Before ‘Perfect Illusion’ Drops, Here Is the Definitive Ranking of Lady Gaga’s Singles
“Perfect Illusion,” Lady Gaga’s first pop single in three years, drops tomorrow, so what better time to look back at all of Gaga’s previous singles and attempt to put them in order from Not The Best to The Best? (She has no bad singles.)
As with any ranking, my results are sure to be controversial. That’s fine. You are entitled to disagree with my list, just as I am entitled to know that I am right and you are wrong. This is called democracy.
For the ranking — which, again, is definitive, and no one can argue its accuracy — I attempted to balance my personal tastes, each song’s success, its impact, and its overall quality — a feat much harder than it sounds — in the name of being fair and somewhat objective. I chose only to rank songs taken from Gaga’s solo pop albums that were released as official singles in the U.S. (So, no, you will not find “Chillin,” “Eh Eh,” “Video Phone,” “Til It Happens to You,” or “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” included.) Under that criteria, Gaga’s pre-“Perfect Illusion” single count rests at 14. Therefore, let’s begin with No. 14…
14. “Yoü and I”
Given the wealth of potential singles on Born This Way (#JusticeForHeavyMetalLover), the fact that “Yoü and I” was chosen as the follow-up to “The Edge of Glory” remains a big head-scratcher. It’s by no means a bad song (although the album version’s production is pretty abysmal), and I’m always here for Rock-and-Roll-Ga, but this was an album cut through-and-through.
“LoveGame” gave us “disco stick,” one of the world’s greatest penis metaphors, and its catchiness can’t be denied, but its gifts end there.
12. “Do What U Want” (Feat. R. Kelly)
One wonders what heights this song would have reached with a proper rollout and a video that actually saw the light of day. It’s a gooey jam that effortlessly cascades out whatever speakers its being blared from. But the R. Kelly feature (and the scrapped video shot by problematic photographer/director Terry Richardson) hurt the song’s chances at success and, in all honestly, were creative choices made in very poor taste. But, at the end of the day, and in spite of the song’s merits — its thrillingly elastic production, its clever, double-edged lyrics — the main problem is that it just doesn’t feel all that much like a Lady Gaga song.
Proving that fan-favorite album cuts shouldn’t always be used as official singles, “G.U.Y,” turned out to be one of Gaga’s worst-performing and least influential songs. I personally like it — the lyrical conceit is clever(-ish) and very Gaga-esque — but with three years of distance, I see very clearly that it never had the power to right the sinking ARTPOP ship.
10. “Telephone” (Feat. Beyoncé)
Extract the song from it’s incredible, legendary video and its very famous collaborator, and what you’re left with is a totally solid although somewhat run-of-the-mill electo-pop party jam. It is The Fame Monster’s “Just Dance,” which is a fine thing to be. But Gaga was already on to bigger and better things sonically and creatively, and “Telephone” wasn’t batting in the same league.
9. “Born This Way”
As a cultural artifact and career milestone “Born This Way” is highly important. It remains Gaga’s longest-reigning No. 1 single, and the impact of its message was so strong that it redefined Gaga’s entire public persona. That said, the song itself never managed to live up to the hype, nor did it manage to escape the pall cast by “Express Yourself” comparisons. The lyrics are perplexingly awkward and even cringey in parts, despite — or maybe because of — their very un-Gaga-like literalism.
8. “Just Dance”
Gaga’s first single — and her first No. 1 hit — is important more for its part in raising Gaga’s profile than for its lyrical or musical content. It’s a simple, straightforward party song that did (and still does) the trick, but in retrospect it simply feels like an appetizer to the entree that is “Poker Face.”
There is much to love about Born This Way’s second single: its abrasive production and verses counteracting beautifully with the ’60s-girlpop-sweet chorus, the poetry of the lyrics, the gorgeous video. There are also elements to look at critically: its deliberate attempt to court religious controversy, its blatant rehashing, structurally, of “Bad Romance.”
ARTPOP’s lead single was a bigger and better hit for Gaga than many of her detractors like to admit, and being several years removed from its bumpy rollout, it’s easier to appreciate everything that’s great about the song. But while its true the song’s humor, satire, and overall success flew above many people’s heads, it also holds true that the song is too insular and specific to rival many of Gaga’s other great singles.
5. “Marry the Night”
Had Gaga released “Marry the Night” as the first or second single (and not the fifth) from Born This Way, as originally planned, it would have become the hit it deserved to be. That it was not a major chart success does not take away from the fact that melodically, sonically, and lyrically, it is not only a high point on Born This Way, but in her discography overall.
For my money, the chorus of “Alejandro” remains Gaga’s most effective earworm, which is the highest praise I can offer a woman who used to stuff three, four, five perfect hooks into her songs while the competition struggled to find just one.
4. “Poker Face”
As a follow-up to “Just Dance,” “Poker Face” took everything “Gaga” about Gaga and amplified it. The explosive chorus, the lyrical metaphors, and the sleek video all worked in concert to announce her as much more than a one-hit wonder and potentially as the savior of pop.
As The Fame’s best single (and song), “Paparazzi” acted perfectly as a thesis statement for the album and for Gaga’s early take on fame and celebrity. Its bittersweet melody continually found new life in live and acoustic performances, and its video remains a stunning, candy-coated satirical gem.
2. “The Edge of Glory”
“Born This Way” was the only Born This Way single to hit No. 1, but “The Edge of Glory” remains that album’s most pleasing smash. Featuring one of Gaga’s most epic choruses, her powerful voice (which, at the time, was severely under-appreciated), and some of her best pop songwriting — as well as a truly iconic saxophone bridge by Clarence Clemons — “Glory” became a new Gaga template, and its influence is obvious in songs like ARTPOP’s “Gypsy.”
1. “Bad Romance”
Nearly seven years after its release, “Bad Romance” remains not only Gaga’s defining hit but also the hit that defined an entire era of pop. “Bad Romance” is “Like a Prayer.” It is “… Baby One More Time.” Both the song and the video are equally influential and timeless in a way that has yet to be matched by any pop star of our generation.
So where will “Perfect Illustion” fit into all of this? We’ll just have to wait and