pop culture

Judas at Easter

I was a little hesitant to post my thoughts on this because on blogs, the rules of conversation often seem much like those of dinner parties: don’t talk about money, politics or religion, and you’ll be fine. Considering the last time I talked about the latter I almost didn’t have a wedding, I’ve learned to tread carefully around the subject: but I’m also torn, because I’m such a strong advocate for being able to have a voice as long as your intention is never to hurt anyone.  Which mine has never been. I was talking with a good friend of mine lately about the phenomenon of cyber-bullying, and he framed it brilliantly: the risk of putting yourself out there is that someone may hear you. Should the fact that no one can please everyone stifle your freedom of expression? Quite the opposite – there will always be naysayers, but you can’t allow others to control your life when in your heart, you know your intent is fundamentally positive.

So. Religion, hmm? The reason I’m posting this today is that something has happened in the world of pop culture that has me fascinated. It’s Easter weekend this week, and Lady Gaga has released a single with the lyrics “I’m in love with Judas” chanted repeatedly over a thumping techno beat. The reaction from religious folks across the globe has obviously been negative, claiming she’s merely attention-seeking and trying to create controversy. In her music video for Alejandro, she dresses as a nun and swallows a rosary. In Judas, she refers to herself as a “holy fool,” a “fame hooker, a prostitute wench who vomits her mind”.  It’s not surprising speakers from religious groups are up in arms. “Because of her fame and the influence she has with young people, one would think that she’d learn to back off”, says Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, claiming her release of the single at the start of Holy Week is just “one more example of her ethics, choosing to stick it to the Catholics again.” But are people even bothering to read the lyrics? Are they simply conveniently forgetting that the majority of poems, works of literature, and most definitely songs use metaphors to illustrate a point?

To me, it’s not an attack on religion at all. Gaga has stated publicly that she is a believer (not that it should matter), and her last hit rocketed to the top of international charts with references to “capital H-i-m” throughout verses, along with the line “I’m beautiful in my way, because God makes no mistakes” sung proudly throughout choruses. I think Judas is simply using metaphor to make a record about falling in love with the wrong person – a subject people have been singing about for decades. “I wanna love you, but something’s pulling me away from you; Jesus is my virtue, and Judas is the demon I cling to…” How is this a deliberate attack on the church? I don’t see how it could be anything other than honest. It tells of knowing what the right course of action is but struggling to let go of something or someone you know is a bad influence. And haven’t we all been in that situation at one time or another?  Gaga’s creative director for the controversial video (out next week) has spoken up, saying that the Catholic Church shouldn’t be up in arms, since its message is anything but blasphemous. “I will tell you now, first off, I’m Christian, and my career is evidence of God in my life, and I think that most people are already thinking about Gaga and blasphemy and they’re premeditating the approach. I think they’ll be very shocked to find out how huge and really groundbreaking the message is, and how freeing the message is for all the right reasons.” Not forgetting that this all happened in the eighties already – I’m sure Madonna’s music video portraying a black Jesus and people dancing around burning crosses was the subject of just as much speculation then as Lady Gaga’s hit is today. And that didn’t stop her  becoming one of the most successful artists of all time.

I’m not the biggest fan of pop music, but I have to give respect to anyone who breaks down the walls of what’s considered typically beautiful, who uses their fame to stand up for the underdogs, who fights against prejudice, and who isn’t afraid to have their voice heard. People stifle their own thoughts all the time, in fame, in life, and even here across the blogosphere. They keep their opinions to themselves and go along with the masses for fear of how other people will react. Throughout history, if nobody had spoken up, half of us would still probably be deprived of the right to vote, an education, or a voice.  As a good friend reminded me recently, “you’ve got to take a stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”  People really need to stop finding fault so easily, and hand it to those that actually have the guts to speak up once in a while. I love the verse in Judas where she pretty much says “if you don’t like what I have to say, nobody’s making you listen”. Maybe because I’ve so often wondered the same thing about Internet trolls. 🙂

Ultimately, Lady Gaga has inspired a generation to embrace being different, and has stood up for all sorts of oppressed minorities, helping people who were once afraid to be who they were become proud and comfortable in their own skin.  I think this is a great pop song, making intelligent use of metaphor to sing about a subject that’s relatable to all. It’s just as good as Bad Romance, and better than Born This Wa-hey. Enough with making mountains out of molehills, people – can’t we just stop finding fault and enjoy a decent record? But why the album cover depicts her inexplicably as half-motorcycle (I suppose quarter-motorcycle would just be silly), I’m still guessing…

What do you think? Are people just seeing what they want to see, and making an artist look bad to serve their own agendas, or do you believe the hype and think Gaga’s gone too far? I’m really interested  in hearing your thoughts!

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The X-Effect

This week on Twitter, I read something about well-done sidebars on blogs being a big part of accessibility, and subsequently, probably, more readers. I took a look at mine, and, well, I have no idea whether or not it’s well done. It does its job, but I’ve never been one of those people who play by the Rules of Successful Blogging anyway – I don’t have a niche (hello, Star Trek rants one day, theatre festivals the next!), I don’t have ads, and I don’t worry too much if I don’t post three times a week… it’s my little corner of the Internet and I’ll write about kittens and robots if I want to! *Stomps* 🙂 I did notice one interesting thing in my sidebar, however – my Tag Cloud. Moreso that the biggest (and subsequently ‘most talked about’) topic is MUSIC.

