-An opinion piece by Joey Nolfi-
“Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”
These words, so carefully and eloquently chosen by Christian-singer-turned-bisexuality-exploitress Katy Perry, are just a sampling of the love-it-or-hate-it response Lady Gaga has received en masse since releasing the video to the brilliant single Alejandro at noon today. We’ll ignore the fact that it’s even more cliché to jump the spectrum and go from praising Jesus to praising another girl’s cherry-chapsticked lips (*gasp*) or that it’s even more uninspired to use food as a low-brow metaphor for a penis, but we’ll let Ms. Perry have another one of her look-at-me (PLEASE! NOW I HAVE BLUE HAIR! I CAN BE DIFFERENT TOO!) moments while the rest of the world continues to discuss Alejandro, at once one of the more simplistic yet ultimately more personal and riveting pieces of Godga’s illustrious videography.
(Watch the video for Alejandro by clicking here)
If she’s proven anything to us over the course of the past two years, Lady Gaga has definitely proven that she’s wholeheartedly unafraid. And I’m not talking about the Lindsay Lohan Rumors type of unafraid, I’m talking about the fearless way she genuinely disconnects herself from any and all media scrutiny so many of her peers let under their skin. Gaga puts out what she puts out, after all it is her art, and she’s unafraid to displease followers of what is considered commercial normalcy. And like any good artist, she knows it’s incredibly time consuming, pointless, and silly to try and convince the polar-opposite crowd of the already-convinced of what is to them the unconvincable; that what she’s doing is in fact art. She’s unafraid to show us what’s brimming beneath that gorgeous blonde (and sometimes black…and sometimes with a bit of yellow…and sometimes, um, gray…) hair. She’s unafraid to take something other artists have done before and re-envision it. I mean, no one is claiming that the visually “blasphemous” (I use that word very loosely, I don’t necessarily agree that the imagery does in fact fall into that category, but we’ll get to that later) elements within the Alejandro video are unique. Or revolutionary. Or foreign to the commercial masses, for that matter. We’ve seen this all before; Madonna’s been crucified live onstage, Kathy Griffin told Jesus to suck it, and hell, 40 years ago Linda Blair was shoving crosses up her piche. The art of visual stimulance by way of religious iconography is nothing new. So what makes Gaga’s much more personal crack at this so moving? Well, this is how I see it…
Simply in terms of the song itself, Alejandro has been described as the Lady’s “fear of sex” anthem in countless interviews since her sophomore album (which contains the song) debuted in late 2009. The fear of intimacy, being possessed by someone (or possessed by sex, for that matter), and the gloomy strain that lust can put on the human heart and mind are all relatable things Alejandro’s lyrics cover. And as much as I cringe when I hear someone pretentiously say that their body is a “temple”, I can’t help but to acknowledge that this cliché is the best way to introduce my analysis of the song and video. Lyrically Alejandro presents us with the idyllic, over-romanticized (primarily by other commercial media) portrait of the Latin male, represented here by Alejandro, Fernando, and Roberto. What better way to represent love banging down your door than by commercial media’s classical depiction of the stereotypically-exotic, dark, romantic male?
In terms of the actual video, Gaga lets us know right from the beginning that she is in fact the Queen of her very own dark, twisted (and cold) castle. The harem of men penetrates her gates as any budding relationship would do to, say, a guarded and closed-hearted soul. This entire beginning sequence is punctuated by loud stomping, banging, and altogether startling noises representative of the breach that sex has ultimately made into Gaga’s mind. I won’t deny that what the men carry (most notably the Freemason-esque pentagram one conspicuously brandishes) is overtly “evil” or “satanic” in terms of thematics, because in part I genuinely feel they represent a very dark and evil entity Gaga wrote the song about; sex. I mean, did anyone ever think that perhaps the symbols commonly accepted as “satanic” or “evil”, as associated with the group of invaders, perhaps represent something that Gaga truly rejects? I mean it’s not like anyone is sitting down to a nice cup of tea with her at any point in the video. She’s certainly not fraternizing with them, and she’s definitely not accepting their presence. These men are violently and feverishly knocking the Queen off her royal pedestal and ultimately pulling her into a twisted world of sex devoid of color or emotion. Remember, sex is what is to be feared, at least within the lyrical context of the song, and by all means this is a personal depiction of the dark, twisted depths sex can sink the heart and mind into. And what better way to represent something evil than with, well, “evil” imagery? After all, everything in the bulk of the video takes place after we see a very attractive male sitting half-naked on the edge of a bed…perhaps an impending sexual partner leading to the provocation of internal insecurities and struggle?
