The conventional wisdom surrounding Lady Gaga's new "Alejandro" video — based on a few preview clips and a viewing or two — seems to be that it is probably her most Madonna clip to date, a glamorous, black-and-white mélange of Madge's finest moments (particularly the "Vogue" video, or anything else she did with director David Fincher). And while conventional wisdom isn't exactly wrong, it's definitely taking the easy way out.
And that's no slight at my colleague Kyle Anderson, who wrote a very excellent piece about the overall Madonna-ness of "Alejandro," or anyone else who will argue the comparison, because, well, they're right. "Alejandro" most definitely is Gaga's love-letter to the Material Girl, but it's also so much more, and to categorize it as nothing but a bit of spot-the-influence is, in my opinion, selling it short.
"Alejandro" also recalls a whole lot more than "Vogue" or "Express Yourself" (or even "Evita"). It's Gaga and director Steven Klein's ode to Weimar Germany, the long-forgotten (yet highly influential) post-World War I era that birthed the expressionist films of Lang and Murnau, the existentialism of Dietrich, the strict minimalism of the Bauhaus school, the Dadaism paintings of Ernst and the brutal realism of Dix. It was a dark, decadent time, when nihilism and satire were the social currency, when intellectuals sat and pondered stuff like the "Incompleteness Theorum" while languidly smoking black cigarettes, living as if they were dying and generally being brilliant.
And yes, all of that is readily apparent in "Alejandro," be it in the noir-ish cinematography, Klein's bleak, almost naked set design, the dark, restrictive costuming or the general, life-is-meaningless morose that permeates the entire thing (though, I will freely admit, I'm having a difficult time finding where the "Incompleteness Theorum" ties in). Sure, you could say "Gaga's really looks like Madonna in 'Vogue,'" but you could also say she looks like Dietrich in "The Blue Angel," too. And you'd be correct either way. So why not err on the side of fine art?
And to say "Alejandro" apes Madonna is to overlook touches like Klein's sublime eye for staging and detail, which, in the best instances, recalls Tarsem's work on R.E.M.'s iconic "Losing My Religion" video (or his great second feature film, "The Fall") or the kinetic, impassioned choreography, which is reminiscent of Baz Luhrman's best work, or the inspired fashion, or the political message of the piece, or Gaga's M-16 bra, or ... well, you get my drift.
The point is, there's so much more here than just a couple scenes that remind you of "Vogue." It's easy to say "Alejandro" is Madonna-lite — shoot, it's correct, too — but it's also sort of lazy, not to mention a bit unfair. There is real art here, real ambition. It's not just homage. Gaga and Klein's work should be rewarded, not cast aside onto the copycat scrap heap. Leave that for the lesser pop stars of the planet. Gaga's in a different universe now.
Do you think Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" video is an homage to Madonna or something more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!