Every Cultural Reference In Lady Gaga's "G.U.Y." Video Explained
She's an enigma wrapped up in an enigma wrapped up in ancient mythology and Lisa Vanderpump.
On March 22, Lady Gaga finally released her second music video from ARTPOP. (A video for the album's controversial second single, "Do What U Want" featuring R. Kelly, was planned with director Terry Richardson, but delayed and eventually shelved.)
Directed by Mother Monster herself, the "G.U.Y." video clocks in at 11 minutes and 46 seconds, and features snippets of "ARTPOP" and "Venus" before diving into the main event. (Four minutes are credits at the end of the video, set to "Manicure.")
Once again, Gaga has filled a video to the brim with references to Greek mythology and pop culture, all woven into the bigger picture of her personal narrative. (She's called "pop culture acid.") The result is stunning and set at the beautiful Hearst Castle in San Simean, Calif.
We're here to help you make sense of it all. Let's go!
The video opens with a winged Lady Gaga lying in a ditch, shot by an arrow, conjuring the image of a wounded member of the Erotes — a crew of winged Greek gods of love and sex.
Meanwhile, suited businessmen fight in a field over money falling from the sky, immediately setting up a parallel to her own life and experiences in the industry, particularly with management.
Lady Gaga parted ways with her longtime manager Troy Carter last November, and she's been pretty vocal about how she felt mismanaged and taken advantage of. In a note on her Little Monsters website about the delay of her "Do What U Want" video, she criticized her previous team, writing:
Those who have betrayed me gravely mismanaged my time and health and left me on my own to damage control any problems that ensued as a result. Millions of dollars are not enough for some people. They want billions. Then they need trillions. I was not enough for some people. They wanted more.
The businessmen ignore her lifeless body as they swoop down like vultures to collect the cash.
The suited men represent the people in the music business (and Gaga's old management team in particular) who have wanted a piece of her success, and would push her to her physical limit to achieve it, even when she was sick and recovering from surgery.
The Cupid's bow (perhaps her own) that has been shot through her chest is likely symbolic of how Gaga's own devotion to her fans and her art ended up turning against her, and was her "undoing" in commercial performance.
But in the eyes of the music-business suit guys, she's just a bunch of dollar signs, disposable when she's no longer commercial or useful enough.
Much of Gaga's promotion of ARTPOP included playing up the criticisms that she had already peaked. In August, she even released a video titled "Lady Gaga Is Over."
Gaga-as-love-goddess is able to get up, and staggers to a beautiful gated mansion, which just so happens to be Hearst Castle.
Here's a full shot of the same courtyard from the Hearst Castle website.
Gaga's "G.U.Y." video is only the second piece to be filmed at the castle; the other work being Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film, Spartacus. Owned by the wealthy Hearst family, the castle is tucked away in the beautiful and idyllic San Simean, Calif.
The castle was a social hot spot in the 1920s and '30s, with members of Hollywood, political leaders, journalists, and literary figures all coveting invitations to the lavish parties the family would hold at the estate. Considering all the statements she makes about celebrity and the intersection of pop culture and beautiful art, Hearst Castle's history makes it the perfect location for a meditation on how high and low culture meet.
After she collapses, she's lifted up by guards, hoisted up to resemble Jesus on the stake of his crucifixion.
Gaga likes to juxtapose religious and mythological imagery with art, and here she's calling upon the image of Jesus to symbolize the sacrifice that she's made for her fans and for her art. Gaga's really been telling this same story about sacrifice through all of her videos since The Fame era, adding on to the narrative bit by bit each time.
In "Applause," we saw Gaga as the winged Icarus, who falls after flying too close to the sun and falling to the sea. She's then reborn as Venus. In this video, too, we see Gaga as a fallen goddess of love and sex who's eventually resurrected as Venus.
Then, Gaga is taken by members of her court (her fans) and brought to the nourishing waters of Hearst Castle's famous Neptune Pool.
Gaga setting her resurrection at a place like Hearst Castle — known for its exclusivity and excess in a past era of celebrity — is a fitting analogy for her own survival and rebirth in pop culture.
