switched on pop

Lady Gaga Loves Her Pequeños Monstruos

Illustration: Iris Gottlieb

Lady Gaga’s first-ever all-stadium tour, the Chromatica Ball — a roving spectacle of eyebrow-burning pyrotechnics and winking homages to Gaga’s previous eras — ended its sold-out 20-show run on Saturday. I waited in line for nine hours to get as close as I possibly could to the stage, and for a lifelong Little Monster like myself, it was everything I could have dreamed of. And as I stood in the middle of Dodger Stadium, I was overcome by a sense of community. Not just because everyone there was there for Mother Monster but because I was surrounded by a crowd of Little Latinx Monsters just like myself.

After the show, I realized that the majority of my close Gaga-stan friends are also of Latin descent. Just like with Morrissey’s inexplicably fervent Mexican American fan base, Gaga’s whole ethos creates an alternate, magical reality where her listeners are invited to shed the airs of machismo to a larger arc of Latin American icons, from Juan Gabriel to Walter Mercado. And in her songs, Gaga seems to draw direct inspiration from Latin music and culture — from traditional rancheras to the rhythm of reggaeton.

In the latest episode of Switched on Pop, we take a closer look at the history of Lady Gaga’s engagement with Latin sounds in her work. You can revisit some of her key Latin-infused releases in the timeline below, and be sure to check out the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Switched on Pop

“Alejandro” (2009)

“Alejandro” follows a tradition of pop stars dipping their toes into the pool of Latin pop. From Madonna’s sublime “La Isla Bonita” to Rihanna’s “Te Amo,” pop superstars have always incorporated the sounds of Latin music in their odes to lovers and the like. Inclusive legends ABBA even went so far as to record a whole album of their classics in Spanish, 1980’s Gracias Por La Música, featuring hits like “Dame! Dame! Dame!” and “La Reina Del Baile.”

“Americano” (2011)

Lyrically, “Americano” tells the tale of two women falling in love in East Los Angeles. While the intro is an interpolation of the famous “Mambo Italiano,” the verses of Gaga’s song flip between English and Spanish, telling tales of love, woe, and revolution — much like traditional Latin folk music. The song also takes place in East L.A., a region that has the highest proportion of Hispanic American residents outside of Puerto Rico, and reflects the struggles of Latinx immigrants in the U.S.

“Americano” also uses vocal traditions reminiscent of regional Mexican subgenres and songcraft; the la-la-la’s throughout echo a tradition of gang vocals in mariachi, and the theatrical chest voice Gaga uses in the chorus can be compared to the booming vocals of Mexican singers like Alejandro Fernández and Juan Gabriel.

“Dancin’ in Circles” (2016)

“Dancin’ in Circles” employs a classic tresillo rhythm, something Switched on Pop discussed in our “Hound Dog” episode: The rhythm is the backbone of reggaeton and dembow brought to the modern pop world. Here, Gaga and her collaborators (including, surprisingly, Beck) take this opportunity to infuse this track with a slowed-down Latin beat, providing some sonic variation to the country-inspired Joanne.

Dawn of Chromatica (2022)

On the remix album Dawn of Chromatica, Gaga gives her collaborators free rein to take her Chromatica tracks in any direction they choose. This yields several results that skew manic, but here she enlists both Arca and Pabllo Vittar for remixes of “Rain on Me” and “Fun Tonight,” respectively. For the latter, Vittar invokes the Brazilian genre of forró alongside a truly magical saxophone solo.

Lady Gaga Loves Her Pequeños Monstruos