Let’s get this out of the way: Lady Gaga’s greatest performance is her portrayal of Lady Gaga. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has always treated music, and her place in it, like performance art, a Warhol-ian tribute to every creature of the zeitgeist who came before. And her depiction of the turn-of-the-millennium pop star known as Lady Gaga will always be some of her best work.
That’s not to say she’s inauthentic, but as anyone who read the recent New York Times Magazine profile of the singer knows, Gaga is an evolving being, constantly consuming and repurposing culture to make a statement. It’s hard work, and while the person of Gaga and the persona of Gaga may be similar, at least some of it is a character.
But what about Gaga’s other roles? The ones that don’t involve a spending 72 hours in a giant egg? Most of them have been in genre work—but with A Star Is Born, which features her most prominent screen role to date, opening tomorrow, we thought we’d comb through them to establish just what are Lady Gaga’s best performances, ranked from maybe-not-so-best to best.
6. La Camaleón, Machete Kills
How do I say this? Machete Kills is not a good movie. Danny Trejo could not save it, no matter how many sleeveless leather vests he wears. Lady Gaga’s killer-in-disguise isn’t in it that much (possibly a blessing, for her), but she’s a sight for sore eyes when she shows up—even if just makes you wish you were watching the “Telephone” video instead.
5. Bertha, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Gaga’s part as diner server Bertha in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City sequel is fairly small. She wears a great wig and big eyebrows, but only has about four lines, including “times are tough all over,” which is how a lot of people feel about this movie. That said, she’s charming, and gets to turn her New York accent up to 11.
4. Scáthach, American Horror Story: Roanoke
Gaga may not have had that much to do in Roanoke—probably for the best, considering she was recording an album, prepping for a Super Bowl halftime performance, and dealing with chronic pain—but she excelled at all of it, mentally manipulating Kathy Bates (who played The Butcher in Season 6 of AHS) into doing unspeakable acts and turning Cuba Gooding Jr. into her zombified sex slave. There’s also the possibility that Gaga could get to bring her back: Scáthach was the original Supreme (the No. 1 Witch in the AHS world), and since the other Coven witches are returning for the currently-airing AHS: Apocalypse, there’s
3. The Countess, American Horror Story: Hotel
Lady Gaga—like Sarah Paulson, like Angela Bassett, like Darren Criss, like Evan Peters and Kate Mara—is a core member of the Ryan Murphy Collective. Murphy may be one of TV’s busiest writers, but he knows how to do great things with Gaga—like turning her into The Countess, vampiric proprietor of the Hotel Cortez. The character gave Gaga the opportunity to hit every campy note she was capable of (as well as the chance to wear approximately 10,001 great looks). Full disclosure: I switched this role and her part in AHS: Roanoke in the ranking many times, and while it feels precarious to deny top billing to a super-powerful witch of the woods, the Countess stole the show and cinched Gaga a Golden Globe, so…
2. Herself, Gaga: Five Foot Two
In this documentary, about the chaotic period leading up to the release of Gaga’s fifth studio album Joanne and her now-iconic Super Bowl performance (remember the drones?), Germanotta is, theoretically, not acting at all. But it’s still riveting to watch the artist work, like seeing the Wizard of Oz before getting a full face of makeup. Going through a break-up, recording an album, dealing with fibromyalgia—it’s a testament to the sheer perseverance pop stardom takes. It also contains her brilliant exegesis on the reasoning behind her many personas: They are, she reveals, each funhouse-mirror visions of what the music industry wants female performers to be, grotesque and “bleeding” symbols of what fame did to many women before her. (Be sure to stick around for the mid-credits scene where she jokingly tells producer Mark Ronson about her fear that she’s always giving Beyoncé panic attacks with her antics.)
1. Ally, A Star Is Born
Unlike many of the other roles on this list, which in one way or another riff on Lady Gaga’s persona, this role—if anything—pulls from her life pre-Gaga, or from her life if Gaga had never taken off. At the beginning of director/star Bradley Cooper’s remake, her Ally is already performer, but she’s doing a drag performance of “La Vie En Rose,” not singing her own songs; she’s an artist who hasn’t had the opportunity to build herself into a juggernaut yet. A lot has already been made of her role in A Star Is Born, and a lot more will undoubtedly be made in the future (practice the phrase “Oscar-winner Lady Gaga” just in case), and all of it is deserved. The possibility that Lady Gaga could play an aspiring musician was never a stretch, but the depths of power and vulnerability she reaches as Ally are remarkable. So is the music, much of which she co-wrote and all of which she (and Cooper) sang live during filming. It’s Gaga at her best, raw and fearless—and there’s nothing more all-consuming than watching her rise.