She's spit out by the corporate machine, but the kindness and embrace of her Little Monsters keep her going, as does her fascination and commitment to juxtaposing mass pop culture with high art.
Hearst Castle, too, is a place of such juxtaposition; it was built using a mishmash of European architectural styles, from Roman to Greek to Spanish. Parties there placed Hollywood starlets against the backdrop of ancient Greece, and Gaga recreates this by bringing the pop culture icons of today — reality TV stars — to the castle.
After the pool, Gaga is reborn as Aphrodite/Venus. Her outfit and feather headdress also recall the imagery of rising again from the ashes like a phoenix in Greek mythology.
In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a majestic bird that will cyclically die and then regenerate, often dying by fire, and then rise again from the ashes — a symbol for resurrection and reinvention. Gaga's wings and body look almost charred in the beginning of the video (which also makes sense if she's also calling back to Icarus, who fell from flying too close to the sun).
The first words we hear Gaga speak are, "Greetings, Himeros." Himeros is one of the Erotes, the aforementioned Cupid-like Greek love and sex gods, who cater to Aphrodite as her assistants and advisers.
Then the Venus/Aphrodite version of Gaga looks up to the heavens to her father, Zeus, played by Bravo's Andy Cohen.
And while the term "G.U.Y." stands for "Girl Under You" — as in a girl literally under her partner who allows herself to be submissive when she wants and takes power in that, or "power bottoming," if you will — it also refers to being a girl under God. In this case, that god is Zeus, father to Venus/Aphrodite/Gaga.
Gaga's next costume, a paper teddy bear suit, was created by Polish designer Bea Szenfeld. It's an example of high fashion made out of a common, everyday material.
The bear cutout was from the Stockholm-based designer's spring 2014 "haute papier" collection of fantasy swimwear, "Sur La Plage." On Szenfeld's website, a description of the collection says that the paper "undergoes a complete metamorphosis" that "leads your mind to Jules Verne's fictitious sea demons."
Szenfeld's inspiration derives from "mythological folklore of the seamen," in a "male dominated existence" where nymphs fascinate them, which "seduces the men and drags them into the deep seas and rivers."
Gaga uses pieces from Szenfeld's collection about female empowerment to better illustrate "G.U.Y.," which is also about seduction and power: allowing yourself to both seduce and be seduced.
Then, wait: What the hell are the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills doing here?
They're playing the role of the Muses — daughters of Zeus/Andy Cohen — from Greek mythology, of course.
In mythology, the Muses are sister goddesses of poetry, literature, and the arts, often playing their own music, like the Housewives do here. Look at Ms. Vanderpump working that tambourine!
The Muses are said to hail from Mount Helicon, a mountain range in Greece, known in mythology for its sacred springs, which were sources of poetic and creative inspiration.
In this scene, the Housewives/Muses are stationed right above Hearst Castle's Neptune Pool, looking down as Gaga is bathed in its water. So: the Neptune Pool = Mount Helicon's sacred waters of inspiration.
In addition to the Bravo stars, there are other nods to current pop culture. Like this scene, where Gaga essentially recreates Miley's writhing-on-the bed sequence from "We Can't Stop."
And she reinforces the Venus imagery with this seashell headboard, which echoes the seashell from which Venus rises in Sandro Botticelli's painting "The Birth of Venus."
(We get it, Gaga!)
She previously referenced the painting in both her video for "Applause" and the album art for ARTPOP.
Gaga's also been heavy on channeling Donatella Versace lately, and her homage to the long-haired diva is very clear in this video.
As the new face of the Italian label, Gaga has been cozying up to Donatella in recent months and been emulating her style very closely.
Gaga even has a song on ARTPOP called "Donatella."
In Greek mythology, the forbidden fruit is associated with Aphrodite as a symbol of both love and sexual seduction.
Erotes — with golden-wing arm floaties — act as lifeguards while Aphrodite/Venus/Eve lounges in the pool of Hearst Castle's indoor Roman bath.
