Lady Gaga arguably made the transition from pop star to living legend on the night of Sept. 12, 2010 at the MTV Video Music Awards. There, she wore the iconic meat dress that made fashion history... and teased the chorus of her then-upcoming single, “Born This Way.” The former moment may have made more headlines at the time, but the latter signaled to fans that perhaps the most important single of Gaga’s career was coming.

“Born This Way” was released on Feb. 11, 2011, and fans immediately took it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the 19th song to ever debut atop of the chart. A catchy, club-friendly dance track, it was already primed for success — but it was the song’s pointed message of inclusivity that made it an instant classic in Gaga’s catalog, as well as one of the most important pop songs in the 21st century.

Since she first hit the pop scene with “Just Dance” in 2008, Gaga has attracted a largely LGBTQ+ fanbase for her perfectly crafted pop songs, avant-garde fashion and unapologetic self-expression. “Born This Way” was her first time speaking directly to that audience, made up of many individuals who had possibly never heard someone tell them that their queer identity was acceptable, let alone worthy of celebration.

Suddenly, the lyrics “No matter gay, straight or bi / Lesbian, transgender life / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born to survive” began playing on mainstream radio, internet and television, allowing queer identities to take up space in culture without force or negativity attached.

Emerging from a vessel covered in prosthetic subdermal implants, Gaga debuted “Born This Way” live at the 2011 Grammys two days after its release. Appearing vastly different than fans had ever seen her, yet still recognizable as the experimental musician they already knew and loved, the outlandish performance served as an oddly fitting metaphor for the life-impacting shift many queer people experience when coming out.

Reactions to Gaga’s image change and comparisons to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” may have partially clouded the initial conversation that surrounded “Born This Way,” but ten years later, the multi-platinum song leaves behind a powerful legacy of queer visibility that’s entirely its own.

Pop Songs With Political and Social Messages