Just put your paws up, ’cause it was born this day.
On May 23, 2011, Lady Gaga released her sprawling second studio album “Born This Way.” The risky yet riveting effort solidified her status as a global superstar, after flipping dance-pop on its head with her glittering 2008 debut “The Fame” and its hits-filled reissue “The Fame Monster” a year later. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with more than 1 million copies sold its first week and spawned four top-10 hits on the Hot 100, including “Judas” and “You and I.”
“Born This Way” was created with a loyal stable of producers including RedOne and Fernando Garibay, who was introduced to Gaga a couple of years after producing Paris Hilton‘s 2006 single “Stars are Blind.”
“Gaga was a big fan of ‘Stars are Blind.’ She loves straightforward and interesting pop songs,” Garibay says. They met for the first time in the studio when Gaga was just 21, “and my jaw dropped. That’s talent that only comes around once in a lifetime. I was like, ‘How can I continue working with this girl?’ ”
Garibay shares stories about five of the biggest songs he worked on from “Born This Way.”
‘Born This Way’
The thumping title track was written in just 10 minutes and was immediately embraced as an LGBTQ anthem upon its release as the album’s lead single. The song is filled with punchy, empowering lyrics about self-liberation and acceptance as Gaga declares, “I’m beautiful in my way / ’cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way.”
Garibay believes the song is most powerful in its rebuke of the Catholic Church, which refuses to bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin,” the Vatican said in a statement earlier this year.
“Her making a nod to that and saying ‘God loves everybody’ in a pop song, it’s extraordinary,” Garibay says. “She can distill what’s going on in culture and (her fans’) struggles into something that’s palatable. It’s delicious but it’s moving at the same time, and I think that’s why this album can go on repeat and repeat, because you discover something new on almost every listen.”
Gaga has long credited the influence of drag on her art, and to this day she remains one of the most memorable guest judges on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” So it’s no surprise that she came up with one of the track’s most quotable lines herself: “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen.”
“That was all her,” Garibay says. “She’s very savvy and she understands pop culture – she knows what’s relevant and what’s not. Those lyrics are very quirky, but they say a lot by saying very little.”
‘Marry the Night’
We dare you to find a better workout anthem than the driving, disco-rock-tinged “Marry the Night,” which Gaga wrote, like much of the album, on her Monster Ball Tour.
“Her career was growing at a feverish pitch, and I kept thinking back to this idea of: ‘If she was preaching and had a cult, what would that music sound like? What is the most beautiful ode to her fans?’ ” Garibay says. “I needed to write a church theme for her cult of fans. Think ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and what these big brands like Dior were doing at their runway shows. Haunting music was in vogue, so there were these Gregorian and Catholicism aspects to the music.”
That’s the reason Garibay chose to start the song with electronic church bells – a decision that brought Gaga to tears the first time she heard the intro.
“She goes, ‘You see me like nobody else does,’ ” Garibay says. “Then *snaps*, ‘I wanna marry the night.’ And she starts singing and riffing like, ‘I don’t need to marry someone. All I need is the night, and to be free.’ It was fire, and she kept riffing, riffing, riffing. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever worked on.”
Gaga sings about sexual power dynamics on this uncanny Europop/techno banger, which was inspired by the alleged affair between President John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. (“Put your hands on me / John F. Kennedy / I’ll make you squeal, baby / As long as you pay me.”)
“It’s funny, because we as the producers and creative people on the team were more nervous for her to say that,” Garibay says. “What she was implying through the lyrics, although it’s creative license, was very controversial. We were like, ‘Dude, do you really wanna do this?’ And she goes, ‘(Expletive) yeah, of course.’ It was that line of being respectful towards certain ideologies, but at the same time, middle fingers in the air.”
Garibay credits Gaga’s raw vocal performance to the spontaneous nature of the recording process, even using some of her rough voice memos on the finished album.
“I remember her wailing and shouting (in the studio). She’s so passionate,” Garibay says. “We weren’t prepared for how animated she can get. But you have to capture those moments because those moments can’t be replicated. First takes are great with her.”
‘The Edge of Glory’
Gaga channeled her grandfather’s death in 2010 into this towering anthem about reaching the end of your life without fear or regrets, knowing that you embraced every moment. The song features a saxophone breakdown midway through by the late Clarence Clemons, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band who died of complications from a stroke less than a month after the album’s release.
“That was her idea (to get Clemons),” Garibay says. “She was a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, so that’s where it started. There’s a lot of blue-collar in it. What she loved about Springsteen was that he fought for the working class, he stood for something, and I think that led into the influence here.
“All these songs have very distinct colors and influences. Great art is cumulative: It’s built on the past and how it resonates with you emotionally. That gets distilled into the music you create and that’s how she operates.”
Like other songs on the album, “Americano” is rooted in social justice. The bilingual ballad was written in response to the repeal of Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, as well as laws targeting Mexican immigrants.
“We were reading the stories about families being torn apart in in Texas, Los Angeles and San Diego, and we were really hurt. She has a deep respect for the Hispanic community,” Garibay says. “We had to do something to offer support and (the song) was very mariachi-inspired. If you’re familiar with mariachi music, it’s sad but very triumphant at the same time.
“So to raise awareness, what better story can you tell at that time than her falling in love with a woman from East L.A., (which) was representative of the historic Hispanic, Mexican-American homogenization of cultures?” he says. “So that was ‘Americano.’ It was an ode to the Latino community and the LGBTQ+ community, like, ‘Keep fighting.’ It was a call to arms.”
The Mexican producer recalls a moment when Gaga invited his family to her concert in Mexico City, where she invited him onstage to perform “Americano” with her for the first time.
“It was very generous of Gaga to invite me to debut the song while my parents are on the side of the stage in front of a soccer stadium full of 100,000 people,” Garibay says. “And debuting a song that is representative of this culture. That was very special, and I think it represents who she is. I still get emotional about moments like that.”