Lady Gaga, with cropped blonde hair and sunglasses, wears a black and metallic dress and fishnets as she performs on stage at the House of Blues, holding a microphone and a glowing phallic-looking stick.

As far as album titles go, Lady Gaga’s The Fame (which celebrates its 15th anniversary later this week) seems like a brazen choice for a debut.

The bisexual singer certainly wasn’t famous when the record dropped in 2008 –– the year of Obama’s election, Michael Phelps mania, and Twilight. Outside of the New York club scene, she was relatively unknown, having been signed (and unceremoniously dropped) by Def Jam Records two years earlier.

But Herstory has proven that The Fame was not presumptuous; it was prophetic. 

Despite what the creators of the supposed “Stefani Germanotta, you will never be famous” Facebook group said, Gaga believed in her stardom. After dropping out of NYU to focus on music, she perfected her performance at venues across the city, singing piano ballads and ’70s burlesque at her own show “Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue” –– a stage name inspired by Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga.”

She eventually scored a songwriting deal with Sony and was discovered by Akon –– the big break she had been manifesting.

Before Born This Way, Academy Awards, and Nurtec ads, Lady Gaga had to convince the world that she was famous, but she already knew. And when you combine that audacity with a record that went on to win a Grammy and achieve sextuple Platinum certification, it becomes clear that The Fame was, in fact, the perfect title.

It started with “Just Dance”…

“Just Dance,” The Fame’s iconic and carefree lead single, dropped in April 2008… meaning it almost certainly inspired the name of the 2009 video game. OK, OK, you’d be hard pressed to find confirmation from its creators, but that’s just a testament to the track’s massive impact on culture. The song took Gaga 10 minutes to compose, but it changed her life forever.

She wrote the song with Akon and producer RedOne (yes, the opening line is “RedOne,” NOT “red wine”, contrary to popular belief), and the trio fought to keep it, though Interscope originally had The Pussycat Dolls in mind. 

To be fair, “Just Dance” was a sleeper hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 2009. But its party-hardy visual reminds us why it instantly captivated everyone (read: the gays and friends who passed the aux.) Sporting a David Bowie-like lightning bolt on her face and thrashing around a peak-aughts shindig, Gaga’s vision for mindless and comforting pop was immediately striking — and the song remains on her setlist today for good reason.

But whatever happened to Colby O’Donis?

She upped the ante with a handful of sexy hits on The Fame

If we’re going to discuss the most historic track list sequences, The Fame’s one-two-three-four punch of “Just Dance,” “LoveGame,” “Paparazzi,” and “Poker Face” is a strong contender, comprised of only top-10 hits, including twin chart-toppers.

As a whole, The Fame speaks to themes of infatuation, celebrity, and consumerism, but these singles also stood out for their unbridled sexuality. This was a post-Madonna, pre-“WAP” era, and bops about explicit sex remained taboo.

Gaga refused to play coy, though. When asked what “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin” meant, she shamelessly told Rolling Stone, “It’s my p*ssy’s poker face!” And though you’d be hard pressed to find an innuendo as thinly veiled as “disco stick” in her recent discography, there was no denying that “LoveGame” was about the pursuit of penis. 

Mother Monster let sex spill into other album tracks as well. There’s the aptly-titled “I Like it Rough” and the thoroughly untroubled “Boys, Boys, Boys.” With overpowering synths and sexy lyrics (“I’m not loose, I like to party/Let’s get lost in your Ferrari/Not psychotic or dramatic/I like boys and that is that”), the latter remains a Pride playlist staple to this day.

Even its B-sides aged incredibly well

When reexamining The Fame‘s 16-song track list, it’s apparent that a handful of B-sides veered from Gaga’s formulaic recipe for a chart-ready bop. On first glance, the record seems sprawling, but these one-offs hinted towards her sonic future.

“Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” feels like an Artpop precursor, with its horny-for-capitalism asides, persistent drum machines, and glam rock edge. It’s everything the mindlessly “girl boss” soundtrack for Netflix’s Selling Sunset aspires to be.

The breezy, bubblegum synths of “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” sound like the direct descendant to any number of generically-island pop songs of the 2010s, minus the “Cherry cherry / boom boom.”

And “Summerboy” is a slinky spin on a “Summer Lovin’”-esque romance that’s more “jukebox” than “club.” With winking lyrics, wails, and guitar licks, it wouldn’t feel out of place on 2016’s Joanne.

Then there’s “Brown Eyes.” The record’s singular piano-thrashing ballad feels more personal now than it did a decade-and-a-half ago, hinting towards the lyrical unspooling of celebrity we’d see in Gaga’s subsequent albums. 

Even her playful performance on The Jonathan Ross Show (above) previewed a classical sensibility akin to Cheek to Cheek.

The visuals helped Gaga put the Fame in “famous”

Before the meat dress and “Telephone,” Gaga was laying the blueprint for headline-snatching gags on The Fame.

The metallics in “Poker Face” highlighted her love of avant-garde… and going pants-less. The “LoveGame” video stepped up her sexuality (and choreo) with groin grabs and subway make outs. Fittingly, it was her first (but not last) video to get censored on TV.

But the cinematic Gaga we’ve come to expect started with the 7-minute “Paparazzi” video. With director Jonas Ákerlund and co-star Alexander Skarsgârd, she showed us blood, revenge, and high couture dialed up to an outlandish 10.

And every live performance during the The Fame era made a mark.

Her television debut came with a high-concept rendition of “Just Dance” at the 2008 NewNowNext Awards, where Michelle Williams introduced her as “The Gaga Lady.” Iconique. 

But most notable is her 2009 VMAs performance of “Paparazzi,” which set the tone for her artistic trajectory.

In an ornate mansion tableau, Gaga moved theatrically in a bejeweled bra and panties. As the stalkerish love song’s desperation built, her ribs began bleeding, to the crowd’s horror. Thrashing, falling, and never missing a lyric, she was strung up by her dancers and raised in the air, dripping blood with glazed eyes as cameras flashed.

It would have been the most-buzzed about moment that night, except Kanye had to interrupt Taylor Swift. Side-note: how was that 15 years ago? Though only low-quality bootlegs can be found on YouTube, the performance remains one of her most iconic.

Most importantly, she made The Fame work for her

In The Fame‘s title track, Gaga confidently declares: “Don’t ask me how or why / But I’m gonna make it happen this time.” For a new artist (who was just an “Italian girl from New York” at the time) to assert themself so confidently could have been perceived as deranged… but that was the point.

“I operate from a place of delusion –– that’s what The Fame is all about,” she told Rolling Stone in 2009. “I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be and then fight so hard for it every day that the lie becomes the truth.”

Over the past fifteen years, that Fame-level of “delusion” has gone on to inspire Little Monsters, Cardi B, Charli XCX, Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, and countless others.

While her artistic peak was yet to come, we can now recognize Lady Gaga’s debut as an album that knew its greatness before we did. In her meteoric career, it’s a thesis statement: a bold and assured intro to her vision, and a hint towards the world to come once we gave her the fame.

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