Alejandro: Lady Gaga’s Epic Video Toward Salvation & Social Justice

Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” premiered this 06-08-2010 and as I type my mind is buzzing with what it means. I have analyzed other Gaga videos before, “Telephone,” and why she is a feminist, part 1 and part 2, and about having to justify her feminism.  This music video is just as complex, provocative, and beautifully executed as the previous ones. Granted, the only person who can really tell us what a video “means” is Gaga herself, but it’s always essential to look at how a video is received and what messages it sends compared/contrasted to what is intended. So, here are some of my thoughts on the visual imagery of “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga.

A general note on German Expressionism/ Film Noir

One immediately notices the dark, sharp cinematography, contrast in light, hints of red, and grim industrial feel to the video. This style has been popular in Film Noir and German Expressionist films.Vice, taboo topics, powerful women, cold calculation, cynical reality, dark human emotions, and simple yet demanding visuals are all prominent. You may get a hint of Nazi Germany in the military attire as well. This style heightens the grave nature of religion, power, and sexuality in this video. The genre in general is about substance, the depth of the topics discussed, while also presenting them in a manner that reflects those topics. “Telephone” and it’s pop culture critique reflected the visuals and the visuals reflected the critique. This is also true with “Alejandro.” The nature of oppression isn’t  a very peppy or happy topic. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the main themes presented in this music video. I am sure there are more than I am covering and I encourage your comments at the bottom!

Gay Community as Warriors

I’ll begin with what Gaga has said about the video. She noted that it is a celebration of her love of the gay community. This can be seen in a number of ways, via the buff and numble dancers in the video. The men are visually represented as strong, sexy, confident, and gender-bending. As the video’s first choreography begins, we are met with miliary imagery, a “gay army” if you will, symbolically reflecting on the determination, strength, and perseverance of the gay community. Also, on another level, you could see this as a slight reference to repealing the DODT. We assume these men are gay due to Gaga’s above statement, and showing them unabashed in military outfits marching makes the gay men (and lesbian women) who serve in reality visible, rather than invisible, worth respect and attention. This is one of the first steps in fighting oppression. First name it, second, if you will, take it out of the closet.

 

Also, the military, as well as, police force has historically and currently denies rights to those who are not hetero, and responsable for horrendous abuses (Stonewall, gender dress code laws, DODT, rape to cure lesbians, ect.) In this video, the power structure is turned on its head, where those who are in power are now those who are oppressed. And what more powerful institution than the military….and later in the video religion to challenge oppression in? Gaga does this by representing her fellow community members in a manner that is not seen in popular culture with seriousness and style. 

Gender Bending & Subverting the Male Gaze

So, we have the sexy gay militia, who also gender bends in the video. I have written about how previous videos have queered the narrative/images, and this video continues that motif.

 

The men not only wear fish net stockings, but also high heels, two things that are strongly associated with femininity, especially heterosexual femininity. This gender-bending does a few things. It challenges gender conformity, and hence sexual orientation conformity to hetero-partrarchal terms.

Further blurring the lines of acceptable sexual pleasure and sexual scripts is the mimicking of sexual intercourse with Gaga via the bed scenes. These are gay men, yet, Gaga has noted her own bisexuality, so what kind of sexual relations are going on? Much like her kiss with the prison inmate in “Telephone,” the assumed subtext to any visual narrative in our culture is heterosexual. Therefore if a woman, Gaga, kissed someone, it is assumed it will be a heterosexual man. Much like the subtext of any romance novel, condom ads, and Valentine’s Day cards are heterosexual (we fancy academics call this idea heteronormativity) Gaga challenges this by visually showing us gender bending gay men, entangled sexually with herself and the other men in bed. Basically this plays with ideas of power, and who’s “on top” so to speak. Normally, its heterosexual men. Here, it is unclear, and that uncertainty drives the status quo crazy. Power controls by having ridged “in and out” rules. The visuals presented break this dichotomy.

 

The light bondage here, also makes reference to a misunderstood and taboo sexual practice, but also to the symbolic “bondage” we are all faced with when it comes to what society tells us is acceptable desire, sexuality and gender performance. Along with the bondage, if we just look at simply the body placement and positions of the men, it is not normally positions that are considered powerful in a male hetero sense. Powerful positions are standing, “erect” if you will, alert and ready, while the men are writhing on bed, legs spread, and well, butts made noticeable. This is something we expect women to do doing on a bed for male pleasure. So here again, “correct” male behavior and positioning is challenged via the queering positioning and actions. Gaga’s own the role in the action balances between a top and bottom, perhaps the balancing act we all play in trying to make sexual relations equitable?

