First of all, let’s agree that pretty much all music videos have a touch of ridiculousness to them. When you boil it all down, they’re just commercials that attempt to persuade us to by an artist’s album, the mp3 or even just the artist. That being said, there are serious videos, funny videos, clever videos, and videos that have no substance whatsoever. Lady Gaga’s video for her latest single, “Judas,” falls into this last category.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the lyrics for this song and determined that it shouldn’t be offensive to Christians (it only has the appearance of mocking Christianity without actually mocking it). It should however be offensive to music lovers because it is a bad, self-promotional song with no meaningful substance. This is true of the video as well.
First of all, as I pointed out in the last article, Lady Gaga isn’t the first artist to use religious imagery for shock value. In fact, Madonna did it first, and much more effectively almost 20 years ago in here “Like a Prayer” video. As opposed to Lady Gaga’s meaningless and haphazard collage of religious imagery, Madonna’s video creates an engaging postmodern argument about racism, redemption, and the theater of religion. Although Gaga wants to create meaning out of her pastiche, all we get is a muddled up mess. All we walk away with is some simplistic representation of Jesus, the 12 apostles and the stoning of a woman, none of which makes cohesive sense when pasted together. If Gaga really wanted to take a note straight from Madonna’s playbook, she should have paid a little more attention and imbued it with some substance, or at least some cohesion.
The main difference between “Judas” and an effective music video is that Gaga’s symbolism makes no sense. As far as plotline goes, apparently Lady Gaga is in a relationship with the Jesus-like leader of a biker gang whose jackets are conveniently labels for us with their names: John, Peter, Thomas, etc.–the 12 apostles, if you’re a little slow. But all the while she’s making eyes at Judas. They go to a biker bar (the Electric Chapel–*groan*), where they live it up. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Lady Gaga agonizes over putting lipstick on Judas (from here golden lipstick gun), after which Judas kisses Jesus as the sign of betrayal, or repentance, or something. Finally, Lady Gaga is stoned to death, wearing what appears to be a wedding gown made out of cellophane.
As I’ve said before, Judas is only an offensive song is you like meaningful lyrics and good songwriting. In reality, the lyrics are only a way for Gaga to appear shocking without actually being offensive, thus boosting her controversy level and her career. It is no surprise that the video follows the same route.
Although the song is (supposedly) about being in love with someone who betrays you (thanks for everyone who tried to explain that to me in my last post), the video is about how Lady Gaga flirts with someone who is not her boyfriend and gets stoned for it. Therefore the video, just like the song, co-opts emotionally laden religious imagery, ignoring the actual significance of the imagery, in order to paint Gaga as the pained and tortured artist/savior. A character that is–frankly–a little played out.
Finally, for such a club-beat heavy song, there is a surprisingly small amount of actual dancing going on, at least not what I would consider dancing. There is a lot of arm waving and upper-body movement, but very little footwork. And most of the dancers don’t move more than a couple of feet from their positions, making the video an extremely bad example of the how danceable the song really is. (Although I was pleased to see the fantastic Mark Kanemura in the group of backup dancers.)
I’ll give Lady Gaga some props; the song is catchy, but that’s all it is. And the video is further proof that Lady Gaga, for all her touted artistic aspirations and photocopied philosophies, is no more than a Madonna wannabe who is only concerned with self-promotion through glitter and glam without any substance to back it up.