My music interest normally includes the progressional rock landscape, and Marillion and Steven Wilson are closest to my heart. I haven't really lent artists like Lady Gaga my ear. But in a subject called Reading Verbal and Visual signs in the Master course at university, I had to. I now find myself quite fascinated by the kind of bravery she shows, and how she is just as much a critic and provocateur of society as she is an artist, maybe even more so. Anyone can be beautiful and sing like an angel, but not everyone would dare to be beautiful and yet play on the ugly. But sadly it is easy to miss her comments in all the 'originality' she flaunts around. Or maybe what it is, is that you only find the hidden meaning behind the crazy costumes and strange behaviour if you're really looking, or if you're prepared to see behind the hit song and the Hollywood glamour?
I think I will have to look into her musical and visual career a bit more in the future. She is definitely a great singer, and the more recent music dives deeper into both difficult and taboo topics, and I highly respect that. And the beautiful and important song, Till it Happens to You, is absolutely heartbreaking. This entry, however, will be about a song from an earlier stage in her rocket career.
There is a meta element in her career; she's using her magnificent fame to talk about magnificent fame. And we could just say lightly that she's original and special, or we could look deeper and see that there is a reason to the madness. This blog entry is the latter. I will look at Bad Romance as I would look at a poem. I will search for hidden meaning, I will search for the obvious and the obscure. And I might conclude with what others have concluded with before me, or I might have gone even deeper, let's see, eh?
I have read a few comments on Bad Romance, and I realised that I only partially agreed, so I will focus on my own thoughts and findings. And I will also add that the following interpretation is my own, and therefore very subjective. I won't claim to have the answer to what this is all about, as I am pretty sure I don't. My teacher in Reading Verbal And Visual signs said that the wonderful thing about interpretations is that we can have different meanings as long as we can back it up with some sort of theory. And it is in that spirit I write this analysis.
BAD ROMANCE by LADY GAGA (2009)
The first image is almost a still shot where all the people participating in the video are presented. They are all motionless, and Lady Gaga is seated in the 'throne' in the middle. She's wearing a gold robe, and strange looking glasses of razor blades in the shape of sunbeams. She's in charge of when the real song starts and the fake cembalo music stops, even motionless she owns the room, but at this point there is no interaction with the viewer yet. Even with a close up of her face we feel detached from her, she is looking away, or so it seems, and her eyes are hidden behind the dangerous razor glasses.
When Lady Gaga then unleash the song, she also wakes up the monster. She has on several occasions referred to herself as a monster of fame, and this parable is taken further in the first bars of this song and the first frames of this video, when she (and her gang) are awakened by the sun. And here it is wroth noticing the Egyptian element. The sunbeam shines in on a dark room, and when it hits the mirror, the room lights up completely. They crawl out of what looks like ski-boxes to my Norwegian perspective, but probably are meant to be coffins. Lady Gaga's coffin has a cross and the word 'monster' written in red ink.
The group are all in white spandex, and they are all wearing masks that cover their entire face. Only small openings for the eyes. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, has a mask covering her eyes completely, stopping her from interacting with the audience even though she is facing the camera, but her mouth and nose are free. All of them are wearing strange looking crowns. The crowns could be meant to look like mad scientist hair, or antennas. They are definitely helping obscuring the human body. Lady Gaga has a very visible, sticking out spine, like monsters from history, it could maybe even be a link to the devil.
When they start to dance, they are lit up from behind, making them seem very silhouette-like.
All of this is taking place in the Bath Haus oF GaGa, and historically every single culture on the planet has had some sort of bathhouse. It was known as a public bathhouse, but taking it as far back as the antiquity, to be a member of the public one had to be a citizen, and only few got that title. So the bathhouse in history was to the rich and powerful. It was seen as a place to meet and greet, both in a friendly capacity and in a political capacity. So with the setting of a Germanesque spelling of the bathhouse, we have our stage for the video. All the different scenes in this video are shot in the same room, this white, shower room, bathhouse, changing room of some sort, they just change angle, props and costumes. Even the scene where Lady Gaga is a distorted monster with a bat on her head, completely naked, with bones sticking out everywhere, she's in a dim lit shot in one of the stalls in the same room.
When the song starts, the lyrics that is, we get a shot of a wide eyed girl in a bathtub. Even though she is looking at the camera, her eyes have been altered, magnified, so it is also distorted and wrong. Her hair is pale red, and she is portrayed rather child like. The next shot we get is her looking at us through a mirror, and through black sunglasses. Here she's all in black, with a black crown on her head. The black crown is an opposite to the white crown in the monster scene. She's still a queen...
