A week and change may not be a very long time when it comes to understanding how an artist’s new album will fit into their overall catalog. But with Lady Gaga‘s Chromatica now having been out for long enough to become her sixth chart-topper on the Billboard 200, we’ve had a little time to sort out our feelings about the work.
Now, we can compare it to what’s come before: Stefani Germanotta’s four other full-length solo albums, as well as a couple of collaborative LPs and one particularly high-profile sequel EP. Here’s a ranking of her eight major releases, counting down to Mother Monster’s all-time finest creation.
8. Cheek to Cheek (With Tony Bennett, 2014)
Not to say that Cheek to Cheek is anything less than charming: The native New Yorkers make for surprisingly good on-record chemistry on this collection of jazz-standard duets. But even it was a necessary reset button for Gaga to hit, after her adventures in dance-pop futurism had left her slightly adrift with the listening public — and even if it might’ve been the Gaga album that finally got your parents to take her seriously — it’s just a little too low-stakes a listen to rank ahead of any of her original studio albums. The Gaga solo torch song “Lush Life” is one for the Greatest Hits, though.
7. Joanne (2016)
Intended as both Gaga’s most personal album to date and her attempt to connect with more of America’s center, Joanne largely succeeds — “Diamond Heart” sneaks some of Gaga’s most confessional lyrics into a Meadowlands-worthy stadium-rock opener, while “Million Reasons” may be her most affecting ballad yet, potentially setting her career up for a successful second act on country radio. But the well-intentioned anthems of social conscience (“Come to Mama,” “Angel Down”) land somewhat flat, and some of the friskier numbers (“John Wayne,” “A-YO”) feel like a party whose host is trying a little too hard to convince everyone about how much fun they’re having.
6. Artpop (2013)
Unsurprisingly for such a polarizing album, Artpop has both serious strengths and some glaring weaknesses: The thing shimmers and gleams like the best Big Pop, but by album’s end, the insularity of late-LP tracks like “Donatella” and “Mary Jane Holland” can’t help but become a little alienating. Still, “Aura” is one of her best openers, “Applause” is the rare lead single that makes perfect sense as a closer, and contextual creepiness aside, “Do What U Want” steams like the fogged windows in the backseat of the Drive soundtrack.
5. Born This Way (2011)
Truth told, the best Lady Gaga album might’ve been the one that combined the highlights from this album and its successor into one unstoppable collection of storming disco-pop and inflammable mega-balladry: Like Artpop with higher highs (and slightly lower lows) Born This Way arrives on the wings of Pegasus but never quite touches down to earth. The singles that were huge arguably should’ve been even huger, though — and “Marry the Night” deserved far better than the fifth-single pat on the head it received — while the hirsute histrionics of “Hair” could only have been pulled off by an artist with the straight-faced determination to be morphed into a motorcycle on her album cover.
4. A Star Is Born (2018)
The set that made good on the singer-songwriter promise of Joanne (or at least its promotional campaign), the A Star Is Born soundtrack will likely forever be remembered for its totemic Hot 100-topping Bradley Cooper duet “Shallow,” and its Pop Twitter-delighting, Dianne Warren co-penned (?) faux-bop “Why Did You Do That?” Both classics in their own ways, but plenty of subtler delights are also to be had on A Star Is Born, from the superlative electro-pop pulser “Heal Me” to the jaunty piano pop-rock of “Look What I Found.” And the solo Cooper cuts, including the Kings of Leon-worthy ripper “Black Eyes” and bleary-eyed acoustic ballad “Maybe It’s Time,” more than hold their own.
3. Chromatica (2020)
While it might not match the highest highs of some of her earlier album — and for plenty of fans, it probably does — Chromatica gives Little Monsters something they haven’t had in at least a decade: A Lady Gaga solo LP that just owns from start to back, making no demands of listeners except to get on the friggin’ floor. Still no floors to actually get on at the moment, of course, but that only makes Chromatica feel more precious: You can just hit play on it, and for a legitimately transportive 16 tracks and 43 minutes, it makes you feel like you’re part of that titular universe, where only the one directive really matters. It’s mood music for when you can’t stand to concentrate for another second.
2. The Fame (2009)
The hits on Gaga’s debut album are front-loaded to a comical degree: Slide early signature smash “Poker Face” up two tracks and the first four songs would be the first four U.S. singles, in order. The obvious implication would be that the rest of the LP suffers by comparison, but the more accurate conclusion to reach might be that Gaga’s team just got lazy picking songs for radio: “Boys, Boys, Boys” has the sleazy glam-pop strut to make both Kesha and Tommy Lee proud, “Brown Eyes” is the indie-darling power ballad to the blockbuster remake of “You and I,” and the low-key irresistibility of “Summerboy” is a little bittersweet now in how unrecognizably far back it’s gotten in Stefani’s rearview.
1. The Fame Monster (2010)
As rare as it is for an EP to serve as any artist’s definitive work, let alone one who spent time as the world’s biggest pop star, it’s hard to argue against The Fame Monster as the peak of Imperial Gaga. It’s hardly insubstantial, anyway — at eight songs and 34 minutes, it’s about as long as the famous first albums by Boston or The Cars — and it benefited from being released at the exact right moment, after the spate of Fame hits gradually introduced the more alien parts of her persona into her public persona, clearing the zone for the epochal (and fully extraterrestrial) landing of “Bad Romance.”
Every song here is either a smash or a fan favorite, with the La Ace of Base Bonita bounce of “Alejandro,” the strobe goth of “Monster” and the lighter-waving literalism of “Speechless” mixing seamlessly in Mother Monster’s wicked brew. Though listening to Fame Monster might make you wish subsequent LPs were as tightly edited, the EP left fans clamoring for so much more Gaga that you can’t really blame her for actually giving it to us.