Also, the queering of the video also attempts to subvert the “male gaze” or “patriarchal gaze” of which most popular culture is seen and created through. This is where women are objectified body parts and merely advance the male protagonist’s aspirations and desires. The women have none of her own, and only serve to either prove male heterosexuality, or as an obstacle for which men must overcome to become “real men.” Feminists have pointed this gaze out in a variety of formats, and it can be something very hard to combat. You often must evoke the images of them to challenge them, and Gaga does this in ways that do not further degrade the women, and in this case, gay men in the video.

Gay men and feminized men have often served as “substitute women” when it comes to oppression being enacted upon them. In a culture where straight men are on top, gay men have stereotyped as effeminate, therefore not real men, therefore symbolic women.  In the male gaze, women are not only degraded, but anyone not conforming to prescribed sexual and gender codes.

So, Gaga reverses and subverts this gaze by giving us visuals of powerful sexuality, powerful gay men, and a lone female body that looks back at those watching. She is not being looked at. She is in control. Hence the goggles.

 

Her body is not objectified, but becomes a pallet where objectification is pointed out. The red tape covering her genitals and breasts for example. It serves more as a marker of where the attention is “supposed to be” on women, rather than actually making those areas sexier for the male gaze. It almost obscures it, and makes it not “sexy.” Exactly the point. A side note to that, the shape of the tape on her genitals is rather phallic, hence the challenging of that penis rumor. Or, in some ways, a sign of solidary with the gay male community.

 While there is queering of the narrative, there is also bits of androgyny being employed. Obviously some cross-dressed via the men in heels, and black faux-corsets, and Gaga in a black sleeveless suit, and priest-like robe. Short hair on women has been associated with a lack of femininity, even lesbianism. And Gaga’s flesh-toned bra and undies actually blends her feminines features rather than accentuates them. She becomes genderless/sexless. (The mop-tops on the men are effeminate as well, and also kind monkish.)

 

Finally, the gun-bra. Like the tape and fleshy lingerie, the gun bra has a few meanings. One, it draws attention to an area often objectified area of the female body, and exaggerates it in a way that is not traditionally sexy, if sexy at all. Boom. Subversion of the male gaze. But also, a bit of a tongue in cheek move that hints that breasts are somehow “weapons” and “dangerous.” Breasts are hyerpsexualized in our culture, and often seen as innocent/asexual in religious imagery.  The breast of Mary nourished Jesus for example. Breasts give life.  But also in the male gaze narrative, they can cause men’s downfall. The contrast and contradiction of women’s bodies parts, religion, and power are all wrapped up into a few seconds of dancing. It gives new meaning to the phrase Lethal Weapons!

 Gaga as Symbolic Military/Religious/Oppressor/Liberator

Gaga in the video plays a dual role. She is at once the oppressive authority figure, watching over the gay military, but also a religious figure dressed in a PVC nun habit (nuns are to be pure and chaste) and gothic Queen Elizabeth regalia (Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Virgin Queen.) Power and authority, religion and morality. It is all there, and not by accident. The link and mixing of  military and religion is nothing new. Rulers who have been appointed by “god” and vise versa have quite a history. Gaga is making clear that intermixing at various points in the music video.

 

So, why the religion/ruler imagery? In the context of the homage to the gay community, it becomes clear. Gaga in her live shows and music videos allows herself to become the object of the evils she sees in society. She becomes a “monster” whither it fame, pop culture, or sexual oppression. In both religion and the military, there is sexual oppression. As the goddess-queen, she demands the loyalty if her militia, her flock, in return for love.  Yet as an authority figure, she is also oppressive. In the same ways that religion can be a liberating force in people’s lives, it can also be degrading. The christian visuals  represented are a critique on Catholicism, and all religions that contradict between loving your followers, and controlling them. That contrast is the tension in the music video.

