6. The Highwomen, Brittney Spencer & Madeline Edwards - “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)”
As if they weren’t already enough of a supergroup, The Highwomen -- Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires -- enlisted two more up-and-coming singer-songwriters for their cover of Gaga’s “Highway Unicorn.” The arrangement is spot-on outlaw country: bluesy lead guitar, piano, live drums, and their signature close-harmony vocals.
It’s a well-thought out recording, but unfortunately, they don’t gel enough with the song to achieve liftoff.
Truth be told, “Highway Unicorn” was never one of Gaga’s more robust compositions. The sheer force of her vocals made her proudly cliche lyrics work: “She’s just an American, riding a dream… / She’s a free soul burning roads, with a flag in her bra!” But in this stripped-down context, those same words just feel like clichés. In an ideal world, The Highwomen would be covering “Diamond Heart” from Joanne instead.
5. Orville Peck, “Born This Way (The Country Road Version)”
The mysterious masked, queer Canadian country singer Orville Peck seems like a spot-on choice to cover Gaga's rarely remembered “Born This Way (The Country Road Version).” Peck’s deep baritone is powerful, but singing someone else’s lyrics makes the song feel like a YouTube pastiche: “What if Chris Isaak covered Lady Gaga?” The same goes for the arrangement, which is too smooth and reverent of country tropes to do anything truly subversive with them. Gaga’s original was compelling because it knew -- and didn’t care -- that “Born This Way” wasn’t a country song at heart; she forced that square peg into that round hole anyway, damnit.
Ultimately, Orville Peck’s version is adequate; it just lacks the humor or camp to really make it memorable. He does make one notable lyrical alteration, though, swapping Gaga’s long-awkward “chola or orient made” for the more accurate “Asian or Latinx made.” It’s a change that Gaga herself could consider adopting in the years to come.
4. Years & Years, “The Edge of Glory”
For pop devotees, Years & Years’ cover might have the most immediate appeal of the bunch. Olly Alexander is a student of dance-pop, and his take on “The Edge of Glory” is half Pet Shop Boys hi-NRG, half Body Talk-era Robyn. The production sparkles and pulses in all the right ways, and Alexander’s melodic tenor suits his interpretation well. What it’s lacking is the Jim Steinman-sized madness of Gaga’s vocal, which is ultimately about staring death in the face. Years & Years’ version might not soar as high as hers, but unlike the previous songs, it is fully realized enough to stand on its own. It seems destined to soundtrack post-COVID club nights across the world.
3. Kylie Minogue - “Marry the Night”
This is another streamlined dance-pop remake, but with the gravitas that only a legend like Kylie Minogue can bring. Kylie’s vocal range isn’t as big as Gaga’s, but she gets by on sheer effort - in fact, this might be the hardest she’s ever pushed her voice on record. She nails both the melancholy verses and the triumphant, determined choruses, singing them all in the same key. In its own way, the ending is as spectacular as the original, down to her final spoken lyrics: “Watch me… walk like… Gaga.” It’s pure camp, and it’s glorious. More than anything, this version of “Marry the Night” feels like a gift from one disco gay icon to another; not passing the baton, but uplifting each other on the same cosmic dancefloor.
2. Ben Platt - “Yoü and I”
Ben Platt is the one artist here with the Broadway vocal chops to match Gaga -- but instead of aping Gaga’s rock ‘n’ roll swagger, he brings out the tenderness in “Yoü and I.” The Elton John-inspired arrangement nails all the details, from the warm piano to the dreamy strings that introduce the song, and weave their way throughout. Platt gently reshapes the song’s melody, adding vocal runs where we never imagined them before - but he never overdoes it. And instead of gender-swapping the lyrics -- “I’m a New York woman born to run you down/ Still want my lipstick all over your face!” - he sings them like he truly means it.
When he does finally belt the song’s climax, it’s with a joyful, open-hearted vibrato that recalls none other than Freddie Mercury. Love songs are the bread and butter of pop music, but the truth is, it’s hard to be this sincere and vulnerable, to sing with no armor at all. Ben Platt makes it feel utterly natural.
1. Big Freedia - “Judas”
Big Freedia and “Judas” might seem like an unlikely pairing, but the results are absolutely off-the-wall inspired. “Judas” is about being caught between tradition and truth, and Freedia takes that queer subtext and puts it front and center: in her voice, and in the sound and history of the New Orleans bounce she pioneered. Her arrangement matches the original’s manic energy with a totally different sonic palette: squawking horns, 808s, marching snares, and stacks of cheerleader backing vocalists.
Most importantly, Freedia is the one artist on the album who really gets Gaga’s absurd turns of phrase. She intones every lyric with an exclamation mark: “I couldn’t love a man so purely!/ Even prophets forgave his goofy way!” The song never stops moving, commanding you to dance. Freedia recently revealed that she was supposed to appear on the original Born This Way album. Of course, that never happened - but this cover, in all its raucous joy, more than makes up for it.
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was a celebration of being your true, fearless self -- and on Born This Way Reimagined, no one sounds quite as audacious as Big Freedia.