June 19, 2011

Jennifer Kern's Pick: Lady Gaga's "Judas"

Please enjoy Jennifer's fascinating take on this unusual work. If you would like to host this blog for a day, feel free to drop me a line.
Nationality: AmericanBorn/Died: 1986-
Creation Date: 2011Media: Musical recording and video recording
Lady Gaga is a rare performer who is both wildly popular and wildly underrated. I first recognized the "wildly underrated" part when I tried convincing a couple people that the song Bad Romance is an utterly transcendent song by someone who obviously knows "the total passion for the total height." They remained unconvinced.

Now, Lady Gaga has turned out a video that's a jaw-dropping allegory of virtue and vice. Not a simple song "advocating Satan-worship," as some YouTube commentators think, nor a slightly-less-simple ditty about a girl who likes the bad boy, Lady Gaga makes it abundantly clear that in this song, "Jesus is my virtue; Judas is the demon I cling to."

I invite you to watch the video now, before reading this analysis, as many times as you like. The more you notice on your own, the more fun this will be.

At first, what kept me coming back to the video was just the music, not the video or the lyrics. As I watched it multiple times, I noticed more of what was going on. At first I thought that the man she was riding the motorcycle with in the beginning was Judas, since that's the title character, but Judas was riding up from the back of the pack. She's riding with Jesus, not Judas. Jesus is actually easier to identify later in the video, where he's reaching out to the crowds who are clamoring for his attention.

One would think that in a song proclaiming love for Judas, she would show it a little. In fact, their first contact in the video (1:30) has her shoving him "down, down" the stairs. Meanwhile she is at Jesus' side and seems entirely devoted to him. This love that she has for Judas is evidently not a love she wants to have. She sings, "I've learned that love is like a brick, you can build a house or sink a dead body." That won't be the only time a reference to a dead body shows up in this video.

Later, she and Jesus are walking through a crowd (3:23) and she's dressed as an Inquisitor. She seems to be serving as Jesus' bodyguard. As Judas approaches, she stands between the two of them to protect Jesus, perhaps from the kiss of betrayal, which happens later. She puts a gun in Judas' face but she can't bring herself to kill him -- her opposition is "cosmetic." She ends up paying for that with her life, as we'll see later.

She's then shown between Jesus and Judas inside what looks like a giant stoup of Catholic holy water. There's a fire behind her to the left. She's usually facing Jesus and turning her back to Judas. The two men are barefooted, and she washes Jesus' feet but not Judas'. The only acknowledgment she shows to Judas at all is when she flings holy water in his face.

But ignoring Judas isn't enough. She did not kill him when she had the chance. In the end, a mob stones her to death. Why, and what does this have to do with Judas? Well, she's wearing a LOT of white, which is the traditional color of goodness and purity, but she's also sporting a few stark streaks of black. Presumably she's being stoned for the black that she chose to "cling to." But--how is it possible that Mrs. Jesus herself gets executed by stoning? Where's his "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" zinger? Well, Judas has already betrayed him. Jesus isn't there to save her. The wages of sin is death.

There are a couple things about this video that I don't know what to make of:

1) At 2:49 a riot breaks out, and I don't know why. Judas seems to be at fault somehow, and it may be why he comes before Jesus and Gaga the Inquisitor. Also, when she looks back at Jesus (3:26), he shakes his head "no." No... what? Don't kill him? If so, then why does she look back at Judas with such dread, and why, when she doesn't kill him, does she drop to her knees in front of Jesus as if to beg forgiveness?

2) At 3:45, where the scene alternates between her pouring small amounts of water in the stoup and being swept away by a huge wave, what is being conveyed by the wave? Is that a baptism of some kind? A contrast between passively letting herself get swept away and actively taking some small actions? Is it nothing at all?

Before closing, I just want to note how visually striking the video is. Whether she's done up like a porcelain doll with curlicue eyeliner and lace sleeves while moving her head like a shark (3:13) -- or she's sporting a man's Jewish headdress with huge cat-eyes -- or she's posing her dagger fingernails just so -- this video offers so much that is gorgeous and compelling.

I said before that Lady Gaga is a rare artist. "Judas" is likewise a rare work of art. I've read many, many of the YouTube comments on this video, none of which seem to get any deeper than "Satanist" or "ladee gaga rulz, paws up!" It's my hope that those who like Lady Gaga can gain a deeper understanding of the video, and that those who don't like her will at least see something in the video and in her that's worthy of their respect.
- Jennifer Kerns


  1. Since when did a random assembly of "fashion" and religious imagery become equivalent to the "total passion for the total height"??

  2. "Total passion for the total height" was referring to "Bad Romance," and in that case it's referring to the music, not the video.

    This video is about the struggle against vice -- it's not just a jumble of religious imagery.

    ~Jennifer Kerns