From The Fame to Chromatica: Every Lady Gaga album ranked from worst to best
It’s been 15 years since Gaga released her debut record and changed pop music forever
“Get ready for The Fame,” Stefani Germanotta declared in 2008, debuting as Lady Gaga and speaking to herself more than anyone else as she bursts onto the music scene and becomes a pop culture icon in what feels like a singular moment. More than anyone else in my lifetime, Lady Gaga feels like the legendary star I was alive, alert and present for every step of her career. I’ve been a massive fan since then. Gaga following along my homosexual coming of age and a slightly cringe penchant for musical theatre made her close to a deity to teenage me. In recent years, she’s got on my tits – but I will always hold a candle for an icon, even when she’s trying to claim a swarm of flies followed her round when she was filming House of Gucci. With this weekend marking 15 years since The Fame, I put my Gaga fatigue aside and had a full listen of every studio album from start to finish. In the word of Charli XCX, this is how I’m feeling now: All Lady Gaga albums, ranked.
I know, I know. The JUSTICE FOR ARTPOP army have my head on a spike right now. I understand why this album has its die hard fans, and I’ve had eras of my life where I’ve been right there with them. It was unfairly maligned at the time. Its album cover is nothing short of iconic. There are some real highs here. The balls to the wall chaos of opener Aura sets the tone of the kind of lunacy you’re letting yourself in for and it’s not just an album highlight but a career one as well. Applause is an excellent and actually underrated lead single, and we all know G.U.Y. never got the love it clearly deserved. Personal favourites and ones under the radar for me are the camp glamour of Fashion! that feels like it just stepped out of an episode of Ugly Betty, and the utterly slept on title track – one of the iciest and irresistibly restrained moments of electronic music Stef’s ever given pop. Sexxx Dreams is another moment of brilliance, filled with satisfying breaks and pauses that feel like they’re popping out over your ears.
But this album is a racket, guys. A racket. And I say that as a card carrying fan of artists like 100 gecs. Songs like Swine and MANiCURE are doing so much with little pay off other than being annoying. Dope could have been a great ballad if the lyrics weren’t so terrible. Donatella feels like Drag Race lip sync for your life bait. It also homes Jewels N Drugs – the worst Lady Gaga song in her discography! And the less said about the now removed Do What U Want the better.
There’s an issue with both the two lowest ranked Lady Gaga albums here – they’re both half solid, half full of absolute shit. The much maligned Joanne is widely acknowledged as most fans worst Gaga era, but it’s not all bad. The first half of Joanne is genuinely an absolute blast. We open with the rip-roaring Diamond Heart, a song meticulously composed to exist best when you’re driving and belting it out with wind in your hair. Lead single Perfect Illusion is a banger and I won’t hear a bad word against it – thrilling blast of electro rock that sounds fresher now than it did when it came out, misunderstood, in 2016. Wank banger Dancin’ In Circles is a hoot, as is the silly John Wayne. First half? Wowing.
Second half… Yikes. Sinner’s Prayer completely forgettable pseudo-country, the unneeded two versions of Angel Down are both tedious, Come To Mama is hell on this earth and Just Another Day is what I hear in my nightmares. I really struggled when it came to getting Lady Gaga albums ranked on which to rank bottom, because I really think there’s not much in it between Joanne and ARTPOP. Right now, on the re listen I just had, Joanne is slightly better. That is my truth.
4. The Fame
I mean, what a debut. What a fucking debut. To burst onto the music scene and open your debut album with a single like Just Dance, one so urgent and, um, danceable is a triumph. Just Dance sounds like a one hit wonder, but how could it be when Stef had Poker Face and LoveGame up her lightning bolt ridden sleeve? The creme de la creme of The Fame is Paparazzi – in many ways for me the definitive Gaga track, helped by its world shaking VMA performance which saw The Ga hang bloodied from the rafters. Shivers.
Much to love with non-singles too – in my teen years, I was hyperfixated on the silly swagger of Starstruck, but now find myself blasting the swirling synths of I Like It Rough at full volume. Even when the record gets cringe, Paper Gangsta and Beautiful, Dirty, Rich being the most toe curling, The Fame just stands as a seminal 00s album that introduced the world to a game changing talent forever. Happy 15th birthday, baby!
