On October 23, 2009, the very fabric of the universe was irrevocably altered with a lovelorn wail and a string of nonsense syllables: "Ra-ra-ah-ah-ah / Roma-roma-ma / Gaga, ooh la-la / Want your bad romance." Yes, monsters, today is the 10-year anniversary of "Bad Romance," Lady Gaga's most ubiquitous and powerful single, the song that crystallized her artistic vision and cemented her status as a pop star. Long may she reign.
In 2009, Lady Gaga had already broken through to the top of the charts with "Just Dance," "Poker Face," and "Paparazzi," off her debut album The Fame. But while most of the world had heard Gaga's songs on the radio, the artist we now know (or remember, depending on where you fall on the post-Joanne side of things) as Mother Monster hadn't been fully embodied yet.
The seeds had been planted, most notably with the 2009 MTV VMA performance of "Paparazzi," which ended with a bloody Gaga hanging from the rafters of Radio City Music Hall -- known to Gaga scholars as her greatest live performance. But until "Bad Romance," Gaga's sound had been rooted in electropop, her aesthetic a mishmash of Lower East Side punk nostalgia and Bowie glam.
With "Bad Romance," Gaga -- again working with producer RedOne -- began infusing her music with techno and house, styles that were popular in the German club scene but had yet to filter into pop music. Lyrically, she fully submerged into the themes of love, death, and fame she'd flirted with on "Paparazzi," the clearest link between The Fame and its superior successor, The Fame Monster. "I want your ugly, I want your disease, I want your everything as long as it's free," she sang, and who couldn't relate to the idea of a love so twisted and relentless that you'd take it no matter the cost?
And then, of course, she uttered what would become a battle cry for queerdos the world over: "Walk, walk, fashion, baby... work it, I'm a free bitch, baby."
"Bad Romance" peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, was touted as one of the best songs of the year, and solidified Gaga's place in the pop pantheon. It also heralded a shift in contemporary pop music, which has leaned heavily toward rock in the early-to-mid aughts, towards the emphasis on electronica that continues today.
"Bad Romance" is undoubtedly Gaga's most memorable single -- there's a reason she closed her 2017 Super Bowl Halftime show with it. Lady Gaga will always be "that ra ra ra bitch." More than "Poker Face," "Born This Way," "Million Reasons," or even the Oscar-winning "Shallow," "Bad Romance" embodies the pop star Gaga will be remembered as, and the pop star the world needed so desperately in 2009. With "Bad Romance," Gaga set herself up as the freak who had somehow wrangled her way into the party -- the queen of the weirdos and the mother of monsters.
No matter where her career goes -- and it's certainly gone places -- we'll always be caught in a bad romance.
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