The first proper interaction we get with the artist is an extreme close up of her face, where she's natural looking, and her eyes are staring into the camera. But even in this shot we are tricked into seeing another truth than THE truth. It took me a while to actually see this detail, as I first mistook this for the 'honest' part, where she's looking at her audience, making them interact and maybe even get some sympathy for her. But then it struck me. The artist behind the character Lady Gaga has brown eyes. Her eyes in this close up shot are blue/green. So even in this show there is a veil of deception before the gaze hits the audience. This could easily be interpreted to meaning that we shouldn't believe a single thing we see coming from the entertainment business, or news as such, that we never know the full picture. Which of course is the same when looking at a close up. A face can say a lot, but it cannot reveal whether or not the person is bound on hands and feet, or if they are naked or wearing clothes, if they are bruised or have scars, and things like that. A close up tells the truth, but only parts of the truth.
Another element to this is that she's probably, though beautiful and natural looking, the MONSTER in this shot, as she's actually wearing the albino bat on her head. We're only seeing the face, not the full picture.
Then she's dragged out of the bath house and 'drugged' (I read somewhere that the vodka the 'models' force her to drink is the MTV-approved drugging - forgetting that the most dangerous drug of them all is alcohol...long live double standards...), and dressed in diamonds to dance her Salome dance for the Russian audience. I was first looking for seven dances of seduction in this video, but realised she plays more roles than seven, a fact I will return to below.
They are all drinking a vodka that has cunningly been named Nemiroff, and I believe this is to make us think about Smirnoff. This Nemiroff vodka has been made by LEX, which is Latin for law. And many links could be drawn to these details.
Her saying she's a free bitch, and a close up of a Sphynx cat hissing, can be interpreted as yet another link to Egyptian mythology. We already have the link to Ra, the God of the sun, both in the first shots when she wakes up, and also in her words...'Rah Rah ah ah ah ah' But this could be a coincidence...Though I doubt that there are any of the sort. I think every step of the video, the song, the performance and the presentation are results of the bravery behind a creative process of this kind. And I think we, the audience, know so little about how this world really is, that we are ready to believe whatever we are presented with...And maybe most of us just think...well, that Lady Gaga sure is original...
The dance of the seven veils (Oscar Wilde - The Bible), could be present in the fact that we never see the artist as she truly is, we view her through her characters of various seduction, through different veils. There is also a madness element present throughout the whole video. The only rational character she portraits is the one who is meant to look natural. But then we can ask if she's mad because of the circumstances, or if she's mad because that's who she is? Or maybe the madness is a conscious choice? And then we can ask if it is madness at all?
The most interesting scene is the one that is the most obscure, I think. When she's naked in the shower...but she's hardly human anymore. She is a full blown monster with a spine that is sticking out, and her body has been altered to look more insect, or animal like. There is an albino bat on her head, and the shot is presenting her as a creature of the shadows. I am tempted to look at this from many angles.
It could be how she truly views herself.
It could be how she believes the world view her.
It could be how she believes men view her.
Another thing with this part is that because of the lack of lights she seems even more marginalised than any of the other characters.
If this is, in fact, the body of the close-up face, then she is playing even more on the beauty-ugly metaphor. And she's definitely toying with us. When we see a fragment of a whole, we still expect the rest of the image to correspond with the fragment...when it doesn't, we can almost not believe it. Also this took me a while to see ;)
At 3.16 or 3.18 something interesting happens.
Some have said that she's making the sign of a pyramid, and knowing that there is a definite Egyptian element in this video, that could be true...But I think she's making the sign of the cross. She is a Catholic after all...isn't she?
If it happens at 3.16 (as I think is the most likely, I just don't have the equipment to stop the video at the right moment), then this is probably a link to John 3.16 'For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' Is she saying that she's got eternal life through her fame?
But her making the sign of the cross could also happen at 3.18, and if it does it could be the light and the dark within her fighting. The holy trinity at one side, and the number of the beast on the other.
Of course, having mentioned that I don't have the equipment to stop the video at the right moment, it could be happening at 3.15, in which case it might mean something different completely.
Also, Lady Gaga makes a triangle sign with her fingers framing her eye, and this is an element she adds in all of her videos...Some say it's Illuminati again...I believe there is a Christian element, the good girl vs. the girl who does exactly what ever the hell she wants...the light and darkness fight we all have within.
