Pop culture as religion: Lady Gaga explains the controversial biblical imagery in her upcoming music video "Judas"
Next week Lady Gaga will premiere a Federico Fellini-esque music video for her new single "Judas," a song that has predictably rankled Catholic groups with its hard-edged appropriation of the biblical story of Jesus' betrayer as a metaphor for falling for the wrong man. In the video, which she co-directed with Canadian choreographer Laurieann Gibson, Gaga will star as the prostitute Mary Magdalene leading a motorcycle gang of apostles on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In a brief and slightly philosophical phone interview with MSN before her concert at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday, the singer insisted the video is an affirmation of faith, not a challenge to it. The subject of faith will also be a major theme on her third album, "Born This Way", which she says is now finished and ready for its May 23rd release date, and her forthcoming tour to support it.
Where are you at with the new record? Is it done yet?
Actually, yes it's in mastering right now. We just finished cleaning up all the mixes and I had a really nice spiritual experience last night. I pulled the car over and just sat in the car by myself and listened to the whole album and I called everybody and I said I think it's done. So it's in mastering right now and I'm so happy with it. I'm really proud and it feels good to finally give birth to it. It's been many weeks of labour pains.
Where were you driving yesterday?
It was in New York. I was leaving Manhattan to drive to Montreal.
You have a new single out, "Judas". Growing up you went to Catholic school, is that correct?
How did your Catholic background inform the songwriting for that track and the album?
Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that my schooling informed the songwriting on that record in particular. "Judas" is a metaphor and an analogy about forgiveness and betrayal and things that haunt you in your life and how I believe that it's the darkness in your life that ultimately shines and illuminates the greater light that you have upon you.
Someone once said to me, "If you have no shadows then you're not standing in the light." So the song is about washing the feet of both good and evil and understanding and forgiving the demons from your past in order to move into the greatness of your future. I just like really aggressive metaphors -- harder, thicker, darker -- and my fans do as well. So it is a very challenging and aggressive metaphor, but it is a metaphor.
How will that metaphor play out in the music video?
Well the video, in essence, suggests that [pauses] forgiveness and betrayal are hand in hand and that... how do I say this? The video puts destiny above all things and postures that the mistakes in your life are in fact not mistakes at all, they are just part of your overarching potential and your destiny.
What's the concept?
Well, I want to allow the video to speak for itself but I will say that 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.
You talked about "Judas" being about forgiveness. Can you forgive the person who leaked it a week early?
Yeah! You know, I don't care. It's OK. At the end of the day the song was finished and it was ready to go so it's always difficult on the promotional end because we have to hurry up and get everything ready to go but we were prepared. I'd already shot the video and it went exactly as I'd wanted it to and it looks really beautiful and I'm just excited the fans got to hear the music. I don't obsess about things like that.
I have a question from one of our Facebook fans named Chelsea. She would like to know if the magnitude of your success has dawned on you yet?
It hasn't entirely dawned on me but the magnitude of the fans and their love is something that is very clear to me and that's what I focus on more than anything. I just love and cherish them so much. I, in many ways, still think of myself as the underdog. I don't feel that I've even begun to show the fans or the world what I'm capable of as a musician so I'm excited for the future. I don't believe I've even put a dent in the pot, to be honest.
What ways did you challenge yourself with the songwriting and music on the new album?
I really pushed myself musically. My favorite thing about the album is the songwriting is really, really beautiful and the melodies and choruses -- any one of the songs could be stripped off the track and played at a piano and it's just a really awesome piece of music. We spent so much time orchestrating the record, it's very epic and dramatic and theatrical. Start to finish one may even imagine that it's a soundtrack to a musical. It's really special to me and I put my heart and soul into it and I feel I've grown so much as a songwriter.
What's the wildest idea that you've had but couldn't pull off?
Most of them we pulled off eventually. Sometimes we just don't have the time to get it all finished. I have so many ideas that sometimes I fear that I'll never get them all out before I die. Haus of Gaga is really amazing and I love my friends so much for committing to our vision together and we almost always get everything out there and polished and ready. What's most important to me is that the ideas are executed well.
This album continues the same sort of fascination with pop culture as religion. It's just a much deeper and in-depth association with pop culture as religion. On "The Fame" and "The Fame Monster" I was analyzing fame in the context of the way that only I could understand it as somebody who didn't have it yet. So it was more the art of fame and now that I have my fans and I have quote-unquote The Fame, the album is more about pop culture as religion, young voices and generation as religion, secular thinking as religion, moving forward and modernity as religion. So going back to your earlier question about Judas as a religious reference, it's less of a reference to institutionalized religion and more of a cultural reference in relation to pop culture as religion.
How will you represent those ideas in the forthcoming tour in support of the album?
Well, I'm fascinated with iconography and I'm fascinated with the way that iconography is taught in terms of education to the world, whether it be through institutionalized religion or through symbolism or through movies or through music. If I could put it in one sentence I would say, if they were not who you were taught that they would be, would you still believe? In a lot of ways it's about faith and hope but not in the religious sense. It's about faith and hope in culture especially in a time all over the world where many are in need of hope, in need of understanding, in need of love, in need of lack of prejudice, in need of no judgment, in need of acceptance. How can we look to culture for faith?
What icons have you put faith in throughout your life?