Paparazzi’s poker face for Lady Gaga

Everywhere I turn, it seems I’m unintentionally listening to a song by Lady Gaga in the grocery store or stumbling upon a spoof of her music videos (So far, I vote for NPR). Chances are, you’ve at least heard snippets of “Telephone,” “Bad Romance,” “Just Dance,” “Poker Face,” and “Paparazzi,” to name a few of her hits.

I don’t usually pounce on the latest music video from the shock-inducing singer, but USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman drew my attention to what amounts to blasphemy in Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro.”

The video, which came out Tuesday and already has at least 10 million hits, features Lady Gaga in a latex/leather nun’s habit, wearing a cross-shaped patch on her crotch, suggestively swallowing rosary beads. If you’d rather skip the 8-minute video, MTV has conveniently compiled a list of the most shocking images. Warning: Not safe for work.

This isn’t just about religious imagery, though. In May, the singer told the Times, “[The video is] a celebration and an admiration of gay love–it confesses my envy of the courage and bravery they require to be together.”

Besides Grossman’s post, we’ve seen few rumblings in the mainstream press. Here’s a flippant blog remark from Cathy Horyn on the New York Times style blog: “The “Alejandro” video, directed by Steven Klein, seems to bring out the prudes in people, or maybe they’re watching too much Fox News.” On the other hand, some are picking up the tweet from “I Kissed a Girl” singer Katy Perry, who took a little swipe: “Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

“Alejandro” director Steven Klein told MTV News that the religious symbolism is not meant to denote anything negative.

“[It] represents the character’s battle between the dark forces of this world and the spiritual salvation of the Soul,” Klein wrote. “Thus at the end of the film, she chooses to be a nun, and the reason her mouth and eyes disappear is because she is withdrawing her senses from the world of evil and going inward towards prayer and contemplation.” Klein added that the scene in which Gaga ingests the rosary beads is meant to represent “the desire to take in the holy.”

Perhaps its simply a publicity stunt. People expect Lady Gaga to be outrageous, but she’s not usually blasphemous. My guess is that because Madonna did this before, reporters assume it’s not breaking any new ground. Still, people have instant-click access to YouTube that they never had with Madonna.

Of course, Lady Gaga’s upbringing may have something to do with the religious imagery in her video. Last week, Larry King asked about her religion.

KING: You were raised Catholic. You were raised as a Catholic. What are your feelings toward the church and religion in general?

GAGA: Well, I struggle. I struggle with my feelings about the church in particular. But I guess it’s, quite honestly, completely separate, isn’t it? religion and the church are two completely separate things.

But in terms of religion, I’m very religious. I was raised Catholic. I believe in Jesus. I believe in God. I’m very spiritual. I pray very much. But at the same time, there is no one religion that doesn’t hate or speak against or be prejudiced against another racial group or religious group, and–or sexual group. For that, I think religion is also bogus.

So I suppose you could say I’m a quite religious woman that is very confused about religion. And I dream and envision a future where we have a more peaceful religion or a more peaceful world, a more peaceful state of mind for the younger generation. And that’s what I dream for.

KING: Do you believe you will go somewhere when you pass on?

GAGA: Do I believe in heaven?

KING: Yes.

GAGA: Or hell? I believe I will go to heaven, but I suppose could go either way, couldn’t I?

And then King moves on to ask about her relationship to the gay community. These are good, basic questions, but I’d like to know about whether religion influences her music beyond imagery in music videos.

Last month, Lady Gaga made similar remarks about her religion to Caitlin Moran of the Times, who offered a gushing interview with the star. Moran first described “scented candles burn churchishly” in her dressing room. “The effect is one of having been ushered into the presence of a very powerful fairytale queen: possibly one who has recently killed Aslan, on the Stone Table,” Moran wrote.

You were raised a Catholic–so when you say “God,” do you mean the Catholic God, or a different, perhaps more spiritual sense of God?

“More spiritual,” Gaga says, looking like she’s biting her tongue. “I don’t want to say much … but I will say that religion is very confusing for everyone, and particularly me, because there’s really no religion that doesn’t hate or condemn a certain kind of people, and I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.”

Would you play for the Pope, if he asked you?

“Yeah,” Gaga says. There’s a pause. Perhaps she considers her current stage show…

“Well. I’d do an acoustic show for the Pope,” she amends.

Now there’s an important question: would you play for the Pope? That’s the question on everyone’s mind, right? Instead, reporters could consider how her own religious background (and vague references to her personal faith) might inform the imagery we’re seeing in the newest video. Maybe it’s time for reporters to stop drooling over this bad romance and dig a little bit deeper.

