“I’m just a holy fool, oh baby he’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with Judas, baby.” Lady Gaga’s recent single, Judas, immerses her in deep religious imagery, and, with a catchy line, proclaims irresistible love for the wrong guy. Using Gaga’s trademark shock-and-awe tactics, the video clip overwhelms, amuses, provokes, and throws a big question mark at us: what is Gaga up to here?
One could debate, or reject, the many facets of this song. But when we look beyond our initial reaction, I, for one, think that Gaga’s Judas video is a lucid cultural depiction of sin. It reverses religious imagery – it is Judas who wears the crown of thorns, not Jesus – with Lady Gaga as Mary Magdalene, who offers to wash Judas’ feet with her hair. The song portrays also the fragmented complexity of the human heart: the lyrics have Gaga say she “couldn’t love a man so purely” even though Judas is cruel, and next she vacillates to hatred of Judas: “I’ll bring him down… a king with no crown.” The video could also interpreted as a vision of hell, with its chaotic atmosphere, frenetic moves, and tribal beat about 3 minutes into the song.
Reversal of imagery, conflicted heart, hellish atmosphere. But there is another element in the song which depicts our human sinfulness insightfully: Gaga knows who the right guy is, and yet cannot leave the wrong one. She knows where salvation is found, but feels incapable of transcending her dark side. “Jesus is my virtue, and Judas is the demon I cling to.” It is a brilliant line. Part of the album Born This Way, Lady Gaga’s Judas depicts how messed up we are, and the rebellious extent of our restless souls.
But then there is one equivocal line which, ironically, describes precisely our cultural situation:
“In the most Biblical sense,
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute, wench; vomits her mind.”
Precisely in the most Biblical sense, Lady Gaga, or Judas, or any one of us is not beyond repentance. We may pant after fame; we may follow one wrong decision after another until the whole world sees the volcano of our rebellion. Still, Jesus is our virtue. Or better, he is our Savior. He is the one who wore the crown of thorns; Jesus is the one who was betrayed so we can transcend the Judases of this world. No matter how torn our hearts may be, no matter how imprisoned we may feel, there was someone who one day felt it was worth to face the shame of the cross, and the shame of every cultural parody since, so we may know we are not beyond repentance.