When you look beyond the meat dress and the weirdness of her persona, Lady Gaga has been one of the more progressive voices in pop music over the past decade. She used an exclusive deal with Target to pressure the company to rescind its support for anti-gay companies and to begin affiliating with LGBT charities; she was a prominent voice for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; and her Viva Glam lipstick line has quietly raised over $200,000,000 for AIDS and HIV education.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, with her latest music video, Gaga is taking on another vital issue that could benefit from the bright light of celebrity: namely, the increasingly urgent issue of campus rape and sexual assault. The video for the song “Til It Happens To You”–which is also the theme song for the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground”–opens with a content note warning viewers that “the following contains graphic content that may be emotionally unsettling but reflects the reality of what is happening daily on college campuses,” before depicting absolutely brutal scenes of what does, in fact, happen on campuses.
The imagery is hard to watch–in addition to seeing drinks spiked at parties and solemn-faced young women dragging themselves back to dorms, there’s a lot of actual violence depicted in the video. Men hold women down, push them against walls, and grab them by the hair, and those images repeat as the video plays through, and the trauma gets re-lived. The music video, which runs over five minutes, was directed by Lords of Dogtown and Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, and closes on the sobering statistic that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted this year unless something changes. As a music video, “Til It Happens To You” is an important statement from an artist who’s made a lot of them; as a way to draw attention to The Hunting Ground, a film that addresses these issues in much greater detail, it’s even more powerful and direct.