Fox News' celebrity division (Fox 411) has titled its blog on Lady Gaga's latest video, "Alejandro" provocatively enough: "Lady Gaga Is Latest Celeb to Abuse Catholic Imagery in Hollywood's 'War on Religion.'" Now that's a mouthful. Gaga's use of a PVC or rubber nun's habit and swallowing rosary beads are evidently bombs one and two in her war on Catholicism. If that's the best Hollywood can do, I don't think there's much to worry about.
Since I'm always intrigued when one of these pop culture vs religion stories comes up, I took a look at "Alejandro" (and then afterward wondered if I wanted it in the Web history of my work computer). It's certainly highly sexualized and distinctly homoerotic with a dose of gender-bending, though I'm not sure I would call it particularly edgy, as people dancing around in their underwear, even leather underwear and fishnets, and simulating sex is hardly anything new. In fact I think it's as old as humanity. Or maybe I'm difficult to shock.
But the use of religious imagery here is pretty derivative. "Alejandro" is clearly a visual homage to Madonna videos such as those for "Vogue," "Erotica," and "Like a Prayer," the latter of which also sparked controversy because Madonna kissed a dark-skinned "Jesus" as part of a dream sequence. (That scene was, quite frankly, less lurid than one might find in the writings of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and other mystics, who used blatant sexual imagery to describe their relationship with Jesus.) Anyway, if she hadn't been emulating Madonna, I wonder if Gaga would have included any Catholic imagery at all.
In fact I think there is a sense in which Gaga used her religious imagery well, in that the habit she wore functioned as a symbol of self-restraint or self-possession in an otherwise unrestrained presentation of sexuality. She remained completely motionless in those scenes, and even eating rosary beads might indicate the desire to take in something beyond what the rest of the video portrayed. Or not. Mark Judge at the Washington Post's On Faith blog is far less generous, and he makes some good points in his unfavorable comparison of "Alejandro" to the much better "Like a Prayer."
I wouldn't call it high art, though there are some moments of interesting tension (light and dark, constraint and freedom); the militaristic elements, I think, say something about alienation, perhaps from sexuality, as the sex in the video is completely lacking in human connection or tenderness or even fun. But some elements of the video are just clumsy and literal; there's nothing imaginative about actually simulating sex to music. That said, I wouldn't recommend it to easily shocked viewers, but I'm not sure it's something worth getting in a lather about.
As for the song, while catchy like so much pop, the UK Guardian's reviewer notes a distinct similarity to Ace of Bass. I thought if you stripped out some of the underlying musical lines, there might be some ABBA in there, too.