Few albums then or since have qualified as seismic cultural events quite the way Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” did in 2011, when it arrived in a blaze of hype and anticipation not much seen since the heyday of Michael Jackson and Madonna. The electro-pop opus sold more than a million copies in its first week of release and, perhaps even more impressively, brought a collection of songs about otherness, gender identity and individuality to Top 40 radio. Fittingly, the 12-time Grammy winner is celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Born This Way” having been born that way by choosing Pride Month to release a reissue showcasing LGBTQ artists and allies.
After claiming the pop throne with “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster,” Gaga would have been forgiven for playing it safe on her next album. Instead, Mother Monster pushed the boundaries of mainstream pop to breaking point. With metal, opera and mariachi flourishes, “Born This Way” ranks as one of the most daring pop albums of the 2010s — both sonically and thematically. It’s the kind of untamed outpouring of sounds and ideas that usually comes at the beginning of the career, not when you’re at the very top. The gamble well and truly paid off. “Born This Way” was a massive commercial success and still holds up as singular vision a decade later. It’s a testament to Gaga’s unwavering allyship that she now hands over the keys to the “Born This Way” kingdom to an eclectic group of largely LGBTQ artists, who either treat the songs with reverence or agreeably blow them up.
“Born This Way: The Tenth Anniversary” boasts new artwork along with its bonus disc of amiable cover versions. Bounce legend Big Freedia gets the party started with a bone-rattling, hip-hop/techno makeover of “Judas.” It’s loud, joyous and completely over the top, which makes it a perfect addition to a collection that is all those things. Out country crooner Orville Peck takes a very different approach on his interpretation of the title track. The masked singer, who teamed up with Shania Twain on 2020’s “Legends Never Die,” strips the chart-topping anthem back to basics — reimagining it as a sparse ballad.
“Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” is similarly reborn in the hands of the Highwomen — the country music supergroup made up of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, joined for this occasion by two breakout guests, Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards. Together, they transform the banger into a rollicking dive-bar anthem. Broadway luminary Ben Platt is also in the mix with a soaring rendition of “You and I.” The booming ballad, which always felt a little out of place in the electro-soundscape of “Born This Way,” isn’t such an odd song out, on a bonus disc that thrives on its eclecticism; it’s a natural to showcase the “Dear Evan Hansen” star’s powerful pipes and knack for tugging at heartstrings.
While other contributors stretch and pull songs into the lane of their choosing, a couple of acts remain faithful to Gaga’s euphoric dance-pop. Years & Years (now a solo project for UK singer/songwriter Olly Alexander) takes “The Edge of Glory” straight to the dance floor with an explosion of Hi-NRG beats and ‘80s synths. If the original was a nod to Bruce Springsteen, this is a loving tribute to Erasure. Kylie Minogue works similar magic on “Marry the Night.” Originally released as the fifth single from “Born This Way,” this ode to nocturnal antics has long been championed as a slept-on gem. Minogue’s glittery, disco-tinged version certainly drives that point home, ranking as a memorable mirror-ball moment in its own right.
As enjoyable as the individual cuts are, “The Tenth Anniversary” bonus disc sounds a little scattershot. The absence of new versions of album cuts also feels like a missed opportunity. The thought of “Bad Kids 2.0” or an off-the-rails update of “Government Hooker” is truly tantalizing. Where the reissue really succeeds is in reminding us that great pop music challenges the status quo and shines a light on broader issues. “’Born This Way,’ my song and album, were inspired by Carl Bean, a gay black religious activist who preached, sung and wrote about being ‘born this way,” Gaga revealed on Instagram. Over the course of 14 wildly exuberant (and occasionally demented) songs, the Oscar winner shared Bean’s message of fierce pride with a whole new generation.