Lady Gaga’s new video for “Alejandro“—which invokes a combination of religious, militaristic, and sadomasochistic imagery—has been called everything from unnecessarily blasphemous and racy to straight-up “lazy trash.” Bill Donohue of the Catholic League called Gaga a “Madonna wanabee,” referring to the conservative outcry that followed Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video in 1986. But beyond reiterating the images and general themes in Gaga’s nearly 10-minute video, which came out on June 7, few critics have reflected on its deeper message, whichin my view is a critique of repressed sexuality—not “blasphemy as entertainment.”
In it, Gaga portrays herself first as a queen and then as a nun. Her cadre of male dancers appear as soldiers and then as pseudo-drag queens wearing fishnets and high heels. Is it a coincidence that Queen Elizabeth I of England was revered for her virginity, that Catholic nuns take vows of celibacy, and that US soldiers are still being told to lie about their sexuality because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
I think not. It took a few viewings and discussions with groups of friends to try and figure out what Gaga meant with all of these conflicting images, but I think her underlying message is a commentary against sexual conformity.
The week before the video was released, Gaga appeared on Larry King Live to offer a sneak preview. The work, she said, features a “homoerotic military theme” and “is a celebration of my love and appreciation for the gay community, my admiration of their bravery, their love for one another and their courage in their relationships.” Did nobody notice her explanation? Yes, Gaga wears a rubber nun habit, and yes, she swallows a set of rosary beads—big no-nos in the Catholic Church—but this video isn’t about religion in the way Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was.
In any case, the “Alejandro” imagery will no doubt continue to cause controversy, as the music blogosphere is now reporting that Gaga will appear on the next cover of Rolling Stone wearing little more than the machine-gun bra she sports in the video.