If art is an experience, what does that make the artist? A performer? An instructor? A mentor? Despite its many forms, art has a unique way of interacting with the human mind. Music serves as a universal language, all people groups have some form of dance, sculpture and painting are as much a part of cultural heritage as food and skin color are, and stories told in poetry or prose have been long part of the human tradition for centuries upon centuries. As humans made in the image of God, the expression of our inner ideas through art is a reflection of how He expresses His attributes through His creations. Where the rub lies, however, is in the realization that art, in and of itself, is subjective. Different people can read different meanings into the same art piece, and walk away affected differently. The artist may have a specific meaning in mind when they pieced together their work, but the experience that others undergo due to the art itself is entirely dependent on the individual. This is what makes art so intriguing, and yet so hard to define. When value is subjective, does value in fact exist? This is the question I want to explore in today’s post, and as we take a step back to look at Paradise Lost, a song by the artist GAIN (pronounced “gaa-inn”).
(Before we begin discussion of the music video, the art direction behind it, and the response to it, I want to clarify that the music video is very sensual in nature. I have chosen not to link it here for the benefit of younger readers. I have hand-picked the screenshots and GIFs that I’ll be using for this article, but I do want to point out that the music video is intended for more mature audiences. Thank you for understanding.)
Paradise Lost – like its namesake – is an exploration of the Fall of man, though this time through the perspective of Eve. It’s a more feminine and intimate viewpoint, one often ignored when understanding the events of the Fall. Like a true artist, Gain laces every part of the song and music video together: the lyrics and the visuals flow together to create an experience that is equal parts raw and intimate, touching on aspects of the human condition that we’ve all felt.
Before the video even starts, we’re greeted with the above words. “Apple”, referencingth e forbidden fruit. “Free Will”, referring to the ability that God gave Eve to make the choice she did. “Paradise Lost”, referring to the Garden that man was forbidden to enter again when Eve sinned. “The First Temptation”, referencing Satan’s influence on Eve in the Garden. “Two Women”, which can be interpreted in various ways: perhaps it refers to Eve and Gain, but I personally believe that it refers to Eve herself, both before and after the Fall. “Guilty”, referring to the fact that it was Eve’s fault that sin entered the human heart. Finally, “Hawwah”, the Hebrew word for Eve which translates to “living”. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word also has a root that can mean “snake”, an interesting nod to yet another snake that was closely affiliated with a woman.
Gain definitely leans heavily on symbolism through both the imagery of the video and in the lyrics of the song. Lyrically, the song takes the point of view of Satan, enticing Eve through his promise of pleasure in his own private paradise, while visually Gain explores Eve’s fall from the purity of her relationship with Adam into the darkness of her tryst with Satan. As he entices her, she begins to waver, losing her unspoiled white lace:
Being tempted by the soft darkness as Satan whispers:
Turn off the lights please
I’ll be in the darkness
You can lie
You did nothing wrong
He assures her that:
I feel. I’m real.
Where are you right now?
Right now, I’m almost at paradise.
I’m here. I’m yours.
Just remember this.
You and I, another paradise.
Immediately after the climax of the chorus, it cuts to Eve (Gain) in white, supposedly basking in her newfound freedom from the restrictions placed on her.
Satan is still the main speaker, assuring Eve that
Right now, we’re free
Nowhere we want to go back
What’s interesting is that despite the “freedom” she’s found, she still thirsts for something more, both figuratively and literally as she loses her bridal lace:
And instead dons the garb of the snake, sparkling scales that indicate her new ownership.
As she descends further and further into darkness, she begins to believe what she’s being told, as the Serpent whispers:
Don’t believe in it
All other words that aren’t my voice
All set to shake you up
Stop stop stop stop
Voicing plainly what he implies in the words “did God say?”, Satan’s words assure Eve that he is only looking out for her benefit, to free her from the oppressive heat of God’s rules. As she slips further and further into darkness, her attire abruptly changes from sparkling blue to a shadowed, tight black as she’s told:
They’re talking about a fantasy
They’re making up another fantasy
They’re talking about a fantasy
They’re making up a story
So that they can control you and me
By placing himself in a position to give Eve the intimacy she seeks, and by weaving his words in such a way so as to suggest that both of them were duped by God at one point, Satan closes the trap he so expertly sprung on Eve. The dichotomy between light and dark is brought to the fore as the video begins to close:
Eve seems to celebrate her departure from stifling rules and into the glorious light of freedom. But as the dust settles, the consequences of her actions begin to finally weigh in on her. The world is changed forever, and so is she. Gone is the intimacy she had with God, darkness is all around her, and the only certainty around her is the pain that she’s caused for the generations to come.
Taking a step back, it is plain that Gain’s Paradise Lost is a work of art, one with a surprising amount of depth. But that depth is, in and of itself, meaning that I extrapolated through my own worldview as I watched the music video and read the lyrics. Gain herself does not claim to affiliate with any religion, despite having based Paradise Lost on the events of the Fall. What, then, is the true meaning of the song? Is there even a true meaning? One could watch the video and simply believe that it was another attempt by an Asian singer to attract attention by flaunting her body for the camera, while another could read it as a healthy expression of a woman’s sexuality.
The question then becomes: how does one determine the true value of art?
Short answer: you can’t.
Art by its very nature is subject to the interpretation of its viewers, which is why art is such a universal language. Colors on a canvas or the words of a song can touch us no matter who we are, but those expressions of art still pass through the cultural, emotional, and mental filters we’ve built up. Art serves as a way for us to grow as people by helping us to understand concepts that otherwise might be hard to grasp, and it provides for us an arena of self-examination through the examination of another’s work.
As a Christian, the art I experience not only gives me a way to understand the human condition more and to understand myself, but it pushes me to find God in the themes I see and the emotions I feel. From anime to music to video games, each different experience creates a new avenue from which to find an aspect of God, whether it be directly from Him or through the eyes of the people He’s created. But herein lies the rub: while we can find aspects of God and good lessons from any type of art, the medium through which that message is delivered plays a huge part in determining the merit of that particular form of art.
Philippians 4:8 provides some very specific guidelines for the types of art and media that Christians should imbibe, and while some definitions can vary according to the individual Christian and their personal values/conscience (see 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14), the end result of the media we consume and the art we learn from should be to point us towards Christ. A good message is always desirable, but the delivery of that message helps us to understand how to appreciate it. While Gain’s Paradise Lost does present the fall of man in an intriguing and mostly unexplored way, the use of Gain’s sexuality through her costume choice and movements combined with the seductive tones of the song place it more towards the bad side of the art spectrum in my eyes: delivering a poignant message in a less-than-holy way.
While many Christians would point out the sensuousness of the video and cry that it was pulling its viewers towards sin, I want to leave on this note: look at her eyes. Throughout the music video, Gain never looks happy. She seems lost. Sad. Longing. At one point, even somewhat satisfied. But in the end all she knows is pain. Looking for love and satisfaction outside of Christ left her with consequences that not only affected her, but stretched onto the rest of humanity. The fleeting pleasures of her rebellion gave way to guilt that pulled at her like the grasping shadows of men.
Sin never satisfies. It only isolates; our darkness only further reminds us that our paradise is indeed lost.