I’m having difficulting believing this. If this were a tag cloud of my life, then perhaps I’d be more inclined to see the truth in its prominence, but on my blog? I don’t know. I tried a weekly music feature earlier in the year where I tried to share songs and music videos that were beautifully written, incredibly compelling, visually stunning, or just plain rocking my world, and every time? Turned out to be Tumbleweed City. Maybe it comes from the fact that I don’t listen to a lot of mainstream stuff  – stuff that might be more easily relatable across the blogosphere? Music is something I’m passionate about, and I’ll happily spend three hours on a Friday night scouring the Internet, reading reviews, and digging out hidden gems from across the globe, memorising the words, highlighting the brilliant ones and adding them to a mental collection of lyrical masterpieces to indulge in at full volume when nobody’s home. I’m passionate about music in the same way some people are passionate about cooking, or fashion, or exercise – but with those things, though they may not be big parts of my life, I can always appreciate someone’s enthusiasm for something they love wholeheartedly. Posting about music, however, has been discouraging – so it’s something I tend to stick to enjoying outside of the blog. Which is why it’s so surprising it makes up my biggest tag on the cloud.

But I digress. Today, I had to write about something music-related, because something music-related began another reign of supremity across the planet this weekend. On Saturday, 12 million people tuned in live to watch the first episode of the new season of The X Factor (stay with me!) -the show that brought the world Leona Lewis, divided the globe last Christmas with the war on Simon Cowell taking an old Rage Against the Machine track to the top in one of chart history’s most controversial moments, and has kept me, proud anti-mainstream indie kid that I am, firmly glued to my seat for the past six years.

I know I should be on the side of everyone who’s blaming things like X Factor and Glee for “ruining pop music”. I despise most modern pop music – pre-pubescent boys being voted sexiest “men” of 2010 (…), girls singing lines that are just plain embarrassing (really; don’t even get me started on Katy Perry), and songs about drunken promiscuity (as great as they are for nerdy video parodies) – am I the only one who’s feeling old here? But there’s been a tidal wave of backlash approaching for the last little while – and it seems to have come crashing down along with the commencement of the new series of X Factor. I doubt the return of Glee next month will escape unscathed: people en masse are revolting against the state of the charts, blaming shows like this for stealing the spotlight (and the public’s pocketbook) away from “real artists”, and actively destroying the music industry. But – as much as I should – I’m not sure where I stand.

In the UK, the X Factor has had significant effect on mass music purchasing, having had a total of 42 singles released by former contestants, sixteen of which have been number one hits. Worldwide, the music industry has undoubtedly been hit by the Glee effect: over seven million copies of cast single releases have been purchased digitally, and last year alone, the Glee cast had twenty-five singles chart on the Billboard Top 100 – the most by any artist since The Beatles almost half a decade ago. Manufactured television definitely has a stranglehold, but is that such a bad thing?

I adore hardworking, raw, real talent. I was perhaps more thrilled than the band themselves when Mumford and Sons became well-known globally, after having heard a demo single years ago and being unable to find a thing on them. I remember seeing them live and loving the genuine sense of gratitude bursting from the lead singer, who was shocked they’d sold out a venue before their album had even been released stateside. I love it when the little guys make it to the top. But I also love watching the little guys start on X Factor. Seeing them go from a small town, or a mundane nine to five job, and being given the platform to share an incredible talent with the world is fantastic. I watched last year as the boy who got bullied won the heart of a nation with an amazing natural voice. So they may have thousands in production, and pre-written songs built into their contracts when they win. It still showcases raw talent from the beginning, and gives them the opportunity to shine.

Like this eighteen-year old girl last Saturday night, doing something so original and different with perhaps one of my most loathed songs in the world that it sent shivers down my spine.

I think The X Factor can be a great platform for ordinary people to share amazing gifts with the rest of the world. It may have more money and more influence than the little guys, but then aren’t those little guys’ victories that much better when they beat the odds? How often in life are we given platforms upon which to share our gifts? I think the answer is a lot more often than you’d probably think. They may not be in front of thousands of people, on television, or across from a judging panel of celebrities, but platforms of opportunity come our way all the time. They may be in the form of a classroom, a customer service desk, or a white blank page, but I think we’re all given opportunities to shine. It’s whether or not we choose to take the risk and put it all out there that determines our success. I have a lot of respect for the people that have the guts to get up there and audition in front of millions, knowing full well how quick the masses can be to judge. But every once in a while, the decision to get out there and do it anyway can create something magical.

Maybe things like Glee and X Factor are destroying the music industry. Maybe they’re just giving regular artists more incentive to work harder. Whatever side you end up taking, you can’t argue with the power they have to cause controversy – as well as to unite (and divide) millions across the nation. And the fact that they make brilliantly compelling TV – even if only, perhaps, for all the wrong reasons. 🙂