 

How is this tension resolved? At one point Gaga swallows a rosary, perhaps Catholicism swallowing their pride over persecution of gays/lesbians? Choking on hypocrisy? Eating their faith? Gaga seems to resolve these tensions by sacrificing herself to the gay military in a sequence hat leaves her naked, symbolically implying that those in religious authority give up themselves to their people. The projector in the music video displays various scenes of destruction to which Gaga (the authority) is accountable for. Atonement is needed. Justice is due. In the end, de-robed, and dethroned, Gaga no longer hides behind the cloth.

 

  

Sacred Hearts, Death & Enlightenment

The funeral procession in the beginning doesn’t have much explanation until the ending. Likewise the Sacred Heart imagery is significant. Symbolic of love and devotion to Jesus, the heart in the video is frozen, mutilated, and bearing an “A.” “A” I am guessing for “Alejandro” but perhaps a little bit of “A” for adultery as in the Scarlet Letter. Either way, the meaning of this sequence at the beginning feels like a reference to the deaths of all of those in the gay community from hate crimes, abuse, AIDS,  and general death of identity due to having to conform to heterosexuality in order to survive. The Sacred Heart is something positive in Catholicism, yet seen here as frozen represents the fear, intolerance, and hatred that has come from that religion against those who are different. Where is the love and compassion in that heart for the gay/lesbian community. Alejandro is a symbolic martyr. His death mourned in the black and falling snow (or ash from the furnaces of those who were murdered for being different?)

 

The eulogy begins the film, and it seems a proclamation ends it. Behind Gaga, a cross, and radio gear as she asks her name not be spoken. But perhaps, since she (as authority figure) has been sacrificed to her followers, she is now enlightened and spreading the message to others. But if you look closely, Gaga is talking into a microphone in the same room where the Alejandro character is seen. Look closely for the similar table and chairs. The visuals come full circle.  It appears that Alejandro has died, but could it be NunGaga? If you look closely, the man on the bed with her has a golden gun. Does he kill himself or Gaga? It looks like blood is splattered right at the end, just before Gaga’s face morphs into light. So, has Gaga transformed into liberator, or is this her transformation into dictator? Is it a symbolic of the path of the military/religion/status quo? To what end are we traveling?

 

In the end, it is not her name, but the power in the name of authority that determines the worth of individuals. Individuals always have worth of course, but the power structures in our society only give it to certain groups. Gaga is challenging this authority and power in religion, the military, and in general for the gay community. Watch it again now, and decide for yourself. Alejandro: Gaga’s epic tale toward salvation and social justice.

 

Anything I missed? Let me know what you think.

My previous posts on Why Lady Gaga is a feminist.

  • Lady Gaga is a feminist! Why can’t people just accept it?
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    Posted on June 8, 2010, in Pick Guards - Music Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

    1. Lady Gaga is great artist 🙂

    2. Commenting on the puppet strings:

      If you attach all of the messages sent in the video, I personally understand that the majority of this control comes from religion. If you take a look at where control comes from, it comes from the many foundations that society still holds onto, like the basis that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Where does this belief come from? Religion.

      I cannot agree more that this is also a direct message on what Gaga believes about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Men in military uniform dancing in an “effeminate” matter clashes with the supposed necessary “masculinity” of the military,

      One thing that I found very gutsy was the removal of Gaga’s robe. I personally found it to be very enlightening. To me, it stood for the true colors of religion come out. Gaga is stripped of her robe, showing her true, inner self to those who she (or religion) has oppressed. Religion, (mainly catholicism) is hypocritical, when stating that homosexuality is a sin, yet priests all over the planet practice homosexuality in silence, even sometimes against minors. When Gaga is exposed amongst the group of gay men, she is showing her dark interior, that which was meant to be hidden, especially those from who she was control over.

      I also think Gaga shoves down the cross as a symbolism of how religion shoves down a predisposed belief down our throats and expect us to believe it and accept it as ours.

    3. Ok well my comment is still awaiting moderation, but I believe I have discovered the answer to my own question. The Madonna iconography has been irking me ever since I saw the video, I’ve been wondering why Gaga chose this particular video to pay homage to Madonna and how it coincided with the rest of the message of this video and I think I got it.

      In a past interview, concerning her bleeding performance at the VMAs, Lady Gaga said part of her vision behind her bleeding to death on stage was her desire to show the public what the image of her death looked like, maybe then, she said, they would stop looking for the death of her celebrity.

