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God is a Woman

My daughter Catherine has, as part of her life’s mission, taken on my musical education. She recommends artists to me, and by and large she’s pretty accurate in knowing what I will respond to, so, a month or so ago, when she sent me a link to the song above, Ariana Grande’s God is a Woman, I watched it. It’s the exception which proves the rule I guess. I thought the song was crap, and explained my reasons why to Catherine. A dull, repetitive, unimaginative, unoriginal tune. Clumsy, inelegant, monodimensional  lyrics. A video full of kitschy religious iconography, kind of like an animated facebook meme of the type that tells you to share to prove you love your Mom. Catherine told me I was being a pretentious old man (she is right on all three counts, of course ) and asked what did I expect from a 23 year old pop singer? She said that the video was valuable for the conversations it would generate. The video has beeen viewed, as of today, 84.5 million times, been liked 2.3 million times, disliked 297 thousand times and generated countless pages of comments, some of which were breathlessly adulatory, and almost all of which commented on the religious meaning of the song. Yep, Catherine, you're right. That’s a somewhat wider reach than the average Anglican sermon, alright. So I viewed the thing again. Downloaded the lyrics. Viewed it yet again.

Let’s be clear here, the song isn’t actually about spirituality, it’s about sex. The bottom line, take home message is that Ariana Grande is divinely good in bed. She’s so good, in fact that the lucky, unnamed recipient of her favours is going to be remade, and will worship her for reshaping him. I guess we’ll all have to take her word on that one. The video, considered apart from the lyrics, is another matter. It is a series of religious scenes segueing into one another, some  of which echo iconic images from the world religions. So Ariana Grande stands in a swirl of white clad (female) pilgrims, reminiscent of the swirl of white clad Muslim men around the Kaaba, or writhes in the flame of a candle (light of the world, geddit) or sings from behind a large group of (woman) meditators. She straddles the world and fiddles with a hurricane. A couple of the images are memorable: her goddess figure sits serenely and powerfully in a stylised city while a group of angry little men throw words at her. She takes a Thor like hammer and throws it upward to smash the glass ceiling of a basilica. The images are, of course, not about divinity. What is pictured is not God but a demiurge: her goddess is Wonder Woman on steroids. But I guess that’s exactly the point. 

What Ariana Grande has done is take a number of common images of God and change only one detail: the gender of the central figure. In doing this, the fact that the images are engineered around her particular sexual and political agenda is blatantly obvious. Which casts a glaring searchlight on the icons on which hers are based. If the imagery in her video had men at the centre they would be seen as well produced but unexceptional pieces of religious kitsch. God is a Woman exposes what most people take for granted most of the time: the unconscious and therefore unexamined sexual and political agendas which inform our own metaphorical portrayals of God.

Finally, there is, in this video an odd paradox.  The strong juxtaposition of spiritual and sexual imagery invite the  implication that the ultimate worth of a woman is tied to her sexual power over men. I doubt Ariana Grande intended this point, though her  lyrics strongly suggest otherwise. All of us think we are free from being shaped by personal, biological, cultural and political agendas. All of us are mistaken on that point and the messages implicit in our communications, obvious to everyone except ourselves, are the ones of which we need to be especially cautious.


Mr Truman said…
While a little simplistic, I prefer Gungor’s “God is not a White Man” for musing on a similar idea with fewer mixed-messages and sexualised images. -
Kate said…
As usual you tease out ideas and make me think. But in this case, and even making the assumption that everyone who sees/ hears this vid would extract such a useful lesson from it, do the ends justify the means? Or is it still mostly just crap?

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