Lady Gaga has released the music video for Judas with her usual fanfare, especially as we build up to the May 23 release of Born This Way. Like Madonna before her (a sentence which seems to apply to many of Gaga’s exploits), she seems to be aiming for the blasphemy dollar, representing Jesus as the leader of a gang of LA bikers, and herself as Mary Magdalene – decked in some fantastic costumes. Like Born This Way, it’s full of luxuriant symbolism (a gun that shoots lipstick!), and rewards repeat viewings.
Gaga has done a lot of careful explaining for this video. To E! she said:
“I don’t view the video as a religious statement. I view it as social statement. I view it as a cultural statement. It’s a metaphor. It’s not meant to be a biblical lesson.”
To MSNBC she said:
“The theme of the video and the way that I wanted to aesthetically portray the story was as a motorcycle Fellini movie where the apostles are revolutionaries in a modern-day Jerusalem… And I play Mary Magdalene leading them into the town where we meet Jesus and I will leave the rest for you to see. But it’s meant more to celebrate faith than it is to challenge it.”
The video and the lyrics are very respectful of Christian mythology, although there is some sly commentary about the importance of Mary Magdalene to the original Christians. From her first purple-clad appearance (purple is traditionally the color of kings and bishops) she’s shown as the center of the group, the one making all the decisions. Then she gets washed away – much as Mary Magdalene was rinsed out of Christian re-constructions of events.
We’re seeing an evolution in Lady Gaga’s star persona here, thanks in part to the fact that she directed this clip herself. The studded leather bikini is now the bottom, instead of the only layer to costumes, and make up, hair and lighting enhance her visage as weeping, yearning, human, rather than the ancient goddess of Born This Way. She’s asking for acceptance, not forgiveness, however (“In the most Biblical sense/I am beyond repentance/Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind”). The narrative suggested by both the song and the images is of a woman who wants to do the right thing, but is drawn towards dark thoughts (‘Jesus is my virtue/And Judas is the demon I cling to’) – a basic binary opposition.
While Born This Way was compared to both the images and music of Madonna’s Express Yourself, Gaga seems to have resorted to musical cannibalism (Judas seems eerily derivative of her own Paparazzi). But, inevitably, the video invites comparison with Madonna’s seminal take on Catholic myths, Like A Prayer(which can be found here). Did Gaga have to do a religious-themed video that follows Madonna’s lead? Probably not but – a) she’s riffing on the same preoccupations about love and the way religion allows women to do so that Madonna did and b) the column inches expended on comparisons aren’t doing the advance publicity for the Born This Way album any harm.
Madonna’s music video, directed by horror movie doyenne Mary Lambert, has a much more complex narrative involving racism and an averted lynching. Although the video espouses similar messages of acceptance, it seems much less about self-indulgent angst and more about championing the underdog. While Gaga courts controversy by cavorting in a large gilt crucifix and hot tubbing with Judas and Jesus, nothing she can do matches the shock value of Madonna dancing on a lawn full of burning crosses, small crucifix round her neck, kissing a man many identified as a Jesus figure, and displaying stigmata on her hands. In 1989, these were outrageous things for a female pop singer to represent herself as doing, and it seems that not even Gaga will go that far now.
When it comes down to it, I still prefer this version of Gaga’s song, stripped of all the pomp and posturing. Perhaps she does herself, as she tweeted the link to all her fans?