3. Born This Way
The kind of mammoth sophomore album artists can only dream of. Born This Way is big, brash, bold, and bizarre – but unlike ARTPOP it never crumbles under its weight, never falls apart. It genre jumps and surprises you from track to track in the best ways possible. When I started this Gaga relisten I was kind of dreading it, mostly because I think when I’ve listened to her songs of recent it’s just been in and amongst playlists. But her music feels best when you pick an era and stick to it. When you listen to Born This Way all the way through, everything makes sense together.
At its simplest, Born This Way is a bit annoying. The title track and Hair just feel like they exist to rally the gays, which is all well and good but I don’t always want pop music to tell me I slay, queen. I want it to do something cool. So what does Lady Gaga do? She does something cool. Government Hooker and Scheiße, specifically – two completely insane tracks that I feel like her record label probably gasped in terror at. I imagine they also gasped in terror at Judas, but you’d have to be insane to not acknowledge that rammer as nothing short of a career best. Marry The Night too, what a triumph.
On the less than stellar front, I can’t be arsed with the camp of Americano or the Glee club lyrics of Bad Kids, and I could do without any song with a title as annoying as Highway Unicorn (Road To Love). We do get You and I, though – potentially her best ballad. And The EDGE of GLORY for god’s sake! I was splitting hairs between which Lady Gaga albums were better between The Fame and Born This Way, but I think Born This Way just takes it getting ranked higher for its vision and ambition.
The newest of all the Lady Gaga albums ranked here, Chromatica was the respite from the Covid pandemic we needed in 2020. Rain On Me felt like a healer. Look, to be frank, I think Lady Gaga can frequently be cringe – but on Chromatica, she achieves the feat of never really dipping into “There can be a hundred people in a room” territory, so let’s be thankful for small mercies. It’s her most sonically cohesive album, too – a slickly executed dance record that truly is all killer and no filler. I think some of the songs here are underwritten, but even when that happens the production elevates it even higher.
Stupid Love got a lot of flop slander, but I love it. I love dramatic opener Alice and the stupid but brilliant closer Babylon even more. Of all the Lady Gaga albums ranked here, I don’t think there’s a song on it I could consider a truly bad track but the boring dance pop of 1000 Doves comes close. That aside, how could an album that homes the Diana Ross sampling magic of Replay be anything short of acclaimed? It’s a shame the pandemic hindered this album era from being everything it could have been, but how great and revered it manages to be even with the Covid impact really shows how much of a career highlight these tracks are.
1. The Fame Monster
An eight track album acting as the reissue of The Fame, this is it folks. This is THE Lady Gaga record. With these eight tracks, Lady Gaga secured her legacy. When I was umming and ahhing about whether Born This Way or The Fame were better before, The Fame Monster does my job for me. It bridges the gap between the two, and gives you all killer and no filler – except for Teeth, which I cannot stand. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but it is my truth – a truth you need to know.
Teeth away, we’re having the time of our lives on The Fame Monster. Everything Lady Gaga does like no one else can is here at optimum level of greatness. You want a campy single that’s going to be in the pop culture sphere for the rest of time with a music video that even my nan would recognise? Enter: Bad Romance. You want a perfect pop song collaboration with fucking Beyoncé? Your phone’s ringing babe, it’s Telephone. You want theatrical balladry at its very best? Speechless. Great album tracks that feel perfect for the project? Monster and So Happy I Could Die hit the spot.
And then we get onto Dance In The Dark. For me, this is the best Lady Gaga song in her entire catalogue. If someone who had no clue who Stefani Germanotta was asked me what music Lady Gaga made, I’d press play on that masterpiece and shove on them the finest headphones money can buy. It has it all. It’s perfection. An easy decision getting this one ranked at the top of Lady Gaga albums.
Some stray thoughts on albums not eligible to be ranked: Cheek to Cheek lovely, Love For Sale pointless. A Star is Born big highs tedious lows, Dawn of Chromatica underrated and excellent.