Lady Gaga: Bad Romance
A creative analysis of the techniques used to create the music video for Lady Gaga's Bad Romance. Includes notes on costumes, camerawork, post-production, product placement, and symbolism.
- The Track
- Mise en Scene - Props
- Mise en Scene - Product Placement
- Mise en Scene - Lighting
- Mise en Scene - Costume
Premiered on November 20th 2009, the video for Lady Gaga’s phenomenally successful Bad Romance caused controversy and the official version has racked up 337,143,508 views on YouTube at time of writing.
The song is a stomping German techno-inspired tribute to forbidden love and sexual desire for a best friend. Notable features are the memorable chant of ‘ra-ra-ra’, a spoken bridge, and a verse sung in French. The censored version changes the line ‘I’m a free bitch’ to ‘I’m a free bit’. There is no other dialogue, sound effects or audio in the video apart from the song.
In this video, Gaga is shown to be kidnapped and drugged by supermodels working for the Russian mafia, is transformed into a prostitute and subsequently auctioned off to the mafia boss. The director was Francis Lawrence, who also directed Constantine, I Am Legend, and also the music videos for Shakira’s "Whenever, Wherever" and Britney Spears’ "Circus".
Mise en Scene - Props
The props in this video are generally designer-made, of high fashion value – electronics (headphones, laptops), crystal glassware (tumblers, jewellery) and baths and isolation tanks. At the beginning of the video we see Gaga with her finger on the mute button of an expensive iPod speaker; when she releases it, the song begins. The next prop we see is a line of vodka bottles, vodka being a theme which crops up again and again during the video.
The next scene involves Gaga and her dancers crawling out of coffin-like pods in the fluorescent white bath house, each emblazoned with the word Monster and an inverted Christian cross. These could be tanning beds, or something much more sinister.
Each of the props supports the video’s clinical look, white, matte and clean. Baths are used to represent Gaga’s ‘cleansing’ in the video; in this scene she’s also wearing headphones suggesting that the music plays a part in her transformation. Similarly, Gaga is shown naked in a shower cubicle. She is shown in a shower of diamonds to represent throwaway riches and decadence, and singing to herself in front of a mirror unable to recognise who she really is.
Towards the end of the video we are shown a sparse bedroom, consisting of one large white double bed and two antelope’s heads on the wall, still white but providing contrast to the purely clinical nature of the earlier scenes.
Mise en Scene - Product Placement
This video contains a lot of product placement, a venture which earns Gaga a large amount of money and helps her promote her image across many platforms.
The first product we see is the iPod speakers, which Rihanna is also seen operating in one of her videos. The next, a recurring product, is Nemiroff vodka – a famous brand in the Ukraine, which all of the gangsters use and which Gaga spits back out at the supermodels. Gaga wears Beats headphones in the bathtub scenes – designed by Dr Dre, she collaborated with him to create her own versions which are now on sale and are the ones featured in the video. The Beats logo is also shown on the laptops used by the mafia to bid for her, and later on, Gaga is shown wearing Carrira sunglasses.
Mise en Scene - Lighting
Bright and clinical, the lighting has been engineered to show the bath house like a laboratory. There are minimal shadows and even keying, however in some scenes Gaga and her dancers are backlit to create a more creepy, ‘emerging from the crypt’ atmosphere. Although harsh in some scenes, the lighting creates soft tones and pastel colours, shimmering off the diamonds and jewels used in the choreography.
Mise en Scene - Costume
At the beginning, Gaga is seen with a sharp haircut wearing razor-blade sunglasses, a concept she developed to demonstrate the tenacity and resilience of female spirit. The white crowned leotards and thigh-high boots sported by her troupe were based on Max’s wolf costume from Where the Wild Things Are, according to Wikipedia, and while they resemble it, they are more similar in appearance to sinister Ku Klux Klan robes.
Gaga is also shown in a favourite of hers, a PVC tunic, with surgical tape over her nipples, to emphasize the clinical nature of the bath house. Later on she and all her dancers are shown in diamonds, illustrating the decadent nature of the mafia.
The key to camerawork in music videos is movement, and the techniques used in this music video conform to this guideline. One technique they use is of suddenly zooming or cutting to a closer shot, making the subject ‘pop out’. Bird’s eye and worm’s eye views are used in the auction scene to make the audience realise the mafia boss is more powerful and Gaga is the slave. Bird’s eye view is also used in the scenes where Gaga is more ‘stripped down’ and naturalistic, singing to the camera. This is to show her in a more vulnerable state and illustrate the tragic romance of the song.
As with most music videos, cuts fall more or less on the beats of the song. Computer generated effects include Gaga’s exaggerated eyes in the bathtub scenes, her exaggerated spine, and a swarm of diamonds hanging in the air.
The editing is strongly narrative-based; the video has a definite plotline even if it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on at some points. Shots are carefully chosen to show Gaga’s progression from naturalistic to prostitute; no shots of the naturalistic Gaga are used in the last third of the video to show that she has lost that part of herself. Every different shot is arranged to show Gaga’s transformation in interlinking stages; two or three costume changes alternate with each other, and when another element of the story is introduced, one is dropped.
Bad Romance is notorious, like almost everything surrounding Lady Gaga, for being linked with Satanic symbolism and Illuminati control. Whether you believe the hype and think she is a Satanic puppet, the symbols she chooses to portray in her videos are nonetheless interesting.
The gold dress she is shown in at the very beginning is significant – gold is the Sun colour. In this preliminary shot she is shown as the Sun, with her subjects surrounding her, and a blank expression. (‘Ra’, as in the opening chant, is the name of the Egyptian sun god.) She has been transformed into an unthinking idol for the masses. This dress also crops up later on when she’s singing about the catwalk – symbolising she has become a slave to the fashion industry.
The Christian crosses on the pods speak for themselves: Gaga proclaims to be Catholic, although the symbolism in her videos says otherwise. Her spine in the naked ‘shower’ scenes looks distinctly reptilian: there is a belief amongst conspiracy theorists that ‘reptilian overlords’ will one day take over the Earth. While a ridiculous theory, the symbol is nonetheless ominous.
The bedroom in the closing scene is of great value to symbolists – the two antelope’s heads on the wall are horned animals representing Pan (the Pagan god) or Satan, and in one shot Gaga’s hands are strategically placed under them. Immediately after, the bed ignites. And finally, Gaga makes the sign of the all-seeing-eye (eye in a triangle) in the final scene.
Whether you give credit to the symbolic meaning, or think it is simply mindless fashion, it is nonetheless an inescapable element of every Lady Gaga video that high fashion and overt sexual overtones are mixed with what appear to be occult images. Perhaps this, combined with masterly direction and a suitably psychotic execution of the plot, contributed to Bad Romance’s phenomenal success.