Is God The New Black?

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click to enlarge Is God The New Black?
Terry Richardson/Rolling Stone

A span of three weeks separated their respective Rolling Stone covers--apart from the quality of the writing and the, howyousay, dynamism of each subject, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry's profiles in the formerly legendary mag offered the same startling conclusion--for all their put-ons, weaves, and stardom, both identify as Christians. Et tu, popstars? Must my harmless diet of cotton candy pop come with a "message?" Is nowhere safe from the scourge of religion?

Katy Perry's Pentecostal background has been a huge part of the Perry narrative--her first album was all gospel, she has "Jesus" tattooed on her wrist and she likened her upbringing to Jesus Camp, despite the fact that her mother once went on a date with Jimi Hendrix and her father was way into Timothy Leary back in the day. In her profile, Katy Perry comes off as a two-bit caricature, an attention starved little girl who figured out what many adolescent girls do when they find their icky sad parts just aren't that interesting--she painted on a smile, and started trying her damndest to prove she's "quirky." Proof: in her Rolling Stone piece, Perry decides to draw a self-portrait. It's cat, a heart and a cheeseburger, brought together by rays of sunshine. (She is 26.) That speaks volumes about how seriously Katy Perry takes herself, and in turn, what she's telling a new generation of girls--that they too, can be entirely devoid of substance, so long as they love Jesus.

Still though, her about-face is less shocking than Gaga's. For a girl who cut her teeth in counterculture clubs on the Lower East Side, her religious lipservice is jarring. How can you espouse a doctrine of freak acceptance when you're listening to the Pope? Didja forget about those thousand of years of blood soaked intolerance, where freaks (Jewish people, homosexuals) were slaughtered? She's been known to shock for the hell of it, so perhaps this re-discovered Catholicism is yet another way to stir the pot, like Madonna did so many moons ago. She's also caught flack for it after all: Deep throating a rosary in last summer's "Alejandro" video caused Katy Perry to famously tweet "Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke."

Lady Gaga as Mary Magdalene, ridin' Jesus' hog in "Judas."
Lady Gaga as Mary Magdalene, ridin' Jesus' hog in "Judas."

Like Madge, Gaga was raised Catholic, and early on in her career her father was reportedly horrified by his daughter's anti-Catholic behavior and willful sluttiness. But his open heart surgery in 2009, which is discussed in the article, seems to have sent Gaga back to church--Born This Way is riddled with allusions to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and of course, that rat fink Judas. The writer describes Gaga's pre-show ritual: a male dancer delivers a prayer, asking the Lord to "Bless her voice, her body, her stamina." Prior to that scene, there's an exchange between Gaga and her own father; he says that their priest, Father O'Connor, has been asking about her. She calls her career a "quest for bravery" and there's a very real sense that the author is painting her as a Christ figure, albeit one without her own identity, a martyr without a cause. Gaga has taken her sad, icky bits (her life, her hard-wired, ravenous hunger for fame) and made them into something that rings true for millennial misfits, or anyone who sees themselves as chronically misunderstood. Her fans, those devoted little monsters, quite obviously see her as a savior, (she herself has termed a Gaga performance "pop cultural church") but when you try to be everything to everyone, you end up pissing off more people than you help. I mean, look what happened to Jesus.

Gaga and Perry seem to have come, separately, to the same conclusion--after the boy band explosion of the late '90s, and in the manicured careers that followed, these ladies saw that a niche must be seized and exploited to within an inch of its life. Perry found she could do that with bubblegum daydreams, aided by tongue in cheek lyrics, a passing resemblance to Zooey Deschanel and of course, that tremendous rack. Gaga has taken the opposite tack, by delving into the deepest, grossest parts of herself and re-purposing them; packaging entrails and shreds of broken heart into Lucite pop.

The extremity of fame obviously has something to do with the search for greater meaning, and for many of us, greater meaning means aligning yourself with a particular religious dogma. Madonna, single-handedly brought Kabbalah practice into the public consciousness; it was the trendy, celeb approved religion in the middle of the last decade, and Tom Cruise's descent into Scientology is well-documented. But why is it so?

To remain famous, you either keep people hungry for more of your movies, albums, videos, candid cooter shots or you keep your name on their lips by fucking up royally and magnificently à la disgraced former pop star Lindsay Lohan.

In this fractious media environment, where everyone is clamoring for more page views and iTunes downloads, wouldn't it be better to keep your religious impulses under wraps, or at the very least, off your person? Sure, for Perry's fan base, it almost makes sense--her limpid themes aren't exactly the stuff of genius: a-five-year old could sing innocently along to "California Gurls" without bringing up any hairy questions. "Mommy, who's Judas?" however, is a little tougher to explicate.

Even that miserable trashball Ke$ha has "Je-sus on my neck-a-lace-uh-uh." Like the pro-gay anthems that ruled the airwaves in 2010, religion is on everyone's lips in 2011. Seeing as many Christian traditions are anti-gay, (if you'll recall those Westboro nutsos at Gaga's Scottrade Center performance last July) this is backpedaling at its worst and most transparent. In an attempt to bring back the God-fearing fans that may have tuned out, suddenly Jesus is everyone's homeboy. Young girls emulate these pop stars, and while their decidedly adult, pro-slut images and themes give me pause, I legitimately fear a generation that views religion as a commodity, as something to "like" on Facebook.

Then again, it's just music. It's not like it has the power to change people.

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