Trying to narrow down the best Lady Gaga songs is always going to be a difficult task: the pop superstar has multiple albums with multiple hits, and most of those hits are critically adored. Yet when it comes to the essential Gaga smashes — the ones that define her and her dazzling career — these tracks distinguish themselves.
Whether you’re a Little Monster that got into Gaga during The Fame, The Fame Monster, Born This Way, Artpop, Joanne or even as Ally in A Star Is Born, you’ll find your favorite songs well represented here.
Here are Billboard’s picks for the 15 best Lady Gaga songs, from her debut single up to her most recent smash. Peruse, debate, listen and enjoy.
15. Lady Gaga, "You and I"
Featuring Queen’s Brian May on guitar, “You and I” represents the most purposefully arena-rock moment of Gaga’s career -- there are multiple passages in the song that the pop star clearly designed with thousands of swaying arms in mind. Yet the Born This Way standout works because Gaga nails the whiskey-drenched mood, presenting an homage to classic rock while making a bid to add to the canon.
14. Lady Gaga, "Manicure"
An Artpop romp that was sadly never released as a single, “Manicure” is constructed as a get-over-your-man mantra that could work in a Broadway musical, and packs a manic chorus that begs for audience participation. In an era that many criticized as too convoluted, “Manicure” was Artpop’s most straightforward, delectable moment.
13. Lady Gaga, "Monster"
“He a-a-ate my heart,” Gaga intones on “Monster,” a devastating dance track about being attracted to the wrong guy over and over again without being able to break the cycle. Gaga’s vocal performance separates “Monster” from generic dance-pop: the way she sings “He’s a wolf in disguise/ But I can’t stop staring in those evil eyes” is more wounded than kitschy, and it works.
12. Lady Gaga, "Alejandro"
The follow-up to Fame Monster smashes “Bad Romance” and “Telephone” was Lady Gaga’s earnest stab at Europop, with RedOne’s synthesizers propping up her romantic drama. The sweaty, stomping production ramps up during one of Gaga’s simplest, most effective hooks to date.
11. Lady Gaga, "Perfect Illusion"
Gaga, Bloodpop and Mark Ronson all had a hand in creating “Perfect Illusion,” but the other co-writer/co-producer, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, has his fingerprints all over this disco-rock beauty, especially when a quartet of drum beats leads to the song’s famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) key change. Confused, pissed-off and hungry to scream the truth, Gaga becomes a banshee on Joanne’s lead single, and the raw performance makes for a captivating listen.
10. Lady Gaga, "Speechless"
Gaga’s best Broadway song that never made it to Broadway. “Speechless,” with its lilting rock production and a vocal performance that recalls Freddie Mercury, represented the crucial moment on The Fame Monster in which Gaga demonstrated that she was capable of far more than synth-pop radio fodder.
9. Lady Gaga, "The Edge of Glory"
Drawing inspiration from the 2010 passing of her grandfather, “The Edge of Glory” masks its grim finality (“Another shot, before we kiss the other side, yeah baby,” Gaga sings) with a vigorous Springsteen arrangement and one of the pop superstar’s most enormous choruses to date. Speaking of Springsteen, the Clarence Clemons sax solo swoops in at the perfect moment to give push “Glory” over the edge into greatness.
8. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"
Nominated for best picture at the 2019 Academy Awards, the Gaga-starring remake of A Star Is Born hinges on "Shallow," the song that first brings her aspiring-songwriter character, Ally, out of the shadows and into the spotlight (literally) alongside Bradley Cooper's Jackson Maine. Fortunately, the duet delivers during the dramatic moment, and has persisted outside of the film as a crossover smash and future karaoke staple. Praise Cooper for the game musical performance, but that epic chorus is the real star being born here; it takes two full verses to get there, as if the partners needed to work up to a moment so monumental.
7. Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
The 1,000th song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Born This Way” will always (and rightly) be remembered as the most overt gay anthem in Gaga’s discography. Along with its important message of acceptance, however, the song is a damn good dance track, with shades of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” melody paired with one of the most committed performances of Gaga's career.
6. Lady Gaga, "Million Reasons"
Gaga’s Joanne era was certainly distinct, all cowboy hats and throwback guitar sounds, but “Million Reasons” would have worked within any iteration of her winding career. The chugging, lovelorn single took off on the charts after Gaga performed it at the Super Bowl halftime show; in retrospect, a stadium full of swaying candles was the perfect setting for a ballad as big as “Million Reasons."
5. Lady Gaga feat. Colby O'Donis, "Just Dance"
Gaga has evolved an incalculable amount since her debut single — which, by the way, was presented as new music from co-writer Akon, his protege Colby O’Donis and an unknown female artist when it launched — but the constants have been the cleverness of her songwriting, and her vocal power. Both are on display in “Just Dance,” a throbbing party cut focused on gyrating your troubles away…does anyone know if Gaga ever found her phone at the club, by the way?
4. Lady Gaga, "Marry The Night"
The Born This Way opener and late single didn’t connect quite as well as Top 10 hits “Born This Way” or “The Edge of Glory,” topping out at No. 29 on the Hot 100 chart. Looking back, however, “Marry The Night” is the album’s most explosive moment, a shot of adrenaline full of delicious lyrical phrases (“I’ll hold my whiskey up high, kiss the bartender twice, I’m a loser” remains pure genius) and a handclap-introduced breakdown that pushes it into the top 5 here.
3. Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce, "Telephone"
A year-and-a-half before Jay-Z and Kanye West linked up for a joint album, Gaga and Beyonce unveiled the original throne that needed watching. “Telephone” remains an ass-kicking piece of empowerment pop during Gaga’s most prolonged win streak, and while the fierce duet should be celebrated, give credit to Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins for teaming up with Gaga to co-produce a shuttering electro-pop banger.
2. Lady Gaga, "Poker Face"
Few phrases in modern pop music can outmatch “Mum mum mum MAH” as an opening tease, or “P-p-p-p-poker face” as a lynchpin hook. The elements of “Poker Face” combine into an intoxicating formula that represents pop music at its sharpest: smartly constructed, instinctively catchy, easy to replay and downright fun. And then there’s Lady Gaga in the middle of the many pleasure centers, singing her guts out and becoming a singular star.
1. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"
It’s rare for a pop artist’s signature single to encapsulate all of their respective strengths, but “Bad Romance” manages to do so for Gaga, capturing her grandiose aesthetic, daring songwriting, lyrical flourishes and dramatic vocal flair. Think of it this way: it would be impossible for any other pop artist to perform this Lady Gaga song as successfully as she does, because “Bad Romance” is fitted to her passions and persona. The song also helped make her an international superstar following its release in late 2009, and sent her on her way to becoming one of the defining artists of the 2010s. “I want your love — love, love, love, I want your love,” Gaga intones in the verses. She never needed to demand it.