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  • Shaun G

    I think the “Would you play for the pope?” question is totally legit, and although in this case, it didn’t result in any sort of controversial response, it certainly *could* have.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    It’s a fine question after several, but the second most important question about her faith?

  • Peggy

    She strikes me as a complete carbon copy of Madonna. From her costumes, dancing, music style, looks, growing up Catholic and all that. She doesn’t seem to have anything new about her.

  • Glenda

    She is an atrocity, amazes me no one is concerned with the Nazi references. All the comparisons to Madonna make sense, both blond, both outlandish, however, even at her worst, Madonna has always represented positive resolutions to her sins. Everything was done for the redemption of evil, for the light at the end of the tunnel, gag gag is simply about darkness and evil. She will be judged, as we all will, however the more we allow this to continue, the more prevelant it becomes…Sad but true. Just turn her off and move on.

  • Passing By

    I couldn’t get to the full Moran interview in the Times, but am intrigued by:

    …a very powerful fairytale queen: possibly one who has recently killed Aslan, on the Stone Table,” Moran wrote.

    Is Moran aware that the queen who killed Aslan is a very evil character. In fact, she isn’t a real queen, but a witch, an interloper, bent on destruction?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Aside from our personal feelings about Lady Gaga, the media seems obviously struck by her, especially by her clothing choices.

    It seems like Moran was grasping for any reference, not really thinking about what she was suggesting with the analogy.

  • Julia

    It’s something new on the scene: Religious but not religious. That is confusing.

    I’d also like to know what the reporter meant by this:

    do you mean the Catholic God, or a different, perhaps more spiritual sense of God?

    What does she mean by a more spiritual God? Is there a new definition of spiritual floating around?

  • tipi tim

    Julia: i think the reporter meant something like a spiritual but not religious sense of God. a sense of God without any kind of definitiveness.

  • Dale

    I have yet to hear this woman say one intelligent thing.

    I guess it’s, quite honestly, completely separate, isn’t it? religion and the church are two completely separate things.

    Huh? That’s about as coherent as saying that politics and the state are two completely separate things. King just lets that bit of absurdity float right past. Isn’t the church a religious institution? What does it mean, then, to say that the church is entirely separate from religion?

    I will say that religion is very confusing for everyone, and particularly me, because there’s really no religion that doesn’t hate or condemn a certain kind of people, and I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.”

    Really? If you’re all for love and understanding and excluding no one, why abuse the religious symbols of a large number of people? Isn’t that an act of aggression, far from the peace and love that you claim? When you say “there’s really no religion that doesn’t hate or condemn a certain kind of people,” aren’t you condemning those religions? What happened to all that love and forgiveness?

    Honestly, I don’t know why people expect a campy choreographer and fashion comedian to have anything substantive to say about religion. Ask about her about her clothes and her dance moves– at least she might be able to give a semi-coherent comment about that.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Honestly, I don’t know why people expect a campy choreographer and fashion comedian to have anything substantive to say about religion.

    Well, this site is devoted to the idea that there should be more and better coverage of religion as it affects all aspects of life…

    …though I’ll concede that I find pop music to be a pretty insignificant part of life. My life, anyway.

  • Martha

    You know, stories like this make me feel like I’m living under a rock.

    Or possibly I’m much too old to be the target audience. No, I won’t be rushing over to Youtube to be appalled and horrified. Mixing religious imagery and sex is very old, after all; there was a whole genre of eighteenth century pornography devoted to “sex in the convent”, usually involving lesbianism and spanking.

    So, seen it all before. I’d be more shocked if these kind of “ooh – we’re being so daring!” videos picked on, I dunno, the Orthodox, or the Lutherans, or somebody.

    Yeah, I wanna see Lutheran-bashing music videos! ;-)

  • Dale

    Ray Ingles wrote:

    I’ll concede that I find pop music to be a pretty insignificant part of life. My life, anyway.

    Hey, there are pop musicians who do have interesting, substantive things to say about religion. Lady Gaga isn’t one of them. If journalists feel compelled to ask her anyway, at least they can prompt answers that make some sense.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    That’s an interesting comment from Katy Perry, considering that she’s the child of married pastors and began her career as a CCM artist.

  • Stefan

    Sure, its a stretch to figure how this post has anything to do with the journalism, except pop stars are targets of the Paparazzi and that controversial music videos are going be critiqued for pushing the limits of cultural acceptance, especially if they suggest religious themes. Sure, Gaga is similar to Madonna, probably better in creative dimensions, so no surprise both are NYers raised catholic and both use spiritual themes to their music and theatrics.
    Bottom line – it’s show business of pop culture, its entertaining and titillating, and its only offensive to those typically most insecure in their religious beliefs.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Please keep your comments to journalism, not your feelings about Lady Gaga and such.