      I believe Gaga has done something similar here with reference to her constant comparison to Madonna. Because Lady Gaga is decidedly pushing the envelope in Alejandro, showing the world something it doesn’t want to see (a not so pretty commentary on religion’s and society’s antagonism towards homosexuality and homoeroticism) she was bound to be further equated with the only other real pop figure, particularly female pop figure, to really push the envelope on people’s perception on homosexuality and female sexuality.

      Rather than passively accepting the comparison and being lumped into the category of being a copy of Madonna, she showed the public visually what some have been saying all along. In other words, she basically said “Ok, you think I’m like Madonna? Fine, I’ll show you what it really looks like for me to be Madonna.”

      Maybe now, people can stop thinking of Lady Gaga as just another Madonna and accept her talent and vision as her own.

    4. Hi, I’m from Colombia and my name is Alejandro feeling very identified in all senses with the story in the video. I’m very impressed with the analysis you have made. I’m very astonished of how I couldn’t see all that was going on in front of me in the video! Sadly the video can just play for a lot of people without realizing all the meaning behind, and it’s sooo important!

      I can actually say I was one of the ignorants that didn’t get what Gaga was trying to do with her behaviors and more than once judged her as most people use to do when they don’t understand what is in front of them and don’t search deeper. Until today. My bad, now I totally admire her.

      I’m curious about your academic formation, do you know if Gaga has also a particular formal academic formation?

      I also wanted to know if particularly the two symbols that are at the beginning of the video 0:41 on each side of the formation represents particularly any institution.

      This meanings should be talked and spread to educate others and generate consciousness of reality out of the academic world using well our media.

      Thank you very much and keep doing such a great work.

    5. Renee from Peru

      Thank you SO much for the informative breakdown of the video. When I first watched it, I knew I would have to get a narrative on the meaning behind it. I love the fact that GaGa’s videos have all of the iconic imagery and meanings behind them. It is refreshing to have an artist that is so visual and artistic. Bravo!

    6. I appreciate your analysis and I concur for the most part. One thing that you did not mention, that I don’t understand about the video.. in the midst of all this commentary on homophobia, gender stereotypes, military and religion, how do the iconic images of Madonna (the artist, not the religious figure) come into play? You mention the gun bra and besides the eloquent manner in which you analyze it, how can you ignore that the image is, although changed still, borrowed? The gun bra alone wouldn’t lead to much confusion, but the images of Gaga in the pant suit coupled with the bra are classic Madonna. I don’t fault Gaga for paying homage to the pop queen, (I refuse to think of it as others do, as outright copying the images assuming no one would notice), but how does this iconography coincide or mesh with all the other symbols and images of the video?
      Another note, you mention the red tape over her genitals.. is it not a cross there?

    7. The only thing I wish u mentioned was the lone soldier having flash backs towards the end of the video and ur thoughts on it? He is also in the beginning of the video with the other guards awake almost watching over them. I see him as an elder general, or gay man that has seen a lot, lived a lot, and experienced much more than the other gays. An elder that not only looks out for the younger generation, but also remembers the tough times as he sees things changing before his eyes. The camera goes to him as a summary of flashbacks of all u previously mentioned goes before his/our eyes. He is seeing times a changing for the better and suddenly is reminded about how tough it was. Scenes of rioting are now shown, possibly the Stonewall riots, not only showing the pain and suffering of the past but also the pivotal moment when the gay community wouldn’t take it anymore and fought back, beginning and creating the change that we now see today. He takes off his hat to honor those of the past that have fought hard to get the gay community where it is today and also to honor those of the next generation and the progress that they continue to make. Perhaps to even honor Gaga for her astonishing work in creating this beautiful video. Thank u for this wonderful insight into her video, and if Gaga herself is reading this I just wanted to say Thank U So Much! You’ve really made this gay little monster’s day. I only hope to meet u one day in person to thank u personally for all u have done to support not only the gay community, but all those that have ever felt different, left out, and freakish in anyway. U love us for who we are when so much of this world does not. Simply, thank u so much. U are what this generation and what this world needs. Keep up the great work and I will see u in Houston in July. We love u Gaga. Once again thanks and be safe.

    8. Thank you so much for this breakdown of the video. I appreciate the serious thought and response. This is my 1st visit to your blog and will be back.

