We screamed "rah rah" and "ooh la la" from the bottom of our chests at, of all places, a Christian fraternity party.


This is the power of Lady Gaga, whose new album, "Chromatica," came out May 29. Her songs, like "Bad Romance," reliably provide a portal from one side of your life to another. For a lot of people like me in 2009, that meant a safety valve of queerness. I could huddle around other sweaty college guys, flick my wrists, coil my fingers into a claw and sing "I’m a free bitch, baby" to a Top 40 hit on Friday night. I could meet those same fraternity brothers for prayer group and clove cigarettes after church on Sunday night. (My friend Daniel actually remembers listening to "Bad Romance" on the way to get the smokes.)


I recently got a little emotional realizing how Gaga’s music has punctuated so many parts of my life. Not trying to engage in hero worship; it’s just that portal thing again. We want to move forward — I hope we do — and few things can turn us inward like a song. At the least, our favorite tunes are a passive soundtrack to the big moments, perhaps influencing us in subtle ways. Some people have Madonna, some people have Beyonce. But my pop star prism is 5-foot-2 and once wore a charcuterie board to an awards show.


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"Just Dance," Gaga’s debut 2008 single, came on the radio on a cold, rainy day the first time I heard it, while I was driving down North Lamar Boulevard in college. With my roommate Warren, I soon became hooked on this new singer and her stunts. Might be easy to forget in these hallucinatory times, but everything Gaga did back then was such an event, and the theater came at just the right time for young things plotting their futures in a recession. Warren and I inhaled new Gaga videos, watching the visuals for "Paparazzi" and "LoveGame" in our very first apartment. Just two boys who’d known each other since kindergarten, fixated on the meaning of the words "disco stick." The "LoveGame" video bent gender a little, in an admittedly titillating way. I watched, fascinated, in the same apartment that hosted my countless late-night pleas to God for thoughts of men to stop entering my head.


Science will never explain why we all liked "Bad Romance" so much in 2009. People were looking for accessible entry points into weirdness, I guess. Gaga’s "Just Dance" and "Poker Face" ended up at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on Billboard’s year-end chart, bested only by the Black Eyed Peas’ "Boom Boom Pow." Say what you will about the ubiquity of the Peas, but my friend, you cannot deny the inherent strangeness of a group that coaxed moms across America to sing the words "lovely lady lumps" at wedding receptions for a decade to come.


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Even Beyonce was grabbing the steering wheel to veer left in those days; see the infinity-looped beat of "Single Ladies" and the cybernetic austerity of its music video. On the other hand, Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz also had two of the top songs in 2009. A place for everything, and everything in its place.


But "Bad Romance" was bigger, a macabre and euphoric thing. Those previous Gaga creations only winked at the oddity of the woman who once wore a dress made from the pelts of a small family of Kermit dolls. "Bad Romance" didn’t even let you catch your breath from the "rah rah" and "ooh la la," gleefully spinning your head around with an inexplicable line of French and droning, Germanic verses. And that video has not gotten less alarming with age, thank goodness.


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When the video for "Alejandro" came out, my coworkers and I left work at Amy's Ice Creams soon as all the Mexican vanilla was counted to rush to my friend Brock's house to watch the music video at midnight. The Tom of Finland-meets-"Cabaret"-meets-"Like a Prayer" visuals surely were wasted on us at the time.


And then "Born This Way" came out right as I was moving to Virginia. A friend helped me make the drive to Lynchburg, the city Jerry Falwell put on the map and where I’d taken my first journalism job. I downloaded the album on my phone slowly as I caught a phone signal driving down quiet highways. I don’t pretend to recall what I thought of the title track’s telling me that God would love me even if I was gay. I do know that those long, lonely Lynchburg days led me to stop running away from feelings I’d had since middle school, or at least slow my run down enough to catch my breath.


I moved back to Austin; I came out. One of my first memories at a gay bar is seeing the lyric video for Gaga’s "Aura" come on at Rain. (That one’s a collab with Austin’s own Robert Rodriguez, not for nothin’.) Life moving forward with, of all things, Lady Gaga songs as signposts.


In 2020, we could use a little shimmer on days that feel like weeks. We’re not supposed to go dancing, so we make do at home. Listen to the second "Chromatica" single "Rain on Me," which came out a week before the full album (with a video directed by Rodriguez, too).


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"I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive," Gaga sings over a gay bar house beat. The rain’s a metaphor, of course, for tears or times of hardship. "Water like misery / It’s coming down on me," as the lady says. "Rain on Me" feels like having a breakthrough with your therapist in the middle of a laser tag arena.


It’s definitely coming down on us right now. We’re scared and sick and all points in between. Pop music can be a tonic, if only for the run time of a studio album, on our way to the other side.