Rihanna was recently booted from an Abu Dhabi mosque for posing somewhat seductively in a photo shoot outside the house of worship. Her music video for the song “S&M” was banned in 11 countries in 2011, but RiRi hasn’t touched much on religion (unless you believe this totally crazy conspiracy theory about the song “Umbrella”).
Death metal groups make their name on blasphemy, but their reach is usually limited. Here are 10 famous pop songs and music videos from big-name stars that have come under fire for their “blasphemous” messages.
1. Madonna: “Like a Prayer” (1989)
Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was praised by music critics, but some religious folks were less enthusiastic. The Vatican condemned the music video, which featured burning crosses, stigmata, and a brief but steamy makeout session with a saint, who many viewers mistook for Jesus. Oedipal connotations aside (…Madonna lusting for Jesus), some viewers were upset that the object of Madonna’s saintly desire was black—but that was probably more about racism than religious offense. Pepsi, which had used the song in an advertising campaign, canceled its contract with the Material Girl to distance its brand from the controversy. Italy’s state broadcaster refused to air the video. Enjoy!
2. Lady Gaga: “Alejandro” (2010)
Lady Gaga has angered Muslims as the queen of #burqaswag (see her burqa visor and translucent abaya/hijab), but she’s also pissed off plenty of Christians by playing on her Catholic background. In the 2010 video for “Alejandro,” she dons a red latex habit and swallows (or deep throats?) a rosary before stripping down in a dog pile of scantily clad men. The Catholic League, which condemns just about everything, condemned the video. MTV refused to air it before 10 p.m. Even Katy Perry implied it was blasphemous on Twitter. Then again, Perry’s parents are both evangelical preachers, so maybe that’s not such a shock.
3. John Lennon: “Imagine” (1971)
John Lennon’s “Imagine” has become a freethought anthem. The Freedom From Religion Foundation starts every podcast with the ballad. The song’s music video features little more than the color white, a seemingly lobotomized Yoko Ono and John Lennon sporting a soccer mom hairdo. It’s the lyrics that secure Lennon’s place on this list:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Clear Channel Communications added “Imagine” to its post-9/11 “do not play” list, and Turkish broadcasters refused to translate the line “And no religion too” to audiences during the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.
4. Joan Osborne: “One of Us” (1995)
OK, those aren’t (quite) the lyrics, but I got distracted by Osborne’s frizzfest in this video.
The song enters blasphemous territory (for some) by flirting with anthropomorphizing the Heavenly Father:
If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see it
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the saints
And all the prophets?
The Catholic League took issue with the song and the suggestion that God might be “just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on a bus.”
The line “Nobody calling on the phone, ‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome,” is probably less significant today considering how many people Francis popedials.
5. Kanye West: “I am a God” (2013)
Kanye’s Christian faith is common knowledge. So are his delusions of grandeur. Case in point: his latest song “I am a God.” In a recent interview, West said, “I made that song because I am a god. I don’t think there’s much more explanation.” OK.
According to the lyrics, Kanye and Jesus are pretty tight:
I just talked to Jesus
He said, “What up Yeezus?”
I said, “Shit I’m chilling
Trying to stack these millions.”
I know he the most high
But I am a close high
He backs down a little bit with this caveat:
I am a god
Even though I’m a man of God
My whole life in the hands of God
So y’all better quit playing with God
And gets downright ridiculous with these choice lines:
I am a god
So hurry up with my damn massage
In a French-ass restaurant
Hurry up with my damn croissants
6. Pet Shop Boys: “It’s a Sin” (1987)
“It’s a Sin” samples Latin masses to address singer Neil Tennant’s Catholic upbringing. The video is relatively tame. There’s a crucified Jesus, men and women in tighty whities praying and dancing on their monastery cots, a dancing nun. Nothing we didn’t see in The Sound of Music.
The lyrics, however, are more direct:
Father, forgive me, I tried not to do it
Turned over a new leaf, then tore right through it
Whatever you taught me, I didn’t believe it
Father, you fought me, ’cause I didn’t care
And I still don’t understand
7. Tim Minchin: “Pope Song” (2010)
Australian comedian Tim Minchin is best known for his satirical music. “Pope Song,” which drops the F-bomb about 80 times in two minutes(!), attacks Pope Benedict XVI and his handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal. Minchin performed the song on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at the secular Reason Rally in 2012.
Some slightly sanitized lyrics:
I’ve no problem with the spiritual beliefs
Of other f****ers
While those beliefs don’t impact
On the happiness of others
But if you build your Church on claims
Of f***ing moral authority
And with threats of Hell impose it
On others in society
Then you, you motherf***er
Can expect some f***ing wrath
When it turns out you’ve been f***ing us
In our motherf***ing asses
Minchin also refers to Pope Benedict as “that motherf***ing, power hungry self-aggrandised bigot in the stupid f***ing hat.”
I wonder how he feels about Pope Francis…
***Warning: Almost exclusively explicit. I warned you.***
8. Tori Amos: “God” (1994)
WHAT!? Tori Amos made a weird music video and it was crazy and controversial? Say it ain’t so!
The lyrics to “God” aren’t that controversial:
“God sometimes you just don’t come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?”
But the video certainly was.
- Tori (and Gary Busey…?) handling snakes at a Pentecostal Church. Busey gets bit
performing ablutionsshaving her legs
- Tori rat handling (one crawls down her shirt)
- Parallels drawn between a Jewish man strapping on a tefillah (Torah box) and a man prepping his arm for some recreational intravenous drug use
At least her attempts at religious offense cover several faiths?
YouTube commenter Balance Zen chimes in with some words of wisdom:
Rats are okay as pets, but eating after one isn’t very sanitary. There are limitations on what people should do for their beliefs.
I think he missed the point of this video. I think I did too.
9. Depech Mode: “Blasphemous Rumours” (1984)
The hair! The graphics! The air tambourine dancing! Now that’s what I call 80s.
There’s nothing particularly blasphemous about this video (other than perhaps the crowd worshipping the band on a stage that looks like a church), but the lyrics make God seem pretty malicious:
Girl of eighteen, fell in love with everything
Found new life in Jesus Christ
Hit by a car, ended up
On a life support machine
I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours
But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing
10. Lady Gaga: “Judas” (2011)
Gaga again? Of course Gaga again. The pop princess addresses religious themes in many of her songs, including “Black Jesus,” “Bloody Mary,” “Disco Heaven,” “Electric Chapel,” “Marry the Night,” “Paparazzi,” and her latest “Venus”. “Judas” is among the most controversial, as Lady Gaga expresses her erotic desire for the infamous betrayer:
When he calls to me, I am ready
I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times, he betrays me
I wanna love you
But something’s pulling me away from you
Jesus is my virtue
And Judas is the demon I cling to
The video features a motorcycle gang of twelve apostles and Gaga as Mary Magdalene. After some criticism from the Catholic League (surprise, surprise), Gaga said in an interview, “This video is not meant to be an attack on religion. I respect and love everyone’s beliefs. I’m a religious and spiritual person who’s obsessed with religious art.”
Who will be next to join the ranks of these big names in pissing off people of God? My money’s on 16-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde. Her stage name is an obvious flag. Plus there’s this Jesusy photo. Not to be confused with this Yeezusy photo.
Share songs and videos I missed in the comments section below. And check out my list of 12 “blasphemous” artworks censored or vandalized by angry believers.