By Princess O’Nika Auguste
Lady Gaga’s second full-length studio album, Born this Way is a true gospel album. From the album’s title track focused around the message that we are all created by God as we are (regardless of race, sexuality or gender) to songs with titles like “Black Jesus+Amen”, Born this Way is replete with religious themes and images.
Some are more obvious than others. The provocatively titled “Judas” sees Lady Gaga take the roles both of Mary Magdalene and the woman caught in adultery. The song also references Judas’s betrayal of Christ and alludes to the possibility that there were romantic feelings between Jesus and Mary. Finally, “Judas” references the woman in Luke 8, who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Similarly the song’s official music video is a modern biker-themed take on Scripture.
But perhaps no song on Born This Way is as ripe for theological commentary as the album’s 8th track: “Bloody Mary.” The metaphors and allusions in “Bloody Mary” are confusing because it is not clear if she is singing about Mary Magdalene, Mary Tudor (the English Queen) or Bloody Mary of urban myth.. To understand the song, it is important to know who all three possible references are.
Mary Magdalene is the woman from whom Jesus casts out seven demons. There is a strong possibility that she helped fund his ministry. She was one of his closest followers and was there at the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. According to some non-canonical and Gnostic texts, she was a leader of one of the early Christian churches. If you are a fan of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you have no doubt heard the legend that Jesus and Mary were married and founded a bloodline that survives into the present day. This story possibly comes from the Gospel of Philip where it states Jesus kissed Mary; however, because there is a piece of the text missing, probably due to the age of the manuscript, we don’t know where she was kissed.
Mary Tudor, Queen of England, was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was the only child of the marriage after several miscarriages and stillbirths. However, Henry wanted a boy so he divorced Catherine and disinherited Mary. He would go one to marry Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth’s mother. Still Henry wanted a boy and Anne was beheaded and Elizabeth disinherited. He then married Jane Seymour who gave him his beloved son. Jane would die after the birth of Edward. When Henry died, his will read that Edward would succeed him, and if Edward died without heirs, then Mary, then Elizabeth. This is what happened. The sickly Edward died at fifteen and Mary succeeded him. She earned the nickname “Bloody Mary” on account of her violent efforts to reverse the Protestant Reformation in England. Elizabeth was in constant fear for her life when her sister was queen because she was a Protestant and a potential Protestant monarch at that. Henry and later Elizabeth killed more people than Mary but Mary’s methods were bloody. Moreover, Henry and Elizabeth did not only persecute people on account of religion, but everyone was fair game. Mary specifically targeted non-Catholics and tortured and horribly murdered non-Catholics with methods that neither her father nor Elizabeth used. People died horrible and bloody deaths under Mary’s reign, hence the name Bloody Mary.
The legend of Bloody Mary likely comes from the real life reign of Mary Tudor. There are many variations of the story. Depending on the variation, Mary is a witch or a ghost. Many young teens and children play a game in which you stand in front of the mirror and call “Bloody Mary” three times, seeking to summon the apparition. I have played this game several times and I have yet to see this Bloody Mary. I am also not sure the song has anything to do with the queen. Bloody Mary is a legend that has been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.
With these three figures in mind, let us turn again to “Blood Mary.” In this song, Lady Gaga, I believe, is alluding to the fact that there is more to the story of Jesus Christ. When we listen to the song, we must listen past the allusions, illusions, and metaphors. Gaga mentions Pontius Pilate (“when Pontius comes”). She also alludes to Christ (“to kill the king upon his throne”) and she alludes to either Mary Magdalene or the woman caught in adultery who Jesus saved from the religious leaders ( “I’m ready for their stones”). Lady Gaga is singing from the perspective of Mary Magdalene, who as a disciple of Christ, does not get the attention that she deserves. Instead, she is wrongly accused of being a prostitute, not the woman who stood with Jesus while he was being lynched or the woman who saw the Risen Jesus and went to tell the disciples what she saw. Gaga as Mary is singing about her relationship with Jesus, not in a sexual way but in a deep spiritual way. As Jesus exorcised the seven demons from her and his purity, kindness and goodness touches her soul, Gaga sings, “Love is just a history that they may prove/ And when you’re gone I’ll tell them my religion’s you.” Gaga is alluding to John 20 and the other gospel narratives where Mary goes and tell the disciples that Christ has risen. Gaga continues, “I’m ready for their stones,” again referencing to the woman caught in adultery and alluding to the misrepresentation that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Mary Magdalene, being misrepresented as a prostitute, was condemned and shunned by her culture because of her perceived sinfulness. The woman caught in adultery was condemned to death by society, but when she met Jesus things changed because she received forgiveness and he did not condemn her. This is very crucial to note.