      I’m so glad you pointed out the film noir and what it represents. So folks have wondered what’s up w/ the German stuff but as you pointed out, the noir here highlights the seriousness & depth of meaning. Yesterday on Ms. Gaga’s website a man commented that men shouldn’t have looked and acted the way women do. So glad you also pointed out that that was precisely the point. The men are open legged and scantily clad upon the beds, moving about in a titillating way that we would typically see females do in a video. I’m still rumination on the contrast of the military garb vs. nearly naked submission.

      This video has given me much to think of and I didn’t even see the A on the heart. I thought only of the sacred heart. I did notice in the scenes with the heart the screen showed Gaga’s bare legs below and thought of the connection of the heart between the legs/sex=love for women idea. Anyway thank you again for the post. Lovely!
      ~F

    9. Regarding the scene where GaGa is surrounded by the men, passed roughly among them and stripped, am I the only person who saw this as a possible rape scene? My interpretation is that she was being controlled and they were having their way with her. In many cultures, if a woman is raped, she is blamed and ostracized. In other cultures, it could result in her death at the hands of her family because she disgraced them. Rape is about control and power, both of which also seem to be prevalent themes.

      • Yeah, that scene was certainly the most uncomfortable for me, too. I’ll have to think about this video a lot more than I thought initially.

        Great rundown, Emily! After watching the video once I wasn’t really getting it, but you pulled out some awesome themes.

    10. Could you explain what the man with the spikey helmet and golden gun represents? I feel that he is very important for some reason.

      • regarding the man at the end with the spikey helmet and golden gun
        i got the feeling that he was representative of societies prejudices, like when gaga was singing to him at the start its like she is singing to our society telling us the problems of equality and such that we face atm
        also the golden gun for me was showing how ‘society’ in the form of the man wields its power with a sense of righteousness, like how people can claim that all homosexuals will go to hell on the basis of something divine, and that we are persecuting on the basis of divinity and self assurance [which the golden gun represents in the way that they are hurting and governing with puritinism and with weapons of ‘purity’, like how our society percieves gold as wealthy/rare/beautiful/pure etc]

        just some of my thoughts 😀 great video gaga

    11. Little_Monster

      This is a fantastic analysis, and I agree with you on the work that you have put in. I have found a couple things you missed, however.

      The first is the comment on the gender bending males and their costumes. In many of GaGa’s interviews, she mentions that she is a feminist and is on a mission to change the way that society views women and the way that they dress. This could also apply to mens’ fashion, hence the high heels. The heels could also symbolize the need for others to “walk a mile in the shoes of others” in order to fully understand what it is that the gay community must go through in order to survive.

      The second is the bed scene. Upon watching the video, I noticed that the men who writhe in the bed seem to be attached or tied to the bed. The bed, being in a bleak, cold room could represent the sexuality of all people (not just gay people) and how we are all tied to our sexuality; we can’t just change preferences. Many in society believe that sexuality is a choice, but GaGa shows her audience that she believes otherwise.

      The third is the scene in which the militaristic gay men circle each other and fight. Aggression, a world-wide symbol of the male gender, is shown by all of the “couples,” but is quickly turned to violence. The dance that the men do is symbolic of an introduction to another’s life. These men meet, exchange aggressiveness, and are assumed to be of the same sexual orientation. However, the first seems to find the other unsatisfactory in some fashion, which we assume here is the discovery of the second’s homosexuality. The second is immediately thrust to the floor, sighing in the pain and frustration of rejection by society. The repeated thrust to the floor can be seem as repeated rejection, or as an imitation of gay sex. The latter idea is one that follows the concept that we were all born with a certain amount of bisexuality.

      Thank you for opening up your comment board for my analysis, and I once again would like to thank you for your wonderful analysis of this video- it is much needed.

    12. Huge post! Thank you so much for the insight. Truly a remarkable video. A lot to take in….

    13. what about the puppet like strings at the end of the video…

      • Little_Monster

        I am under the impression that the puppet strings are symbolic of a higher power that is controlling our desires, urges, and actions. This power could refer to God or to other authority figures, such as lawmakers who put bans on the rights of the gay community. It could also urge many to to control of their own lives, as symbolized by the gun (suicide is an sometimes an act that one would pursue in order to “take control”). Since we as a society, according to GaGa, are unable to choose our own sexual orientation, we are also puppets to our instinctual sexual urges.

      • Hmm, perhaps another reference to being controlled?

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