Before “Born This Way”
The unprecedented pre-release anticipation for Lady Gaga’s latest single “Born This Way” owed as much to its being touted as "the next great gay anthem" as it did to Gaga-mania. When the song, which the superstar claims to have composed in 10 minutes, finally arrived last Friday, some fans rejoiced while others were underwhelmed. But whether you love it or don't quite hate it, let’s give the lady her due. “Born This Way” is one of the few mainstream anthems that unapologetically embraces queerness. Just try to name another chart topper with “transgender” in its lyrics.
For decades we’ve appropriated countless songs as our own, reading gay subtext into vague lyrics, empathizing with the longing in Judy’s “Over the Rainbow,” the exuberant joy of The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" or relating to the painful isolation in Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” but few actually wave a flag to flaunt our individualism. Here are a few favorites that do.
13. “Don’t Tell Me” by Madonna, 2000
Some might opt for the icon’s “Express Yourself” or “Vogue,” but with lyrics that insist "don't ever tell me I'll learn, no" we have no choice. This is Madonna at her defiant best.
12. “We R Who We R” by Ke$ha, 2010
The party girl pulled off the unimagined feat of creating a pulsating dance hit that’s also a reaction to the bullying epidemic last year that led to numerous gay suicides.
11. “Don’t Make Me Over” by Dionne Warwick, 1962
“Accept me for what I am,” Warwick demanded on her first hit, which empowered gays seven years before the Stonewall riots.
10. “Go West” by Pet Shop Boys, 1993
This paean to San Francisco as a gay utopia was first recorded by the Village People in 1979 but was given a haunting makeover by the Pet Shop Boys. The all-male choir singing back-up adds an almost elegiac touch.
9.“True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper
The spirited singer’s signature ballad was so powerful it served to launch an acclaimed tour that benefits numerous LGBT organizations.
8. “Raise Your Glass” by Pink, 2010
"So raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways," Pink sings in her ode to underdogs, who she toasts to never being "anything but loud."
7. “This is My Life” by Shirley Bassey, 1961
When the great Bassey belts “That's the way that I was born to be / This is me, this is me,” we believe her and we relate.
6. “Defying Gravity” by Elphaba in Wicked
From the retelling of The Wizard of Oz comes a testament to finding and unleashing the real you.
5. “Firework” by Katy Perry, 2010
Perhaps making amends for the brouhaha surrounding her “I Kissed a Girl” single, Perry dedicated this confidence-booster to the “It Gets Better” campaign.
4. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, 1980
The title says it all, really. This Pride float staple was written by Nile Rodgers after seeing three men imitating Ross at a drag club.
3. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, 1978
The winner of a Grammy in the short-lived Best Disco Recording category has had a long life as the quintessential finding-personal-strength anthem.
2. “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, 2002
Stop hating on Aguilera. Her stunning ballad (composed by out songwriter Linda Perry) about maintaining self-esteem won her a Grammy award. And the gorgeous LGBT-inclusive video was honored by GLAAD.
1. “I Am What I Am” by Albin in La Cage Aux Folles, 1983
This first act finale, written by out composer Jerry Herman for his landmark drag queen musical, became a joyful dance hit for Gloria Gaynor, and remains the ultimate battle cry for acceptance.