While her new album, Madame X, is currently topping the Billboard 200 charts—making it her ninth number one album—Madonna’s latest music video is causing heated debate. Less than 24 hours after its release, the 8-minute video for “God Control” was viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube— and it may be her most controversial vid yet.
The music video begins with a warning: “The story you are about to see is very disturbing. It shows graphic scenes of gun violence.” On social media and in the YouTube description, the pop icon launched the video with the following tagline: “This is your wake up call. Gun violence disproportionately affects children, teenagers and the marginalized in our communities.” In an interview with People magazine, the 60-year-old singer described the video as “a call to action.”
That’s something America desperately needs—according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of gun deaths in America is the highest its been in 20 years. I’m just not sure this is the right way to do it.
*Content warning: The below video contains depictions of gun violence*
Madonna intended for “God Control” to raise awareness
“God Control” is a ’70s-tinged disco-dance video that shows the slaying of nightclub patrons by a man wielding an automatic weapon—a bloody and graphic depiction that is eerily similar to the real-life shooting at Florida’s Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016, which claimed the lives of 49 people. That connection is no accident. Below the video is a list of 11 charities to donate to, including 1Pulse4America (George Takei’s charity for the victims of Pulse Nightclub) as well as March for our Lives, Sandy Hook Promise and more.
Throughout the clips of the man with an assault rifle are flashes of Madonna sitting at a typewriter writing out the lyrics to the song, which includes the lines “we’ve lost God control” and “we need to wake up, it’s a hustle.” The message seems clear: Madonna, who is currently living in Portugal, is angry about what’s happening in her home country.
“I am not a video critic, but it’s a fairly explicit depiction of violence, a bit heavy handed in terms of the message, but very obviously [has] a message,” says Cara Zwibel, the director of the fundamental freedoms program from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a 55 year-old independent organization that aims to protect Canadian rights and freedoms. “I remember ‘Like A Prayer,’ which was also a big deal, and so [this is] not new for her.”
Zwibel also believes that it’s appropriate that there’s a warning, and with the speed at which social media works these days, people will know that this may be triggering. “It’s not the artist’s obligation to shield vulnerable people from their art, but good to have a warning in place to let people know what they’re getting into.”
But reactions to “God Control” have been mixed
Many fans and activists, including George Takei and March For Our Lives, seem to agree, praising Madonna and the content of her latest drop.
However, others criticized the video for going too far. The video shows multiple angles of multiple people being hit with gun fire—along with a wounded and bloody Madonna herself—which can be all too real for anyone who has witnessed a mass shooting before. In response to the music video, which was released the day before National PTSD Awareness Day, Pulse survivor Patience Carter, called for artists to take victims into consideration when creating this type of content. “As a survivor of gun violence, it was really hard to watch,” she told TMZ. “I don’t think that was the right way to go about [bringing awareness] because for someone like me who actually saw these images, who actually lived these images, to see them again, dramatized for views, dramatized for YouTube, I feel like it was really insensitive.”
Another survivor of the shooting, Brandon Wolf, told TMZ he hasn’t been able to watch the shooting scene, though he has seen screen shots. And, he says while he “appreciate[s] the message that Madonna is trying to convey,” he’s not sure about her intentions because, “she didn’t acknowledge that it was Pulse that inspired the intro to this video, she didn’t acknowledge the 49 people who died for that artistic inspiration.”
Madge and director Jonas Åkerlund, a frequent collaborator, end of the video with scenes of IRL protests, as well as the aftermath of mass shootings, but by that point, the blood-soaked images of all these night club revellers are already seared into your brain. It feels like the damage has already been done.
Is Madonna’s shock-and-awe approach still relevant?
Madonna is no stranger to controversial topics and pushing against taboos. Look no further than the aforementioned “Like A Prayer” (1989), which used Roman Catholic imagery and saw the singer kissing a Black Jesus figure, which was more jaw-dropping at the time than it would be considered today. Or “What It Feels Like for A Girl” (2001), directed by then husband Guy Ritchie, that followed the now mother of six on a crime spree through L.A. that ended with her blowing up a gas station, followed by “American Life” (2003), which took a stance on the Iraq war, showing Middle Eastern children on a fashion runway that also had American soldiers crawling around while missing body parts. Madonna has always been about pushing boundaries—but it’s been more than a decade since the singer sparked a heated debate, and in that time, so much has changed.
We are now bombarded daily with an onslaught of disturbing imagery, whether that’s while watching the news or unexpectedly coming across a graphic photo while scrolling through social media. Being bombarded with more violence through art feels unnecessary—and, to be honest kind of like a play for clicks, given how often we are confronted throughout our day with these all too real ideas.
I’m not saying that Madonna, or other artists for that matter, should stand down—her speech at the Women’s March in 2017 was amazing—but there needs to be more thought put into the images, videos and art.
There are better examples of political music videos
Big name musicians are clearing capable of using music videos for creating awareness. For instance, one of the videos for Calvin Harris, Benni Blanco and Miguel’s song “I Found You,” tells a compelling and controversial story, while still honouring the victim. The video is a 5-minute documentary called “Nilda’s Story,” about a woman who was forced to immigrate to the U.S. with her young son after being threatened by gangs in her hometown of La Ceiba, a Caribbean port city in Northern Honduras. “Nilda’s Story” is heartbreaking—and arguably also a call to action—without being exploitive and gut wrenching in its honesty.
So Madge, and anyone else trying to bring light to the myriad of difficult topics in today’s zeitgeist, choose love and compassion over marketing ploys and unnecessary displays of gratuitous violence. We think you’ll get your point across better that way.