Fans defend singer’s freedom of speech as Philippines protests threaten star’s concerts
A Biblemode Youth member waves placards at an anti-Lady Gaga protest in Manila
Youths gathered at a rally outside the mayor’s office, chanting “Stop the Lady Gaga concerts”, while members of the Biblemode Youth Philippines group called her videos religiously offensive.
In the song, she calls herself a “holy fool” who is “still in love with Judas”, singing: “Jesus is my virtue/And Judas is the demon I cling to.” In the video, Gaga plays a biker chick riding behind a man wearing a crown of thorns, while longing for another biker with “Judas” emblazoned across his leather jacket.
The singer is due to play the 20,000-seat Mall of Asia tomorrow and on Tuesday, and James Imbong, a lawyer filing a petition to ban the concerts, said Christian groups would not accept a compromise as organisers in South Korea did when Seoul authorities agreed to forbid under-12s from attending instead of cancelling the concert.
“She has a song that suggests that she wants to have sex with Judas and performs it with a dance,” Imbong told the news website PhilStar. “Of course, it would be accompanied by a costume that has pornographic elements.”
Manila’s mayor has issued a statement ordering Gaga not to “exhibit any nudity or lewd conduct which may be offensive to morals and good custom”, with the stark reminder that the penal code in the primarily Roman Catholic country of 93 million can convict anyone up to six years for offending race or religion.
Tens of thousands of Gaga fans, from Seoul to Jakarta, are campaigning for the singer’s right to freedom of expression, after numerous attempts by Christian and Muslim groups to ban shows during her Born This Way Ball Asia tour, calling her music, persona and style the “work of Satan”, “dangerous to youth” and “spreading unhealthy sexual culture”.
Indonesian activists called the cancellation of a gig in Jakarta a sign of the country’s “Talibanisation” after authorities withdrew permission for her concert on 3 June, making her the first foreign artist to be banned despite selling out a 52,000-seat venue.
The 26-year-old has received an outpouring of support on Twitter, where she has 24 million followers, since the trouble over the tour began last month.
Indonesian human rights activist Andreas Harsono has said the concert ban represents “the Talibanisation [of] Indonesia”, while sociologist Ida Ruwaida said it was up to the government to “facilitate different interests without allowing the cultural hegemony of one group over another”.
Police denied the singer a concert permit amid claims from hardline Islamic groups that the suggestive nature of her show and lyrics would sabotage the country’s moral codes of conduct. “During her concerts, Lady Gaga looks like a devil worshipper,” said Suryadharma Ali, the religion affairs minister of the nation of 240 million people, mainly Muslims.
The ministry of tourism added that foreign performers should dress modestly on stage, and the government warned music promoters to consider cultural traditions when planning concerts. The hardline Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) threatened to send 30,000 members to the airport to stop Lady Gaga from getting off her plane. It warned that if she tried to perform, Indonesia “should be prepared for chaos in Jakarta”. It said: “We are ready to be thrown in jail and be killed – we will do anything to stop [the show].”
Human rights activists and academics have questioned the government’s continued defence of Islamic militants’ threats – which have resulted in calls to parliament to ban miniskirts, the banning of beauty pageants and Valentine’s Day in some provinces, and the persecution of religious minorities.
Representatives of the country’s tens of thousands of Gaga fans have argued that the government’s defence of Indonesia’s “moral fibre” is dubious given the nation’s obsession with dangdut, a form of music known for its provocative dancing and scantily clad singers.
Fans have also questioned the government’s worry over Lady Gaga’s supposed promotion of homosexuality. “Nothing can stop me from meeting my queen,” says Ali, a 26-year-old openly gay banker in Bandung, West Java, adding that the ban would have no impact on homosexuality in Indonesia, because it “will not make gay people turn straight”.
The Gaga saga started in April in Seoul, the first stop on her 17-date tour. Calling Lady Gaga’s music “the work of Satan”, Christian groups held prayer meetings dedicated to banning the concert. Ju-Hyun, a prayer organiser, said the meetings were organised “so that homosexuality and pornography [would] not spread around the country”.
Tickets sold to children were eventually refunded after the government rated the concert unsuitable and the Korean Association of Church Communication vowed to take “concerted action to stop young people from being infected with homosexuality and pornography”.
It would be a dramatic turn of events if Lady Gaga ended up in jail in Manila this week, but, to quote the lady herself: “In the most biblical sense, I am beyond repentance.”