Controversy sells and nothing creates controversy quite like religion. So it makes sense that entertainers from Kanye West (excuse us, Yeezus) to Rihanna would incorporate a little, eh, (un)holiness into their albums and tours.
Blasphemy? Maybe, but it’s a way for performers catering to audiences that expect the unexpected (sex is so passé) to push the envelope.
Without further ado, here are five musicians who have mixed religion with entertainment.
The rapper kicked off his Yeezus tour in Seattle this week. He was performing and singing and being Kanye and then all of a sudden an actor dressed as Jesus came on stage. Because of course. Which allowed Kanye to exclaim, "White Jesus, is that you?…Oh, shit!” before launching into a performance of his 2004 single, “Jesus Walks.” Religion all around.
Our take: Some people are unhappy, but are we surprised? Not really. It’s Kanye. He’s also the one selling confederate flag t-shirts. Don't get us started.
The pop star was asked to leave Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque after she posed for some photographs that overseers of the mosque said went against the “sanctity” of the site. While she reportedly conformed to the religious site’s guidelines as far as clothing and coverage (she’s completely clothed, with her hair covered), a statement published in local papers said she was in a spot normally off-limits to visitors.
Rihanna went ahead and posted photos to her Instagram account. “Bitch stole my look,” reads the caption on a photo of the singer, head turned toward a group of traditionally dressed women.
Our take: Eh, not quite, RiRi. We think they wore it first. You want to be edgy, we get it. But judging from the angry comments on your Instagram account, sometimes it backfires.
It may be a karaoke staple now, but "Like a Prayer" caused an uproar when it was released in the late 1980s. The music video features cross burning and a dream about having sex with a saint, which had the Vatican itself crying foul.
Our take: With a given name like Madonna (yes, that’s her real name), how could she not get into a little religious controversy. “I sometimes think I was born to live up to my name,” she has said. “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this.”
Let’s keep in mind this woman wore a meat dress. Controversy is her middle name. But while the, eh, red dress might’ve had vegetarians freaking out (and the rest of us gagging), the music video for "Judas" set off a firestorm from religious critics.
"She is trying to rip off Christian idolatry to shore up her talentless, mundane and boring performances," the president of the Catholic League reportedly said.
The music video portrays the disciples as a motorcycle gang and she has crosses covering her nipples. But according to Gaga, "This video is not meant to be an attack on religion. It's not meant to be an attack on anyone's beliefs. I respect and love everybody's beliefs. My fans know that about me. I consider myself a strong and devoted Catholic, and a religious and spiritual person who's obsessed with religious art."
Our take: We agree with Jezebel on this one, “Pop music may be known for pushing boundaries and flirting with shocking concepts, but if you're looking for some unholy hellfire type shit, you're going to have to haul out your old Slayer cassettes. Gaga really is just a nice Catholic girl who likes shoes.”
The artist’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded album had religious groups up in arms. After the singer acted out an exorcism onstage at the Grammy’s, religious groups decried the performance. As they're wont to do. She also left a lot of people confused when, after the ceremony, she said of a demon she believes lives inside her, “His name is Roman. Basically, the religious figure is there because he was called by Roman's mom to rehabilitate him. That’s pretty much it."
Our take: The tactic worked. The album debuted with high sales and got people talking. That’s what any entertainer is after.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.