Ariana Grande has just released another single from her upcoming fourth studio album, Sweetener. Taking a page from Madonna’s playbook, it carries a provocative title: “God Is a Woman.”
Despite that theological declaration, the lyrics themselves are a lot more … fleshy. They suggest that Ariana is divine in bed, that she’s “God” there. But spiritual imagery does emerge in the song’s video, as do sensual graphics that unmistakably reinforce this track’s emphasis on the female anatomy.
You can experience this song two ways. First, without the video.
Let’s say you’re driving along, minding your own business, and “God Is a Woman” comes through your radio speakers. Fifteen seconds later, you’ll understand exactly what Ariana is saying: her transcendent sexual prowess might invite a partner to see her as a deity.
In fact, that’s exactly what she says. Apparently, one sexual encounter with Ariana is enough to make a guy believe he’s just had a supernatural experience: “You, you love it how I move you/You love it how I touch you/My one, when all is said and done/You’ll believe God is a woman.”
Grande continues to equate sex to a religious encounter: “So baby take my hands, save your soul.” Then she adds, “And boy, if you confess, you might get blessed,” because apparently he really has to “deserve what comes next.”
Additionally, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to prove this point, as is her lover: “Have it any way you like, yeah/And I can tell that you know I know how I want it.” We get one last lyric again blurring the line between physical pleasure and worship: “Baby, lay me down let’s pray.”
You can experience this song in two ways. Second, with the video.
The video for “God Is a Woman” goes from talking about sex in supernatural terms to emphasizing this very point in virtually every shot, every angle and every spare glimpse.
For Grande, womanhood itself is nothing less than a godlike identity. So every moment here is bathed in religious icons and images drawn from Hinduism, New Age spirituality, Greek and Roman mythology and occult symbolism—as well as a feminized reimagining of Michelangelo’s famous painting “The Creation of Adam”—most of which is correlated to a woman’s anatomy.
Grande herself is barely clothed throughout much of the video. At times, she’s actually naked, “wearing” only paint. Elsewhere, she undulates suggestively in lingerie, a black leather leotard and other revealing outfits that focus on one thing: her physique.
From thrusting suggestively against stars in a spiraling galaxy, to bathing in paint shaped like a vagina, to lying in a room fashioned like the inside of a woman (while men writhe, naked, in soap suds at the foot of the bed there) to sitting on top of the earth (almost as if giving birth to it) and mimicking masturbation, the message here is clear: Female sexuality is the ultimate divine and creative force. As GQ reviewer Luke Darby put it, “Why do subtle when you can do this?”
However, one scene does say something different from the rest. In it, Grande sits on a book as men (all white and middle aged, for the record) hurl insults her way (“b–ch,” “slut,” “hoe,” “trash,” “stupid” and “little girl”). She says simply to those male critics, “When you try to come for me I keep on flourishing.”
Later, the video quotes Pulp Fiction (paraphrasing Ezekiel 25, with Madonna herself speaking the quote below) as a warning to all men: “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my sisters, and you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”
OK: Let’s take a second here to analyze what Ariana Grande is saying in this song. Certainly, women should be empowered, encouraged and recognized. We are strong. We are equal. We matter. And we weren’t created to be disposable objects.
That said, “God Is a Woman” goes way beyond female empowerment, confusing that positive virtue with female worship. That confusion is evident in something Grande tweeted about the song, where she said: “sexual female empowerment & how women are literally everything & the universe is inside of us tbh.”
I get what Grande is trying to say. But the nonstop sensuality in the song and in the video nevertheless reinforces the idea that a woman’s worth depends entirely upon her sexuality. Grande protests men who objectify her even as she ironically objectifies herself from start to finish.
The entire video also rests on the idea that sex is transcendent. It (along with the song) tells us that sex and God are essentially one and the same. But they’re not. Sex is important and beautiful, a beautiful gift to a married man and woman from God. But sex isn’t God. Confusing the two diminishes the Creator while making an idol of something God created.
And when we take God—the real God, not the one Grande is singing about—out of the picture, we create for ourselves an alternative: us. We become our own gods. And that is a dangerous path indeed, no matter how much Ariana Grande tries to suggest otherwise.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).