Lady Gaga is back with "Born This Way," and yet again, we will try to deconstruct it. Last time, we explored the ins and outs and all the subtle imagery, influences, and meaning behind Gaga's music video for "Telephone." Her latest is just as controversial and confusing as "Telephone"—but it's also perhaps the most concept-driven video she's released so far.
Initial reports and feedback for the video—which premiered Monday on VEVO—ran the gamut from "the most epic video she's ever done" to "what the hell is going on" and "God, this is gross." Clocking in at almost seven and a half minutes, we think there's more to the story than others
give her credit for. Lady G herself wrote the script and treatment for
the video, while famed British fashion photographer Nick Knight was
brought on to direct, along with choreographer Laurieann Gibson, and
Nicole Formichetti, who styled the video. While "Telephone" was a
meditation in pop art and exhibited Gaga as a modern-day Dadaist of
sorts, "BTW" sees the star moving forward into surrealism, acknowledging
Salvador Dali and expressionist Francis Bacon as inspirations. With the
songs on her last album, Gaga navigated the trappings of fame, excess,
and societal expectations all the while campaigning for female strength.
She still does this, but with "Born This Way" she chooses to build a
new world entirely rather than attempting to fit anyone else's mold.
Our journey into Lady Gaga's space-age utopia opens with some telling, very Gaga imagery set against the opening music from Vertigo, scored by Bernard Herrmann. The film was directed by the master of psychological thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock, who is one of the singer's noted inspirations. The clip opens with an inverted pink triangle, a symbol for gay rights, but originally used as badge required to be worn by homosexual men in Nazi concentration camps. In case you've been living under a rock, "BTW" is about gender equality and gay rights, so no surprise here.
Within the triangle, we see a city
skyline (a heavy nod to Metropolis, but more on that later) and...a
unicorn. Whee! The unicorn matters for several reasons: not just campy
and fun, the unicorn serves as a metaphor
for strength in the Hebrew Bible—depicted as "powerful, fierce,
wild"—which is what Gaga is championing here. Perhaps even more
interesting is the unicorn's medieval significance: The creature was popularized
during that time through a story about a unicorn who was tamed by a
virgin maiden; the unicorn became a symbol for the relationship between
Virgin Mary and Christ—pure love and immaculate conception. And,
wouldn't you know it, Lady Gaga describes
the process of recording "Born this Way" to Vogue in their latest
issue, saying: "the gates just opened, and the songs kept coming. It was
like an immaculate conception."
Next we have a series of triangles compounding on top of each other, forming a series of "V" signs. A frequently used symbol by Gaga (remember her Pussy Wagon in "Telephone"?), V is for vagina, speaking to another one of Gaga's themes: gender equality.
"This is the manifesto of Mother Monster," Gaga greets us. She's channeling Fritz Lang's 1927 expressionist film, Metropolis—the background behind her regal getup reminiscent of the futuristic cityscape we see in the movie. (Yes, Janelle Monae has also been inspired by Lang for both of her albums. And Beyonce...but we can't really explain that one.) Metropolis depicts a futuristic dystopia in which there is a split between two social classes; an android named Maria (a copy of a real-life girl) is used to incite a revolt among the worker classes. This isn't the first time that Lady Gaga has recreated images from Metropolis—David LaChapelle shot her for Rolling Stone as an android against the famous backdrop in 2009. Her headdress, neck regalia, and wardrobe is an ode to her dearly departed friend and frequent source of inspiration, Alexander McQueen, featuring looks that honor his breathtaking final collection.
There are all sorts of conspiracy theories surrounding Gaga's possible involvement with the Illuminati—a secret society once formed during the Enlightenment, that is now known as a supposed conspiratorial group trying to establish a "New World Order." While it's highly unlikely she's on a mission to brainwash America or control world events, you can bet that she's playing with the imagery to make her own statement about the superficiality of fame and consumer-driven mass culture. So yeah, she uses occult symbolism. Whatever.
Oh, also, her hair is also shaped like a Pope hat. She's God.
The stars are shaped like a uterus!! FEMINISTS, UNITE! A slight rainbow of gay pride emits underneath Gaga as she spreads her arms in the shape of her glowing womb. Alternately, Gaga is also signaling her role as the "Mother" through some crucifixion imagery, likely in the vein of painter Francis Bacon, whom she lists as an inspiration for "BTW." Gaga is ready to die and be reborn for her Little Monsters seeking refuge from various forms of discrimination.
The most obvious and striking image, however is Gaga's birthing scene and how clearly it draws from Salvador Dali's "Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man." Gaga must be a big fan of the Surrealist Manifesto, because her work clearly echoes the mission of the surrealists. Regarded as a revolutionary movement in the name of non-conformity, surrealism frequently uses juxtaposition, absurdism, and elements of the unconscious to make a case for an escape from rationalism and social/societal restrictions. Dali's painting features a figure emerging out an egg-shaped globe from North America, while an androgynous figure stands with a scared child, watching his birth. The painting is said to be a commentary on World War II and of the "man/America struggling to be born" as a new world power, crushing Europe with its hand. Gaga plays with the WWII imagery throughout her video; her goal to create a "new race" is no doubt controversial language to use—but she takes the violent and scarred imagery of our world's past and flips it around to mean the exact opposite of what it did in the Holocaust. Gaga champions a race which is built upon the equality and celebration of all different people, creeds, orientations, and walks of life.