  • Julia

    Julia: i think the reporter meant something like a spiritual but not religious sense of God. a sense of God without any kind of definitiveness.

    I hear you, but this is really different.

    Spiritual but not religious implies the religious baggage is taken out of the total picture. In other words, spiritual is what you have when the church, ethical code and creed have been taken out. It doesn’t necessarily imply that religious excludes the spiritual dimension.

    What this writer is doing is implying that Catholics (or other Christians) are not spiritual as well as having a structure, an ethical code and a creed.

    The Catholic church, in particular, is well known for its spiritual mystics over the millenia. Same goes for the Orthodox.

  • MarkAA

    I find it a shame that these stories are basically just one-on-one interviews that give a relatively unintellectual artist a soapbox to share her vapid and uninformed views on topics she hasn’t bothered to research at all. Good reporting would delve into what research the artist did before writing the song/making the video/etc. and then point out inaccuracies. This kind of art almost always uses stereotypes about faith (Catholic, Bible Belt fundamentalist, etc.) to shock, even as the artist talks about some high-minded concept to get viewers/listeners to “think” about some issue. The reporters are complicit, then, in allowing half-truths or complete stereotypes to slander the members of the faiths whose imagery has been coopted. It doesn’t have to be this way, but MSM enjoys it, sad to say, and most media organizations today don’t have enough staff or resources to do better even if/when they want to. (I was an editor at metropolitan newspapers and have lived it firsthand.)

  • Ryan

    I think many of the questions were quite insightful. Asking about the Catholic God (ie the Triune God) or some less defined ‘spiritual’ God was insightful. The question asking if she would play for the Pope was excellent – off balance putting and the answer was revealing not flippant. Its nice to know you can even make Lady Gaga a little squirmy with a good question.

  • Bram

    MarkAA is on to something. Given that Lady Gaga is choosing to make religiously provocative statements in her work, why not hold her accountable for those statements by having her be interviewed by a competent religion-beat reporter who knows enough about religion to press her in equally provocative ways on the statements she had made in her work? That being said, what I’d really like to see is Lady Gaga paired by some media outlet with a theologian — with a David Bentley Hart or a Stanley Hauerwas or a John Milbank or an N.T. Wright. If Lady Gaga wants to make religiously provocative statements in the media-arena, then perhaps the media-arena should invite her to “step on up” and “bring it” (as the kids say), perhaps they should give her the chance to “speak truth to power” by speaking her “truth” to some of the most “powerful” theological minds on the contemporary scene, and then submit herself to whatever reply those powerful minds might have to make. I remember that kind of thing happening all the time back in the 60′s and 70′s, when rock stars would routinely be paired in conversation with intellectuals from various fields that the rock stars had broached through provocative statements like the kind that Lady Gaga makes. That strikes me as a more ethical and a more responsible way for the media to handle how they treat the kinds of statements that figures like Lady Gaga make. It doesn’t seem ethical or responsible to me to give someone like her an open and uncontested mic through which to broadcast her views on anything besides her own work or the work of her peers. Now, if she’s choosing to make her work be religious provocation, and if she’s choosing people like Hart, Hauerwas, Milbank, and Wright as her peers, then perhaps ought to be afforded the same media access that she herself receives to voice their own theological views. What I would like to see most of all is a debate on Catholic Christianity between Lady Gaga and Pope Benedict. That would make for “must-see” tv that actually is.

  • bob

    #3 has it, a knock-off of Madonna. If it’s possible to be even more superficial than her, which is pretty tough. Do random acts of blasphemy and ignorant blathering about “religious” words make it a “religious” story? Isn’t it just simpler to call it Getstupidity?

  • http://bendingthetwigs.blogspot.com Crimson Wife

    what I’d really like to see is Lady Gaga paired by some media outlet with a theologian — with a David Bentley Hart or a Stanley Hauerwas or a John Milbank or an N.T. Wright. If Lady Gaga wants to make religiously provocative statements in the media-arena, then perhaps the media-arena should invite her to “step on up” and “bring it” (as the kids say), perhaps they should give her the chance to “speak truth to power” by speaking her “truth” to some of the most “powerful” theological minds on the contemporary scene, and then submit herself to whatever reply those powerful minds might have to make.

    Now THAT’S an article I would love to read. “Style” section puff pieces…yawn.


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