferences:
No matter gay, straight or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave!
It’s understandable then, that this became a global anthem for the LGBTQ community!
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way
Born This Way – Lady Gaga
Besides all the attention Gaga received for this song’s theme, she founded the Born This Way Foundation with her mother in 2012. Its goal was to make the world a little bit friendlier and braver, putting young people in the spotlight by giving them a platform. Go Gaga!
2. Swine – Lady Gaga (Artpop, 2013)
Personally, the most notable song on this list is Swine from Lady Gaga’s album, Artpop. This album produced the least hits, but when you watch the performance of Swine at the showcase festival SXSW in 2013, you can’t deny that it does the album’s title justice.
In this track, Gaga outs the rage that she felt after becoming a victim of sexual violence as a teenager. When she was 19, she was raped by a man 20 years her senior, resulting in a trauma which she still feels years later on.
Swine is her release, about which she said: ‘The song is about rape. The song is about demoralization. The song is about rage, fury, and passion. I had a lot of pain that I wanted to release’.
You can hear this very explicitly in the lyrics:
I know, I know, I know, I know you want me
You’re just a pig inside a human body
Squealer, squealer, squeal out, you’re so disgusting
You’re just a pig inside
That makes sense! What follows is a little bit vaguer, but it definitely has to do with a transformation:
Paint your face, and
Be a swine just for the weekend
Swine – Lady Gaga
Perhaps Gaga wants to hide her shame. ‘Just for the weekend’ could refer to her conviction that she will survive.
Paint also played an important role in her SXSW performance, which she did together with the artist, Millie Brown. Halfway through the performance, the two controversial artists sit on a rodeo bull as Millie Brown vomits puce green and black paint all over Gaga. Yes, you read that right; she let someone vomit on her on stage!
In an interview, Lady Gaga stated that she finds images of women in their underwear riding a rodeo bull to be the most derogatory form of female portrayal. Together with Brown, she took the imagery a step further:
“I want this chick to throw up on me in front of the world, so that I can tell them, ‘You know what? You could never, ever degrade me as much as I degrade myself, and look how beautiful it is when I do.’
It’s the ultimate way for Gaga to show that her rapist didn’t win. BAM!
This performance took place long before the #metoo discussion began, long before these things were discussed openly. Tough. As. Nails.
If you have emetophobia, skip this video:
It (once again) became apparent that Gaga not only cares about activism via music, but also through action, when she announced in October 2017 that she would be opening a trauma centre together with ex vice-president Joe Biden, in aid of victims of sexual and emotional abuse. This stems from a partnership with the non-profit organisation It’s On Us, which collects and distributes information about recognizing and preventing sexual violence on university campuses.
1. Million Reasons – Lady Gaga (Joanne, 2016)
Last September, Netflix released the documentary, Five Foot Two, in which we get to take a look at the (seemingly) uncensored life of Gaga. It is a raw depiction not only of the ups, but also the very clear downs in the life of an artist. The recording of the album Joanne and the preparation for the Super Bowl Halftime show form the core of the documentary.
You see Gaga relinquish to the sexist music industry, struggling with uncertainty about how her fans and critics will receive her new album, you get to know her as a real family woman (Joanne is an ode to her aunt who passed away at the age of 19 due to lupus). On top of that, you watch her recover from her breakup with ex-fiancé Taylor Kinney, and, perhaps most impressive of all, you see her constantly battling extreme muscle and joint pain. It turns out that Lady Gaga suffers from the chronic illness, fibromyalgia, resulting from physical trauma:
“I also struggle with triggers from the memories I carry from my feelings of past years on tour when my needs and requests for balance were being ignored. I was overworked and not taken seriously when I shared my pain and concern that something was wrong. I ultimately ended up injured on the Born This Way Ball.
That moment and the memory of it has changed my life forever. The experience of performing night after night in mental and physical pain ingrained in me a trauma that I relive when I see or hear things that remind me of those days.”
You see Gaga suffer a lot. The most touching scene was when she is clearly undergoing painful treatment in the hospital, while getting her makeup done for an upcoming show at the same time.
Bearing this in mind, the lyrics of Million Reasons wasn’t just about the end of a relationship, but also the end of her career:
You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go
You’re giving me a million reasons to quit the show
You’re givin’ me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
If I had a highway, I would run for the hills
If you could find a dry way, I’d forever be still
But you’re giving me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
Yet she percerveres:
I bow down to pray
I try to make the worst seem better
Lord, show me the way
To cut through all his worn out leather
I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away
But baby, I just need one good one to stay
Million Reasons – Lady Gaga
What could the one reason be? She leaves it at that, but watching her performance during the Halftime Show of the Superbowl, it is more than clear that she somehow keeps on finding the power to keep going. Wow, wow, wow!
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– Paparazzi is written by Rob Fusari / Stefani Germanotta © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.
– Dance In The Dark is written by Fernando Garibay / Stefani Germanotta © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
– Born This Way is written by Fernando Garibay / Stefani J Germanotta / Paul Edward Blair / Jeppe Breum Laursen © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
– Swine is written by Stefani Germanotta / Paul Blair / Nick Monson / Dino Zisis © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
– Million Reasons is written by Mark Ronson / Hillary Lindsey / Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Concord Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management.