By now, you’ve had a few hours to digest Lady Gaga’s brand-new “Born This Way” video , a starry, swirly, some would say gnarly clip that features plenty of astral afterbirth, a snarling man-zombie and exactly one shimmering unicorn.
So, yes, “BTW” is most definitely an eye-catching, high-concept thing — as Gaga told BBC’s Radio 1 , it’s meant to showcase “the birth of a new race,” which doesn’t make it all that different from all of her videos, if you think about it.
And, much like her earlier work, “BTW” is also loaded with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments, carefully constructed odes to fashion, film, fine art and, uh, West Texas weirdos. So, in the same way we broke down her “Telephone” and “Alejandro” clips, we’ve decided to put “Born This Way” under the microscope, watching (and rewatching) each frame to compile a pop-culture cheat sheet that’s alphabetized and cross-referenced for your convenience. Believe us, this took way longer than you could imagine, but it was worth it. (Oh, and despite our best efforts, we’re sure there’s something we missed, which is why we need your help: Let us know what you spot in the comments below!)
And so, without further ado, here’s our “Born This Way” pop-culture cheat sheet:
Alexander McQueen: The late fashion designer has always been an influence on Gaga (she wore his famous “armadillo heels” in the “Bad Romance” video and one of his creations on the red carpet of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards), and in “Born This Way,” her outfit at the beginning of the video — where she’s hovering above Earth, giving birth to a starchild (or something) — seems directly influenced by the natural flourishes of McQueen’s final collection, which featured feathers, mock scales and faux wings.
Denny Brewer: Deep-fried Texas musician/oddball who, along with his son, plays in the band Refried Ice Cream. In recent weeks, Brewer has risen to fame thanks to his recorded ramblings about alternate dimensions, phase-shifting, lizard people and pomegranates that serve as the through-line to Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key album. Much of what Gaga declares in her “Manifesto of Mother Monster” is lifted from Brewer’s playbook: a “mitosis of the future,” a “multiverse” and the constantly changing concepts of “temporal” and “eternal.”
H.R. Giger: Swiss-born surrealist painter and sculptor, perhaps best known for designing the terrifying, sexualized beasts in the “Alien” franchise. After Gaga gives birth to her “evil” spawn, he contorts his body in a way that, when coupled with sinewy fabrics, appears to be a direct nod to Giger’s chilling work.
Janus: The two-faced Roman god of gates, doorways, beginnings, endings and time. At the very beginning of “Born This Way,” Gaga’s Mother Monster features two faces, and, given the whole “rebirth” concept behind the video, that seems less than coincidental.
Madonna: By now, you’re probably aware that, sonically, “Born This Way” sounds a lot like Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” So, perhaps as a bit of a joke, Gaga closes “BTW” by mimicking Madge’s iconic gap between her two front teeth.
Michael Jackson: As she tries to assure her spot in the upper echelons of pop royalty, Gaga is obviously taking cues from the man who eternally sits on the throne: the late, great King of Pop. At the end of “Born This Way,” she pays direct homage to the man, strutting down a dark alleyway, slightly glowing (à la his “Billie Jean” video). Earlier, she also wears a tuxedo, which could be a nod to the cover of MJ’s Off the Wall album. Oh, and there’s a very definite “Captain EO” feel to the proceedings too.
“Metropolis”: A 1927 expressionist film directed by the iconic Fritz Lang, which tells the tale of a dystopian, not-too-distant future in which society is divided into two classes. The opening scenes of “BTW” definitely recall the film, especially the famous scene in which the heroine Maria is cloned by the villainous scientist Rotwang.
“Sin City”: Gritty, black-and-white comic series from Frank Miller. Not only does the machine-gun-clutching Gaga remind us of every gun moll in the series, but at the end of the video, when she dances in stark white gloves with tassels, it seems like a direct homage to one of Sin City’s most famous denizens: cowgirl stripper Nancy Callahan.
“Superman”: Massive 1978 film directed by Richard Donner that tells the origin of one of DC Comics’ most iconic characters. In Donner’s version, the Man of Steel’s home planet of Krypton is made almost entirely of shards of crystals, which also seems to have influenced the production design of “Born This Way.”
Surrealism: Populist art movement begun in the 1920s, famous for its use of nonsequiturs and juxtapositions. Famed surrealist painters include Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí, both of whom were name-checked by Gaga herself as being influences on the “Born This Way” clip.
“Vertigo”: Masterful 1958 psychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. For reasons not really clear, it’s equally masterful main theme, courtesy of Bernard Herrmann, is played over the opening scenes of “Born This Way.”
Zombie Boy: Also known as Rick Genest, a model who made the rather, uh, unique decision to cover his entire face (and most of his body) in one large skeleton tattoo, which makes him look very much like, well, a zombie. In recent months, Genest has become a favorite of both Gaga and her stylist, Nicola Formichetti, appearing in a promo clip for the Born This Way album that premiered last month, and, of course, in the “Born This Way” video too.
What did we miss? Share the pop-culture inspirations you spotted in the comments below!