A gilded Lady Gaga is back with her Cupid's bow and arrow, ready to recapture her place in pop culture's heart and make us fall in love with her all over again.
The "Yellow" sculpture is really striking — maybe even frightening — in its grotesqueness. We see Gaga, made of yellow Lego bricks, ripping open her hollow chest and spilling toy pieces out of her. Gaga not only projects a sense of being a walking, breathing piece of art, but rather IS made of art here. Her entire being is made up of tiny building blocks that all work to create a greater piece of meaning and understanding.
The yellow sculpture may be the most striking image of Sawaya's in the video, but his other Lego creations can be seen throughout — from Lego lifeguard chairs to fruit.
"Gaga's latest album, ARTPOP, has a lot to do with her life of being caught between both the world of art and the world of pop culture," Sawaya writes on his website. "This resonated with me since I am often creating pop culture references out of a child's toy and presenting it as art."
Sawaya is largely known for his work with Lego bricks, and his latest exhibition, The Art of the Brick, is the first to focus on art made exclusively from the material.
Lady Gaga is all about taking pop culture and elevating it into the realm of high art, so it makes sense that Gaga tapped Sawaya to create works for the video since their philosophies are very similar.
"One of the main themes we discussed was about making art accessible," Sawaya says. "And one of the main reasons I use LEGO bricks is to make the art accessible. So it felt like a natural fit to include my artwork in her new video."
She nods to her Little Monsters by having an homage to the "Bad Romance" video, wherein Gaga and her dancers are all clad in all white and performing similar choreography.
There's another ARTPOP reference tucked away in this dance sequence — the Jeff Koons blue gazing ball sitting atop the balcony.
Koons' blue glass gazing balls were first displayed at David Zwirner Gallery in New York last year. The ball functions as a surface upon which we are able to see ourselves reflected back at us. In this particular sequence, we as viewers see ourselves in Gaga and her dancers — they're wearing nothing except for the most basic building block of any wardrobe: jeans.
Love, Gaga seems to suggest, is about not only trusting yourself with someone else, but allowing them to see you in your most simple and natural state. No glitz and glam here. (Though it's hard for Gaga to look anything but glamorous, no matter what.)
And that's not just any random dude with glasses; it's actually SkyDoesMinecraft, a Minecraft player who has a large following on YouTube.
The command "/gamemode ARTPOP" was apparently created by Reddit user MrRhymestyle, who wrote that he works on Gaga's Little Monsters site.
"As you're watching the video, there's all these pop culture archetypes that pop up, and we resurrect some icons from the past using Minecraft," Gaga explained to Sirius XM.
"Really I was interested in the way that we experience icons through technology and how when you are on your phone or on the internet, Jesus, and Lisa Vanderpump, and John Lennon, and Andy Cohen, kind of all exist in the same space now," Gaga said.
Gaga's assistants draw blood from each of the icons to create a kind of formula to clone the ideal "G.U.Y."...
...one who respects art, respects people, and understands sacrifice.
In a note to her fans on her Little Monsters website in December, Gaga wrote:
Because those who did not care about ARTPOP's success are now gone, and the dreams I have been planning can now come to fruition. [...] I never thought after all the years of hard work that those I called friends and partners would ever care so little at a time I needed them the most.
From Gandhi, she draws upon his kindness and humanity.
From Michael Jackson, she takes artistry and perfectionism...
And from Jesus, she draws his ability to sacrifice for his beliefs and his followers...
Gaga emerges from a car decked out in military gear and wearing a headdress resembling a crow — which in Irish mythology is associated with Morrigan, the goddess of war and death.
The 1999 film was about a dystopian future in which the world humans know is a simulated reality controlled by a program that aims to control the population, reducing them to an energy source. Neo and co. are the ones who can see the truth, and fight to free humanity from this grip.
Gaga, too, clearly feels controlled and limited by the corporate music industry, which she feels views her as a commodity and a product rather an an actual person. So, along with these Housewives (who themselves portray a surreal depiction of "reality" on TV), she aims to wipe out the greedy people in her life and gain back her creative control and agency.