Revisiting Lady Gaga’s Controversial ‘Alejandro’ Video, Which Turns Five Today

Go, Gaga!
Gaga Launches Campaign Against Campus Rape

Do you remember the first time you saw Lady Gaga’s infamous gun bra in action?

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the release of Gaga’s “Alejandro” video. Yes, it’s been six five whole years, and yes, we’re all getting very, very old.

“Alejandro” was the third and final single taken from The Fame Monster, Gaga’s most beloved album. Released at the very peak of her meteoric rise to fame, the song managed to hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 (making it, by the way, a bigger hit than Taylor Swift’s recent “Style,” which peaked at No. 6). It was, in fact, Gaga’s sixth single to reach the Top 5. (Of her first seven singles, only “Paparazzi,” which peaked at No. 6, fell short of the top tier.) But despite the song’s success, the video remains somewhat underrated, perhaps due to its long runtime, oblique message, and controversial religious imagery.

Gaga told The Times that the video, directed by renowned fashion photographer and Madonna collaborator Steven Klein, was about the “purity of my friendships with my gay friends, and how I’ve been unable to find that with a straight man in my life. It’s a celebration and admiration of gay love.” The video opens with an elaborately staged and melodramatic funeral before transitioning to a strangely erotic and militaristic dance party in which Gaga, with an unflattering haircut and clad in nothing more than a bikini, writhes atop stained cots with androgynous male dancers. Things get really weird toward the end, when Gaga dons a latex nun’s habit and swallows a rosary. Throw in a nearly nine-minute runtime and then stack all of that up against the song itself, a breezy, Ace of Base-inspired number in which Gaga addresses a number of old lovers, and the finished product was (and is still) somewhat of a head-scratcher.

In short, upon its release, neither the media nor the fans — some of them, anyway — knew exactly what to make of it. The video is not a brightly-colored, easily-digestible slice of pop-imagery-as-literal-metaphor and it doesn’t explicitly match the tone or message of the song.  It certainly didn’t help that some people noted similarities between “Alejandro” and Madonna’s “Vogue” video. (Gaga has been compared to Madonna since the start of her career, but those comparisons didn’t start in snarky earnest until the “Alejandro” video came out. In a way, those criticisms opened the floodgates for the now-infamous ones that accompanied the release of “Born This Way,” Gaga’s next single.)

Another factor that may have impeded “Alejandro” from achieving the “instant classic” status awarded to her earlier videos is that it directly followed her three most iconic videos: “Paparazzi,” the final single and video taken from The Fame, and the one-two punch of The Fame Monster’s immortal “Bad Romance” and “Telephone (Feat. Beyoncé)”. Essentially, Gaga had been outdoing herself with each video, and it was only inevitable that she wouldn’t be able to keep it up forever. One might also want to consider the fact that “Alejandro” was not the favored choice for next single. It is an utterly fantastic pop song, but single-wise, was it the best of the available options? Many fans, myself included, have argued that “Monster” or fan-favorite “Dance in the Dark” would have made a better followup to “Telephone.”

Despite all of that, the video currently has nearly 230 million views on YouTube, so one could hardly call it a flop. Given that today is the five year anniversary of its release — and the fact that “Alejandro,” as a pop composition, is one of the greatest earworms of the last decade — it seems high time for us to give the video another viewing and re-attempt to solve its dark mysteries.

Or just watch it again for the sexy bed dancing and gun bra. Either way, it’s worth it.