Study Guide

Born This Way

Born This Way Introduction

In a Nutshell

Word is that Elton John said "Born This Way" is the "gayest song" ever. He called it "the [gay] anthem that's going to obliterate 'I Will Survive'" (source).

Yes, people who talk about Lady Gaga are prone to hyperbole. 

But Elton John may have gotten a basic fact wrong. Is it actually accurate to call "Born This Way" a "gay song"? The polarizing figure that is Lady Gaga loves to play with identity and advocate for gay rights, but "gay" hardly sums up what the absurdist diva is up to. The wacky sci-fi music video for "Born This Way" features a roller-coaster of creations ranging from slimy monster-babies to androgynous zombies, with across-the-spectrum expressions of sexual orientation taking a backseat to Gaga's own alien ambitions.

In other words, the idea that she was "born this way" does not exactly seem to be referring to her bisexuality alone. Instead, Lady Gaga presents a futuristic vision of a post-gender utopia in which everyone is free to be...well, basically anything. Whatever the critics may say (and there are many), people are so infectiously drawn to that vision that the Gaga video has had hundreds of millions of views.

Is Lady Gaga the future, or just a blip on the 21st century's ever-changing screen? Spoiler alert: we're definitely simplifying the question.

As Lady Gaga herself said in 2011, "What I do for a living is not a cheese sandwich. It's not like, either good or bad. It's much more complicated than that." (Source)

What words of wisdom, Gaga.

Read on if you're ready to dip your toes into the churning cauldron of glitter, goop, and gore that is Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." Whether it makes you retch, tear off your clothes to reveal tight, gender-neutral underclothes the color of your own skin, or give birth to a new race of monsterly beings, we think you will find that the whole picture is not much like a cheese sandwich at all.

About the Song

ArtistLady Gaga
Year2011
LabelStreamline, Interscope, Kon Live
Writer(s)Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), Jeppe Laursen, Paul Blair, Fernando Garibay
Producer(s)Lady Gagy, Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay, DJ White Shadow
Musician(s)Lady Gaga (vocals)
Learn to playGuitar, Piano
AlbumBorn This Way

Music Video

Influences on Lady Gaga

Madonna
David Bowie
Prince
Michael Jackson
Queen
Grace Jones

Influenced by Lady Gaga

Nicki Minaj
Adam Lambert

Born This Way Resources

Books

Andrew Bolton, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011)
Get a better sense of where Lady Gaga's wacky fashion sense originates in the high fashion world by reading up on her late friend, collaborator, and inspiration, gay designer Alexander McQueen.

Emily Herbert, Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame (2010)
One of several unofficial biographies of Lady Gaga. Until an official bio comes out, fans will likely be underwhelmed by Gaga bios.

Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker, Interrogating Post-Feminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture (2007)
A nerdy reader on gender and popular culture that came out just slightly pre-Gaga, but still sets up a clear framework for Gaga's significance.

Albums

Born This Way (2011)
Born This Way is a key album for Lady Gaga. It's been huge with fans, but predictably, critics and detractors are rapidly growing their numbers in reaction to her second full-length studio album.

The Fame Monster (2009)
The Fame Monster was an updated version of The Fame, with eight new tracks. The album's release kicked off Lady Gaga's wildly successful Monster Ball tour.

The Fame (2008)
Lady Gaga's smash-hit debut album brought us hits like "Paparazzi" and "Poker Face."

Images

Gaga Sports Alexander McQueen
Lady Gaga was a friend and big fan of the late fashion designer, whose designs influence much of her work as an oddball fashion icon.

The Meat Dress
Lady Gaga famously—or infamously—showed up at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2010 wearing a dress made of meat. Gross stunt, or great statement? Either way, the dress is going to be immortalized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Vogue Cover
The pink bob for Lady Gaga's first appearance on Vogue's cover is another innovation that drastically alters her look.

Born at the Grammys
Lady Gaga really did look quite dashing coming out of that cosmic egg at the 53rd Grammy awards. If only we were all born that way.

Movies & TV

Lady Gaga Presents: The Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden (2011)
A live performance video that won't really make up for the fact that you weren't there yourself.

Websites

Lady Gaga's Official Website
Given all the hype and hullabaloo over just about everything Lady Gaga does, the official Lady Gaga website is hardly the most interesting Gaga-related stop to be made on the internet. It is, however, an essential resource for the Gaga fan and a source of something we all love: free stuff.

Gaga Stigmata
This cheeky website claiming to be "the first mover in Gaga studies" collects the work of nerds, academics, and performance artists who want to geek out on Gaga.

"25 Pivotal LGBT Moments In Music," Billboard, June 2014
Well, they leave out some of the more underground moments (Riot Grrl, for example), but Billboard claims this best-of list was inspired by none other than Gaga herself.  "With her equality anthem 'Born This Way' and...well, nearly everything she says, does and wears, Lady Gaga has proven herself to be this era's gay-friendliest pop star," Billboard writes.

James Montgomery, "Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' Video: A Pop-Culture Cheat Sheet, Part II," MTV, March 2011
Yes, the video was so full of references that it required not just a fan-created cheat sheet, but a later set of additions and corrections.

Jonathan Van Meter, "Lady Gaga: Our Lady Of Pop," Vogue, February 2011
This fun feature on Lady Gaga came out just as "Born This Way" hit the airwaves. Van Meter is a realist about the ins and outs of Lady Gaga, and at the end of the (long, crazy) day, he seems to be converted to total fandom.

Video & Audio

"Born This Way" Official Video
It is a long, weird experience, and one that seems to equate being a homosexual with being a unicorn and/or an alien from outer space.

"Born This Way" at the Grammys
Though her musical performance may have been overshadowed by the fact that she came down the red carpet inside of a giant egg, Lady Gaga was the main attraction at the 53rd Grammy Awards in early 2011.

"Express Yourself," Madonna
Is Lady Gaga's song actually a shameless Madonna rip-off? You decide.

"Perform This Way," Weird Al Yankovic
Al's parody of Gaga might actually be better than Gaga herself, at least as high camp and total absurdity goes:Got my straight jacket today
It's made of gold lamé
No not because I'm crazy
I was born this way