Pop music has always butted heads with religion. Sure, for a few years there, when pop princesses of the Jessica Simpson variety reigned, you didn’t see the kind of great, envelope-pushing music videos we remember from the ’80s and early ’90s. But now, with Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” and Taylor Momsen’s “Miss Nothing” clip (whose saucy reenactment of the Last Supper, it must be said, is kind of a letdown), we may be entering a new era of Christian-baiting music videos. In light of this development, we present our 10 favorite sacrilegious spots of all time, as a sort of primer to those looking to learn from the past.
10. “Arise” — Sepultura There is a whole universe of nausea-inducing sacrilegious metal videos. This one, at least, you should be able to watch without losing your lunch. In short, you’ll see Jesus in the desert on the cross wearing a gas mask.
9. “Dear God” — XTC The tree metaphor the video’s constructed around may mean that we don’t see a whole lot of broken crucifixes or satanic brides, but it’s a pretty brilliant, subtle way of translating what may be the bluntest rejection of religion ever put into song.
8. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” — Bonnie Tyler Okay, we’re going to be straight with you. We have no idea what is going on in this video. Football players, ninjas, greasers, and dudes in bondage troll an empty, cavernous, darkened church while Bonnie Tyler roams around in a fluttery white dress, like a virgin to the slaughter. Then there’s the zombie-eyed choir and the vampire-looking altar boy. Incoherent? Sure. Displeasing to the Pope? Definitely.
7. “Coma White” — Marilyn Manson In a move that pissed off patriots and Christians in one fell swoop, Marilyn Manson and then-girlfriend Rose McGowan reenacted the JFK assassination and then staged a demonic funeral. Yes, of course, Manson sung from the cross.
6. “Hate Me Now” — Nas feat. Diddy
The disclaimer at the beginning of the video reads, “Nas believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and this video is in no way a depiction or portrayal of his life or death.” But then we cut to a shot of the rapper carrying the cross and wearing a crown of thorns while villagers pelt him with stones. By the end, he’s hanging from it. And in the middle, we still have time to watch Nas and Diddy chug champagne in fur suits while hundreds of extras dance in the background!
5. “Jesus Christ Pose” — Soundgarden
When you name your song “Jesus Christ Pose,” you’d better deliver on the sacrilegious video front. In a clip that conflates crucifixes with windmills and populates the cross with a skeleton and (gasp!) a lady, against a post-apocalyptic desert landscape and an angry pink-orange sky, Soundgarden delivers. The hyper-quick cuts may also give you a seizure.
4. “Closer” — Nine Inch Nails [NSFW]
Yup, this is the one that begins with a beating human heart strapped to a chair. Then there’s the naked bald lady. Aaaaand, oh yes, the monkey on the cross. Tell us again how you feel about Christianity, will you, Trent? We don’t think the symbolism was clear enough.
3. “Heart-Shaped Box” — Nirvana Now we reach the videos that are just indisputably classic. An elderly, emaciated Jesus in a diaper and Santa hat, picking poppies and lying in a hospital bed. There’s the way his Catholic-clergy headdress echoes a tiny blonde girl’s KKK hood. Anton Corbijn’s heavily Kurt Cobain-influenced clip doesn’t quite have a narrative core, but the overall feeling is one of sickness and decay.
2. “Like a Prayer” — Madonna Unless you were raised by fundamentalists, you grew up on this video, which features Madonna dancing dirty and simulating sex with a wax saint come to life.
1. “Losing My Religion” — R.E.M. In what must be the classiest sacrilegious video ever made, director Tarsem Singh cuts between shots of Michael Stipe angsting and scenes from Hindu mythology, a young St. Sebastian pierced with arrows, angels with plastic wings, and doomed Icarus-style flying machines. Perhaps the greatest throwaway moment is when an arm strikingly similar to Michaelangelo’s hand of God reaches down from the heavens only to cast about, failing to make a connection.