Years from now when cultural historians revisit and reevaluate the last decade in one expansive volume, women will dominate the chapters on pop music. It’s hard to imagine what the 2010s might have sounded like without the influence of Adele, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and, of course, Lady Gaga. They all had specific strengths, but more than any other pop artist of the last 10 years, male or female, Gaga embraced the chameleonic tradition that made David Bowie and Madonna iconic in previous eras and updated it to suit modern musical palates.
In the process, she became a pop star and an LGBTQ icon, beloved and respected by the masses, by critics and by her ride-or-die “Little Monster” stans. She scored hit singles, platinum albums and Grammys, and with her three Oscar nominations (including a best original song win for the “A Star Is Born” track “Shallow”), she even managed to achieve the Hollywood status that mostly eluded Bowie and Madonna before her. If she didn’t quite design the sound of the decade, Gaga, as much as any of the aforementioned female talents, helped define it.
At first it was easy to write her off as a novelty. But under the flash and costumery beat the heart and soul of a serious songwriter and musician. “Just Dance,” her chart-topping first single, announced the arrival of an exciting new talent but didn’t even hint at the versatility and genre-bending artistry to come.
It’s Gaga’s ability to reinvent her sound and consistently surprise that has secured her standing in the annals of pop this century. In her game-changing breakthrough acting role as Ally Maine in “A Star Is Born,” she retraced her own artistic trajectory in reverse: Earthy singer-songwriter evolves into glossy pop star. She co-wrote and performed most of the movie’s soundtrack and earned a best actress Oscar nomination. If the breadth of Gaga’s talent wasn’t obvious before “A Star Is Born,” there were few doubters after it opened in October of 2018.
And now she’s returned full-time to her original day job with “Chromatica,” her first studio album in four years. To mark the occasion, we’re looking back on all eight of her albums (including one EP and a soundtrack) and ranking them from good to essential. Where does the dance-pop of “Chromatica” land? Keep reading.