This club-banger is the second single from Lady Gaga's sophomore album, Born This Way. After it leaked onto the Internet on April 15, 2011, the singer immediately released the song to iTunes, four days before the planned release date.
The song is about falling in love with a backstabbing guy and was inspired by Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ. It's not the first time Gaga has written about falling for the wrong man. She previously sung of being attracted to someone who's not good for her in "LoveGame" and "Bad Romance."
Fernando Garibay, who co-produced many of the tracks on Born This Way, told MTV News about the tune: "Judas is produced by RedOne and Gaga, obviously, and it's a statement about, again I can't speak for her, but what I gather is it's about sometimes not choosing the right choice. But you can't deny that the choice is not a part of you and who you are."
Despite the dark lyrics, the song is aimed at clubbers. Said Garibay to MTV News: "'Judas' is a dance song, definitely. I think 'Judas' in the traditional RedOne/Gaga vein. It's great because it's a serious message, it's a little playful, but still serious, but still somehow you wind up dancing to it. That's what's great about her music. You know, like, my favorite songs of all time, dance songs, 'Billie Jean,' is a story you wouldn't think of singing but then you wind up dancing and singing the lyrics. I think that's the holy grail of music for me, which is dance."
In an interview posted on YouTube called "Musicians@Google Presents: Google Goes Gaga," the Poker Face singer explained that "Judas" talks about confronting one's demons. "You have to look into what is haunting you and you need to look into forgiving yourself in order to move on," she said. "And it's really fun to dance to and sounds like it could be a pop priest record."
Gaga plays Mary Magdalene in the song's music video, whilst model-turned-actor Norman Reedus is Judas Iscariot. Gaga and her creative director Laurieann Gibson co-directed the clip after the initial collaborator had to drop out. She told MTV News: "When we got to 'Judas,' it was very clear to me and the inspiration was very clear to her. We approached a director, but then the dates actually got messed up and it was conflicted and her manager and her looked at me [and asked me to direct it with her]."
Prior to its release, the Catholic League condemned Gaga for the video's alleged use of religious imagery and also condemned the singer for seemingly purposefully debuting the song and video close to Holy Week and Easter. Gibson addressed the controversial Christian elements behind the project telling the The Hollywood Reporter she was initially fearful of the direction the visual was going. "It went through several changes and late-night debates because at one point, there were two completely different views and I was like, 'Listen, I don't want lightning to strike me! I believe in the gospel and I'm not going there.'"
According to Gibson, the video's original concept was reigned in an attempt to avoid causing offense. "It was amazing because to have that conversation about salvation, peace and the search for the truth in a room of non-believers and believers, to me, that was saying God is active in a big way," Gibson said. "And the place that it came to is surreal. We don't touch on things that we have no right touching upon, but the inspiration and the soul and idea that out of your oppression, your darkness, your Judas, you can come into the marvelous light. So it's about the inspiration and to never give up… We've created a new Jerusalem. I will tell you now, first off, I'm Christian, and my career is evidence of God in my life."
Gaga discussed this song in one of a succession of "Gagavision" videos leading up to the release of Born This Way. "I wrote it really quick," she said. "I mean, all of the songs on the album, to be completely candid, the creative process is approximately [a] 15-minutes process. It's 15 minutes of vomiting my creative ideas in the forms of melodies, usually, or chord progressions and melodies and some sort of a theme, lyric idea. And then I spend days, weeks, months, years fine tuning. But the idea is, you honor your vomit."
In the final seconds of the video, there is a spoken word sequence about Gaga being "beyond repentance." She explained to NME: "People say I am trashy or pretentious or this and that. This is my way of saying, 'I've already crossed the line. I won't even try to repent.' Nor should I."
Gaga told MSN Canada she didn't intend the song to be a direct interpretation of the New Testament account of Jesus' fallen disciple. "Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that my schooling [in Catholic school] informed the songwriting on that record in particular. 'Judas' is a metaphor and an analogy about forgiveness and betrayal and things that haunt you in your life, and how I believe that it's the darkness in your life that ultimately shines and illuminates the greater light that you have upon you," she said.
"Someone once said to me, 'If you have no shadows then you're not standing in the light.' So the song is about washing the feet of both good and evil, and understanding and forgiving the demons from your past in order to move into the greatness of your future," she continued. "I just like really aggressive metaphors — harder, thicker, darker — and my fans do as well. So it is a very challenging and aggressive metaphor, but it is a metaphor."
The video is a Fellini-esque story depicting Judas and the other disciples as bikers in a modern-day Jerusalem. Gaga as Magdalene warns Jesus about his apostle's impending betrayal, but becomes hypnotized by Judas' allure.
The clip portrays the biblical story with Gaga's distinct visual style and the over-the-top sexual tension. She told E! News: "This video is not meant to be an attack on religion. I respect and love everyone's beliefs. I'm a religious and spiritual person who's obsessed with religious art. I'm obsessed with it.
I believe I was put on this earth to cause a ruckus," she continued. "At the beginning, when I came out with 'Just Dance,' I couldn't get an interview. ... I couldn't get on the radio. I just want to keep making stuff that's great and thought-provoking."
Gaga told MTV UK how unfaithful boyfriends inspired this song. She explained: "I've had lots of ex-boyfriends betray me – a--holes, we all have them – and in particular there was one who loved Judas Priest, loved heavy metal.
Originally I began to write the song about an ex-lover, who betrayed me, who loved heavy metal music and then as I started to write the lyrics, I thought about Judas and the biblical implications and how Judas was the betrayer.
Once the song was finished and I thought about what I wanted to do with the video, in reality of the story of Judas, he didn't really betray Christ because he was part of the prophecy and Jesus knew that he would betray him – it was all part of the destiny of life.
So I thought of a more beautiful and liberating way to tackle the message of the song – we attack the idea by saying my ex-boyfriend betrayed me and this person in my life haunts me but I forgive them and we'll move on to make room for what's good."
Chicago-based singer and songwriter Rebecca Francescatti filed a lawsuit against Gaga on August 5, 2011. She claimed that "substantial original portions" of this song were lifted from her song "Juda," which she recorded in 1999 with her band Rebecca F. & the Memes and re-recorded in 2005 for her album, It's All About You. Francescatti's former bass player Brian Gaynor worked with Lady Gaga on Born This Way.
U.S. District Judge Marvin E. Aspen dismissed the lawsuit concluding that the songs do not "share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another's work," and are therefore not substantially similar.