Lady Gaga's eye-popping videos have helped solidify her persona as a new-generation pop star with grand artistic aspirations. These five selections from her wide-ranging videography led the pack in Rolling Stone's readers' poll of Mother Monster's best clips.
Bringing together Jesus Christ Superstar, Easy Rider and Gaga's wild creative streak, the video for the guilt-drenched Born This Way banger "Judas" stars The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus as the title character and Gaga (who co-directed the video) as a hog-riding Mary Magdalene. The clip was derived not just from Gaga's Catholic upbringing, but from, as she told NME in 2011, accusations that she was "trashy, or pretentious or this and that." Flipping the Biblical script slightly — instead of Jesus being put to death at the end of the clip, it's Gaga-as-Magdalene-in-bridal-drag who is killed by the angry mob surrounding her — was, she said, her way of "saying 'I've crossed the line, I won't even try to repent. Nor should I.'"
Gaga paired this Jonas Akerlund-directed parable on celebrity with her The Fame track about love's uneasy relationship to fandom. "It has a real, genuine, powerful message about fame-whoring and death and the demise of the celebrity, and what that does to young people," she told The Canadian Press shortly before its release in 2009. "The video explores ideas about sort of hyperbolic situations that people will go to in order to be famous—most specifically, pornography and murder." The seven-minute mini-epic, which ends with Gaga posing for a flirty mug shot, featured Alexander Skarsgard as Gaga's doomed love interest, an intrigue-filled plot peppered with precision-grade dance breaks, and eye-popping fashion for its star, including a Thierry Mugler-designed armor bodysuit and a Mickey Mouse-saluting getup from Jeremy Scott.
Gaga directed the 14-minute clip for her final single from Born This Way, an autobiographical short film that she teased as depicting "moments from my past I have yet to reveal." With allusions to The Bell Jar, Flashdance, French cinema, Madonna's early videos and Hollywood's trove of stories about would-be stars bootstrapping themselves out of the depths, the clip stylizes the story of Gaga being dropped from Island Def Jam in 2006. "It was one of the worst days of my life and it happened quite quickly," she told E! News before the video debuted in 2011. "But in my mind, when I think back on that period of my life, it all happened very slow." The video tracks Gaga as she deals with her depths, ultimately showcasing the redemptive properties of her propulsive ode to staying out until the sun comes up.
A sequel of sorts to the "Paparazzi" clip – it opens with Gaga in jail, and eventually segues into her being picked up from the pokey by her collaborator Beyoncé, who's driving the Pussy Wagon from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill – the Jonas Akerlund-directed video for "Telephone" is a raunchy thrill ride that winds through diners and deserts, with shout-outs to Miracle Whip and Polaroid cameras along the way. The crime-scene tape outfit and Diet Coke can rollers Gaga sports while behind bars inspired a generation of Little Monsters to get creative with everyday objects, while Gaga and Beyoncé's addition of murder to a roadside diner's menu turned them into pop's closest analogue to Thelma & Louise.
Gaga's 2009 future-fashion fantasia, which announced her Fame Monster era with a "ro mah ro-mah-mah" and went on to win Video of the Year at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, was art directed by Gaga's art collective Haus of Gaga and directed by Hunger Games mastermind Francis Lawrence. Its grandiose visual tableaus — which lit up the then-nascent YouTube — were the result of a low-budget, two-day shoot. The clip, which tells the story of how Gaga is drugged, kidnapped and sold off to the highest bidder before ultimately getting particularly explosive revenge, was, she told The Los Angeles Times, a meditation on "how the entertainment industry can, in a metaphorical way, simulate human trafficking — products being sold, the woman perceived as a commodity."