Religion through the Eyes of Lady Gaga and Madonna

Madonna. Lady Gaga. We constantly hear these names being said on the radio and television, but not many of us know the type of religious controversies they are involved in. Madonna, beginning her career in the early 1980s is most known for her song Like a Prayer, which received plenty of religious backlash. Lady Gaga, an artist with similar style as Madonna, began her career 20 years later in the early 2000s. Like Madonna, her songs seem to provoke religious tensions with the Catholic Pope. Both of these artists used religion in their music, but mixed it with sexual imagery -resulting in a clash with the church.

Like a Prayer is a pop-rock song which was released in 1989 and inspired by Madonna’s Catholic upbringing. In the music video, Madonna is seen witnessing the murder of a white girl, and later a black man arrested for the murder. She then goes to a church for hiding. The video shows Catholic symbols — crucifixes, icons and saints. Madonna is then seen dancing in front of burning crucifixes — signifying the Ku Klux Klan. After the music video’s release, the Vatican condemned it stating it was ridiculing Christianity. The Pope even went to the extent of banning Madonna from appearing in Italy (Bego, 1992).

This video shows how popular culture and religion are strongly intertwined. Religious themes are constantly showed in various media outlets (Forbes & Mahan, 2000). Madonna seems to incorporate religion in her concerts as well, which not surprisingly, created an uproar in the Catholic Church once again. In her 2006 tour “Confessions”, Madonna incorporated Christian symbols — wearing a crown of thorns and even hanging on a cross while performing. The Pope declared this as blasphemy and utter disgrace (Henderson, n.d.).

A die-hard Madonna fan’s room

Although she may have a lot of religious groups protesting against her, there are still millions of fans around the world who praise her. They dress like her, they listen to her and they want to be just like her. For them, Madonna is seen as a ‘religion’- just as how popular culture itself can function as a religion. Although this is a controversial approach of viewing this, Madonna can be seen as a ‘Saint’ for some (Klassen, 2014).

Moving on to Lady Gaga, she received similar conflicts with religious communities all across the globe, in particular with the Pope. Her two songs and music videos — Alejandro and Judas both abuse Catholic imagery, as said by the Vatican. The music video Alejandro, released in 2009, has a less literal meaning compared to Madonna’s Like a Prayer. One interpretation of the song may be that it portrays the church’s repression of the gay community. In the music video Gaga is laying down wearing a nun suit and holding a rosary. In another scene her spirituality changes and she is then wearing a Luciferian priestess outfit. On her outfit there are many inverted crosses- which is very symbolic in the Christian faith. It can represent black magic or satanism. The video then continues to get even more ‘religious’ as she swallows a rosary.

The extent of her use of religious symbols in her song caused an uproar among not only the religious community but also among other celebrities stating that using blasphemy as entertainment is low and childish (McKay, 2010).

Judas, released in 2011, more explicitly shows the use of religion in the music video. The music video is practically a ‘re-enactment’ of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas. The lyrics ‘I’ll wash his feet with my hair’, ‘even after three times he betrays me’, and ‘a king with no crown’ are all phrases known in Christianity relating to the betrayal of Jesus. The video is also filled with Catholic iconography and Christian symbols (crown of thorns), Christian rituals — Gaga being submerged in water is symbolic for immersing in water (being baptized and purified), and golden maces — perhaps representing how Jesus was tortured.

“Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.” — Katy Perry

Lady Gaga’s provocative nature surely enough was bound to cause outrage among religious groups. The Catholic League called out on Lady Gaga demanding that she, as a practicing Catholic, is inappropriate and offensive (Zakarin, 2011).“She is trying to rip off Christian idolatry to shore up her talentless, mundane and boring performances,” says the president of the Catholic League (Powers, 2011).

Philippine religious group protesting against Lady Gaga

The use of all these sorts of religious symbols and icons in music can be argued by theorists that this is a form of religion in popular culture. We probably experience this everyday in all types of media we consume — movies, television shows, music, etc. but since we have become so used to this type of media and lifestyle, we rarely seem to care or notice it at all. Many times religion can be concealed or simply just suggested. At other times, it can be quite explicit — as seen with Madonna and Lady Gaga, causing uproar and controversy worldwide. Once again, just as with Madonna, Lady Gaga and her music can be seen as a ‘religion’ for her fans (Klassen, 2014). Millions of fans across the globe praise these artists and aspire to be just like them. Regardless of how controversial and outrageous their next hit will be, there fame and popularity will keep rising and they will continue to be the top-selling pop artists of their time.

Reference List

Bego, M. (1992). The Madonna/Pepsi Controversy Retrieved from http://

Forbes, B. D., & Mahan, J. H. (2000). Introduction: Finding Religion in Unexpected Places. Religion and Popular Culture in America, Berkeley: University of California Press

Henderson, C. (n.d.). Madonna’s Crucifixion: Blasphemy or Inspiration. Retrieved from http://

Klassen, Chris. (2014). Religion and Popular Culture. In Religion and Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach, Don Mills: Oxford University Press

McKay, H. (2010, June 11). Lady Gaga Is Latest Celeb To Abuse Catholic Imagery In Hollywood’s ‘war On Religion’ Retrieved from http:// celeb-sexualize-abuse-catholic-symbols.html

Powers, L. (2011, April 16). Lady Gaga’s ‘Judas’ Upsets Religious Groups. Retrieved from http://

Zakarin, J. (2011, June 6). Lady Gaga: ‘Judas’ Video Stars Mary Magdalene, Jesus (VIDEO). Retrieved from judas-video_n_858416.html