As the video moves along, we see the barrage of men stripped down to nothing but a tiny loin cloths, fishnets, and fierce stilettos; a subtle yet impactful shift in footwear from the rugged and masculine combat boots they donned as we were first introduced. Gaga has also been stripped of her royal regalia and now sports a “bowl cut” (for lack of better description) of shared similarity to the ones the intruders possess. What happens next includes intense sexual grinding, positioning, groping, etc., made all the more effective by the shift in attire resulting in minimal decoration on the now seemingly-genderless bodies of the men and Gaga. Sexuality might be a gateway to the darkest depths of the human heart, but sexuality is something that connects nearly every human being, regardless of gender or sexuality (two of the men are also seen caressing). Stripping down the subjects and deindividualizing them (and even having Gaga herself simulating active anal penetration on one of the men) creates an air of equality on the now-even playing field of human sexuality.
The video itself can also be viewed as an embracing of religion by Gaga through one key scene. As Gaga lays on the bed preparing for whatever sexual activity might occur between her and the shirtless male at the foot of the bed, she swallows a rosary, perhaps a nudge to the fact that she embraces a much lighter, higher power and allows it to envelop her. We then see another shift to the black and white visuals as the now fully-clothed men sashay past Gaga, who dances and almost joyously prances amidst them as they cleanly and solidly bounce past her. Perhaps a glimpse of a life where sex can be resisted? Where overt sexuality is not a concern and men will waltz right past? Where the bearing of having to please someone with your own sexuality is not a concern? Whatever it is, the gravity of sex ultimately weighs down on Gaga for the last time as she is encircled and disrobed by the gang of men, becoming truly exposed as a person, not only in terms of outwards sexuality. The powerful video concludes as, assumingly after sex, Gaga lies lifeless and cold on her bed, having lost the battle between insecurity and sexuality.
I could go on for days about whatever else I think about the video, but I just wanted to express my feelings regarding what seem to be the biggest issues people are having with what Gaga has created. She’s so far beyond anything else that’s out there right now. How often do you see another artist succeeding in the commercial market that produces, art directs, composes, designs, and sings on top of that? The answer is no one. Gaga has risen to where she is because she doesn’t do things like everyone else. Sure, she’s using thematic material that’s been apart of mainstream culture since Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” or Munch’s “Madonna”. But it’s the way in which she personalizes her craft that sets her apart. Her personal mark is on every single thing she does, and she wholeheartedly takes credit for everything she does. She doesn’t have time to be singing about CAliiFoRniA GuRlZ or 10,000 fucking lightning bugs, she’s busy exploring herself as a person, only on a much larger (and more heavily-funded) scale than the rest of us can. Gaga isn’t a product, she simply produces. There is a difference. And what she produces is an extension of herself that becomes that much more beautiful because she infuses it with her audience. Her art is impactful because she’s able to communicate with and experiment with the millions who devour what she puts out. The masses become her subjects, but also her listeners. Her supporters-and at times when her work seems like it’s getting her high-her enablers. Utilitzing such recognizable symbols for personal expression in art is an entirely different ballgame. It’s one thing to calculatedly say “look at me, I’m gonna shock the hell out of you and put a flashing heart over my vagina” and an entirely different thing to say “look, here’s what the fuck is inside my brain”.
So in coming full circle, yes, Ms. Perry, what you meant to say (but ever so elegantly failed to) was that using religious imagery in entertainment is, in fact, a rather common occurrence. Well now that you’ve overcome your dark days of exploiting the “Lord” in hopes of selling a few Christian rock albums (remember the early days, bitch?), it’s good to see you can in fact make coherent observations regarding the industry you’re “involved” in. But do me a favor…write a few songs yourself, compose some of your own music, art direct a few of your own videos, hell, just give your whole soul to the industry like Gaga has and then maybe I can respect where your disrespect comes from. But until you’ve walked even a half a mile in Gaga’s invisible-heel monstrosities, until you’ve crafted a video that can even come close to being open to as much interpretation as I’ve put into Alejandro, put a god damn popsicle in it.
by Joey Nolfi