The next few lines of the song was difficult for me to interpret because they could imply several things. Lady Gaga sings, “I’ll dance dance with my hands above my head like Jesus said. I’m gonna dance, dance together.” It could reference the Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code myth that she and Jesus were married or that she is happy and joyful for Jesus who cast out the demons from her. She is dancing because Jesus freed her from her ailments. Finally, her dancing is symbolic of the close friendship and communion she has with Jesus. It is also symbolic of the kind of love expressed for her by Jesus, his telling her to go and tell everyone that he has risen. In fact, if you believe the Gnostic texts, it was she, not Peter, who was the rock on which the Church would be built.
Gaga also sings, “I won’t cry for you/I won’t crucify the things you do/when you’re gone/ I’ll still be Bloody Mary.” This is also an allusion to John 20 when Jesus shows himself to Mary and tells her he has risen and to stop crying. It appears that Gaga is giving Mary’s response to what Jesus says to her. She has come to accept he has died, risen, and would not try to undo his destiny and all the miracles he has performed. She believed.
According to some Gnostics (and I am inclined to believe them), she is the most important disciple, more important than Peter or (at least) equally as important as Peter. Such texts acknowledge Mary’s authority, including the Gospel of Mary. This is important because the canonised Gospels also acknowledged her importance in Jesus’s ministry, Resurrection and Crucifixion. Lady Gaga says as Mary that she will not deny or persecute (crucify) his good works. This simply implies that she will not deny that he rose, acknowledging in the fact it was Mary who saw the risen Jesus, and it was Mary who went to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen.
Lady Gaga sings, “Forgive him before he’s dead” alluding to Pilate (“idiot, jack, the emperor’s errand boy, punk”), who did not have the courage to stand up for Jesus even though he obviously knew he was not guilty of any crime. I think the song is about the value of women, specifically women in the Bible whom Jesus knew and valued. In another verse Gaga sings that “We are not just art for Michelangelo to carve/He can’t rewrite the agro of my furied heart.” When I was studying the Renaissance in History class in both high school and as an undergrad, I learned that many of the artists and painters did paintings of religious characters nude, especially the women. Michelangelo painted women nude; Gaga is saying we are more than nudes, sex workers, whores, and adulteresses. Gaga sings “J’veux pas mourir toute seule” ( I don’t want to die alone) alluding to the Jesus’s friends abandoning him and to the fact that Jesus did not want to go to the cross, but wanted God to spare him. He was mostly scared and knew he may have to died alone. It also alludes to the knowledge that after most of Jesus friends and follows scattered and went into hiding, the beloved disciple, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and other women (depending on the Gospel) stayed until the end. Jesus’s fear of dying alone did not happen on account of women.
This song is deep like most of the Gaga’s songs. Her songs are not always what you think. They are filled with metaphors, allusions, and codes. Lady Gaga is saying that women are all bloody Marys, all who are misinterpreted by society. Bloody Mary is Mary Magdalene, but she is all women who have been accused wrongly and whose reputations have been damaged because people are quick to believe patriarchy’s and misogyny ‘s lies and for women who are judged and ruined because of our pasts.
Princess O’Nika Auguste is from the island of St.Lucia. She has a BA in English from Grambling State University, a Masters of Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center/Gammon Theological Seminary and a Masters of Theological Studies in Biblical Studies from Claremont School of Theology. She has contributed articles to EEWC:Christian Feminism Today, including “Some Thoughts on Modesty,” “Being Womanish is Not Bad,” “Reclaiming Your Story: Mary Magdalene and Lady Gaga’s Judas and Was Esther a PostColonial Feminist?” Princess is a huge lover of history and mythology, and she is a fan of fantasy and scfi whether that be books, movies, or television shows. Her favorite shows are Lucifer, the Charmed reboot, Once Upon a Time, and Shadow Hunters. She is still a fan of 90s scfi fantasy shows Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel. You can follow her on Twitter @princesso24.