There’s a fine line between postmodern pastiche and corporatized pop rehash, but Lady Gaga — who just released the epic-length music video for her latest single, “Alejandro” — has heretofore stylishly and successfully danced on that tightrope wearing a myriad of medical fetish gear, latex bodysuits, and Alexander McQueen heels. Yet “Alejandro,” with its didactic investments in Madonna-esque blasphemy and fascist military imagery, fails to provide Lady Gaga’s brilliant, trademark pop derivations or her meta-corporate critiques.
“Alejandro” departs from the kitschy Americana seen in her previous clip, “Telephone,” and instead creates a brooding, industrio-fascist backdrop for some exceptionally steamy fetish sexploits. The all-male ensemble introduces the video with a menacing march in uniforms — and bowl haircuts — reminiscent of the Third Reich, a violent, symbolic memory not assuaged by the occasional high-heeled soldier or Gaga’s sexy dominating.
The unfortunate link between gay BDSM culture and fascism in “Alejandro” is troubling. Though Lady Gaga stated in a recent interview with Larry King that she intended the video to be “a celebration of [her] love and appreciation for the gay community,” her depiction taps into an old, unsettling narrative that equates homosexuality with deep, impenetrable evil.
Anyone who had a pulse in the 80s — or watched a pathetic amount of VH1 in the 90s — won’t help but notice the multiple Madonna references propping up the video’s narrative, from the sexualized nun of “Like a Prayer” — complete with inverted crotch cross — to the black-and-white catwalking of “Vogue.” Lady Gaga is no stranger to copping styles; “Telephone” featured Quentin Tarantino’s infamous “Pussy Wagon” as well as heavy indebtedness to Bonnie and Clyde, and the earlier “Bad Romance” drew its stop-motion camera techniques and Bakhtinian costuming from the unlikely inspiration of Marilyn Manson.
But Gaga’s heavy reliance on standard Madonna fare isn’t mere homage. “Alejandro” fully embraces its seedy imagery without any reflexive critique, and while some have already denounced Lady Gaga for blasphemy, it seems more appropriate to denounce her for picking an easy target. Outfitting oneself in a red latex habit is sure to still raise eyebrows, but it’s blasphemy for its own sake, and nothing more.
All this being said, “Alejandro” has a sumptuous mise en scene in keeping with Gaga’s earlier projects, which have collectively succeeded in resuscitating the music video from its long coma. Lady Gaga’s star has burned bright since her explosive release of The Fame, and hopefully the missteps in “Alejandro” aren’t indicators it’s soon to flicker out.