Then she's dressed in black lingerie surrounded by suspended floating diamonds. In front of her private parts is a diamond cross, and she's wearing a mask and has a harness on, that she's holding herself. The cross on her private parts could be there to shock and cause debate. It certainly doesn't look like it is because of her virtuous attitude. Maybe she's suggesting that she is innocent and virtuous to make the spectators think she's all that, when in fact she's on sale? This could be her contemplating the 'prostitution-part' of the business she's in? Of course, I am only speculating here, and my guess is as good as yours :)
The part where she's a freaky fashion diva, striking poses (with a clear Madonna link), I believe she's commentating on the non-free will of the business. Be here, stand there, do this, sing that, dance on that stage, wear that designer's dress on that award night, be what we want you to be, never what you want to be. And I think Lady Gaga is one of those artists in the business that is a free spirit, and that dealing with her is like dealing with a storm. I can imagine that she has only a few people she can trust, and that who she really is, is a well kept secret (as it should be. None of us really have any business digging in public figures' private lives...but we do, greedily as such. It has become a business of its own; to snoop around famous peoples' lives, and think that our opinion of their shape, clothes, lack of makeup or too much, is really any of our business).
This part portrays her almost statue like inside orbiting planets, or something. It could be a link to the Illuminati, with a Gaga-version of Da Vinci's Vetruvian Man, or it could be her as the centre of the universe. I think both interpretations can be valid.
She's wearing the fake skin of a polar bear when she's walking to the altar of love. Behind the bed are two gazelles, and their antlers could easily be linked to devil worshipping. But again I will disagree with the assumptions made previously, as the gazelles can be found in many of her videos. Certainly in Paparazzi. Though, having said that, she is 'killed' by a man under the gazelles in Paparazzi, so maybe it has a link to devilry. I believe it is more iconic. Horns doesn't mean devil. It can mean masculinity, it can mean phallic elements, it can mean something as benign as symmetry. And symmetry in a face means beauty to the human eye, and beauty is what Lady Gaga plays on in many of her videos, or diverge from.
At last she is 'waking up' on the floor, wearing a red costume reminding me a bit about the costume worn by Leeloo in The Fifht Element (if you haven't seen this film, then that is your homework for next time, as it is probably one of the best sci-fi films in the world...).
Here I think we meet the most honest Lady Gaga. She's looking directly at us with her own brown eyes, probably her own hair, and she's entering the part of the song where her emotions come through in her singing 'I don't wanna be friends'...meaning she wants a proper connection to audience and to her male companions. A proper connection with LOVE - LOVE - LOVE.
She's presenting herself on the floor, almost throwing a child like tantrum, 'I don't want to...'
I have read that Lady Gaga wrote this song, whilst in Norway actually, and that it is about how she finds it difficult to make proper lasting emotional connections with men...but I also think that once an artist has released a piece of work, that work takes on a life of its own, and can mean whatever the viewer (in this case) wants it to mean.
If you have been counting, I think you will see that she is in thirteen different costumes in this video (some of them have additions, and you could say that she's in more costumes, but I count 13 characters - even if the monster/close-up character is one and the same, but I think they are two different characters as they are meant to throw us off a bit...). The thirteenth being her smoking a post-coital cigarette next to her 'victim', almost like a human mantis, having bitten the head off her mate (though in this case she's stripped his flesh off...). She's the Judas of her Last Supper, sacrificing her own virtue and innocence in the name of fame (and having looked into the artist's career a bit, I know she's made a song called Judas, so I'm going to allow myself to draw this link...farfetched as it may be.)
Some think that the last scene, where the man is burning up, is him being sacrificed to the devil, and that this part is her disclosing her occult side. I, however, believe the symbolism is far more loaded here than just meaning devil worshipping. Twice in the song she sings, 'I'm a free bitch, baby'. She's not owned by a male dominated syndicate, and she never will be. She's not willing to be sacrificed for the sake of money or sex, and she's in charge of her own career and life. The fact that the man that 'bought' her ends up as a skeleton, protecting his private parts (a link to when she was protecting her private parts just before the dance of seduction started), is a reversal of the historic virgin sacrifice. Turning it completely around, making the female be in charge in a male dominated both business and society as such.
It is also addressing the fact that for a woman in her position it might be difficult to find a romantic connection with someone. How will she know what kind of intentions lie behind any kind of suggestion? I also think she's thinking about the honesty, or lack thereof, in the whole business.
Even though she is the one showing skin, and seemingly is objectified, in the end, the tables are turned. The male participants in this video, in this story, are shallow and undeveloped. They might want to come across as strong and masculine, but they are concerned with 'one thing only' and actually end up being objectified. She ends up being the character with depth. She's an innocent girl, she's a monster, she's a sex goddess, she's a distant public figure, she's an artist, she's a fashion icon, she's the sun in an entertainment solar system, and she's definitely not someone you mess with.