Judas (Lady Gaga Music Video)

This is my favorite music video/song by Lady Gaga.  Probably in part because the of the Biblical imagery, which is so familiar to me, but also because I think it has a message I can get behind.  And I love the portrayal of Jesus; it might be one of my favorites ever.

It’s important to realize first of all that this is not a depiction of a Bible story.  It is a re-contextualization of familiar archetypes that tells its own story.  That it is not Biblically accurate (and therefore meant to be viewed metaphorically, in my opinion) is obvious within a few lines.  She sings that she is in love with Judas, that she’ll wash his hair with her feet and forgive him even if he betrays her three times.  So with one breath she mixes stories about Jesus and Peter, respectively, with this character of Judas.  The main question in assigning an interpretation to this video/song is who or what Judas is meant to represent, but it is clear that he doesn’t represent the Judas recorded by the gospels.

Here are the lyrics.  I’ve left out some of the Ooohs and Juda-a-ases:

Ohohohoh
I’m in love with Judas (x2)

Judas! Juda-as Judas! Judaas
Judas! Juda-as Judas! GAGA

[verse one]

When he comes to me I am ready
I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times he betrays me

I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

[Chorus]
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby

Ohohohoh
I’m in love with Judas (x2)

Judas! Juda-as Judas! Judaas
Judas! Juda-as Judas! GAGA

[verse two]

I couldn’t love a man so purely
Even prophets forgave his crooked way
I’ve learned love is like a brick you can
Build a house or sink a dead body

I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

[Repeat Chorus]

[Bridge]
In the most Biblical sense,
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas, kiss me if offenced,
Or wear ear condom next time

I wanna love you,
But something’s pulling me away from you
Jesus is my virtue,
Judas is the demon I cling to
I cling to

[Repeat Chorus]


In my opinion there are two ways this song and video can be interpreted.  One is for Judas to represent a bad boyfriend that she can’t stop loving and wanting to be with even though she knows he’s bad news and she has a better alternative right in front of her.  That’s not a negative message, but it’s not really positive either since she never gets over him, so to speak, and the whole song is sort of reveling in the misery of this destructive relationship even though she knows she would be better off if she could end it.  It’s not empowering, and it’s not healthy.  It’s like she’s saying, “I know, he’s so bad, right? But I like him and I can’t help how I feel!”  It’s really not always a good strategy to let your heart lead.  At the same time, the song isn’t really advocating that this is a good choice, it’s pretty clearly focused on the turmoil of such a situation, and the video especially demonstrates that it doesn’t lead to a happy ending.  But I don’t know that the song itself makes the point strongly enough.

The other way to interpret the song is more metaphorical, where Judas represents a dark, sinful nature (“demon”) and Jesus represents virtue, (as the bridge states), or the right way of living.  It overlaps with the other interpretation very well–why is sin so appealing?  Well, it’s like a bad boyfriend that you just can’t stop loving even though you know you shouldn’t.  That’s a very apt description of the inner struggle Christians go through daily.  It doesn’t really encourage you to keep up the good fight, but it doesn’t really glorify giving in to temptation, either.  At the end of the video Gaga is stoned to death, because she can’t let go of her attachment to Judas and all the darkness that he symbolizes.  That’s an incredibly theologically accurate message.  (Not that you should be stoned for your mistakes, but that sin leads to destruction).

It’s also possible that Lady Gaga meant for the final scene to be some sort of metaphor for her “persecution” at the hands of some of the more conservative segments of the population.  The ones that boycott her, say she’s blasphemous, the whore of Babylon, a whore in general, etc. etc.  She speaks directly to this issue in the bridge, and I think she really is conflicted.  I don’t think she has fully rejected the Catholicism that she grew up with, and I think it bothers her that some people label her as a godless, demonic, false prophet or what have you.  But in the same stanza, she includes an example of the envelope-pushing, outrageous style in which she presents herself, an image that has led to (and thrives on) outrage and criticism by some.  She says, if you’re offended, “wear ear condom next time.”  I don’t have a problem with the point that you don’t have to listen to her if you don’t like her.  But the manufacture and use of a phrase like “ear condom” serves no purpose except to be provocative and shocking.  The idea could have been phrased a number of different ways, “wear some ear plugs next time,” “wear some ear muffs next time,” “don’t listen next time,” “skip the record next time,”  whatever.  “Ear condom,” while easily understood, makes you think of sex, and maybe makes you think about how the Catholic church does not condone their use, so it’s just potentially controversial for no reason.  It doesn’t even fit the meter, or wouldn’t if it included an article to make it grammatical.  I know songwriters get poetic license on grammar, but I think it’s clear here that she’s just trying to be edgy.

There is a clever line in the second verse that compares love to a brick and says “you can build a house or sink a dead body.”  I would say that is true if you are talking about romantic love, or emotional attachment.  In other words, not the self-sacrificing love the real Jesus has for us, and not the love we are called to show our neighbors as ourselves.  Not the love that is a decision, an act of will, a commitment.  No, Gaga is just talking about feelings, so her statement is true only in that context–if you are attached to someone who has fond feelings for you as well, you can build a happy life together, but if you are emotionally tied up with someone who doesn’t like you back or isn’t kind to you, it can pull you under.  It’s pretty insightful, I just think it’s important to clarify.

My final thoughts on this video have to do with the Biblical imagery.  Some have suggested that Lady Gaga is portraying Mary Magdalene, and is perpetuating the heretical view that she was Jesus’ lover. I don’t really think so, or at least I don’t think it’s offensive.  Even if she is supposed to represent Magdalene, as stated, everything is such a mishmash, it isn’t trying to be accurate.  Gaga said so herself.

I really love the depiction of Jesus and the disciples as a biker gang.  It’s an appropriate modernization, I think, and it’s good to think about how Jesus would fit into different contexts instead of always picturing him wearing a robe and sandals.  He dressed that way because it was customary at the time.  If he were here now he wouldn’t be walking around that way.  Of course, he wouldn’t be walking around with a golden crown of thorns, either, but that’s part of identifying the actor as that particular archetype.  (I don’t really know what to make of the “king with no crown” lyrics, by the way, in relation to Judas.)  One of the best things about this song and video is that it reinforces the idea that Jesus is good.  That seems pretty basic, but it’s a forgone conclusion that she’d be better of with him, that he is the better choice, and we all understand that Judas, whether he represents sin nature or just a bad boyfriend, is bad largely because he’s being contrasted with a figure that we all accept as ideal and faultless.  Nothing wrong with emphasizing that.  And doesn’t this actor play Jesus perfectly?  He looks loving and kind, he isn’t provoked to anger, he looks like he’s just waiting for you to ask him to forgive or heal you.

I know I haven’t touched on the whole bathtub footwashing/crashing wave baptism motif.  I really don’t know what to make of it.

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