At this year’s Met Gala, a tribute to the aesthetics of the Catholic Church, Ariana Grande wore a Vera Wang gown with an allover print of The Last Judgment, Michelangelo’s fresco at the Sistine Chapel. Jesus Christ, whose second coming the painting depicts, took pride of place on a panel in the very center of the gown’s bodice, rising between Grande’s ribs as if she’d birthed him herself.
Grande takes the analogy one step further in her video for “God Is a Woman,” a new single she dropped on Friday. The song itself is nothing special—it hews so faithfully to her other tracks that her entire repertoire has been stuck in my head all day—but the video is a truly mind-melting mash-up of galactic and religious imagery. Grande is front and center throughout, a deity-slash-giant, and at the end, she places herself in another Michelangelo work: “The Creation of Adam.” This time, she plays the part of God herself, opposite a black woman in the role of the first human to walk the planet.
There are an album’s worth of messages crammed into this mid-tempo jam, all of them about as subtle as a butt-length ponytail. At one point, as Grande sings to her lover that “nobody else can relate” to her, as a crew of dumpy, pocket-sized white men throw physical insults that literally bounce off her body. (It’s at once funny and sad to see the slights she chose to use, which include “hoe,” “fake,” “annoying,” and “adult baby.”) Later on, she dons a cat-ear helmet and over-the-elbow gloves that say “POWER” on them as she swings a big mallet to break the glass ceiling (!) of an official-looking rotunda. Oh, wait! That’s not a mallet—it’s a gavel.
The clever, nuanced imagery continues in the many references to female genitals throughout the video. After the glass ceiling breaks, Grande hugs herself and swings her hips between a giant pair of spread legs in stiletto heels, the area where a crotch should be obscured by rays of sunlight. Another scene finds her straddling Earth, gently stroking Canada’s Northwest Territories before finger-banging a hurricane brewing over Nunavut, fake nails and all. I was so moved by this queering of North American weather systems, I made a gif about it.
If you’re surprised to see so much overt sexuality in a video about God, don’t be. The theology Grande lays out in “God Is a Woman” is deeply rooted in her own sexual competence. “You love it how I touch you,” she sings in the chorus. “My one, when all is said and done / You’ll believe God is a woman.” In other words, she’s so good at sex, she automatically converts her partners to the spiritual doctrine of womanhood! The female god Grande envisions is mostly a benevolent one—in addition to pleasuring the Earth, she reigns over a crowd of disciples who writhe around in foam, sits peacefully among the planets with her hands pressed into a yonic shape, and, ever so gently, hula hoops an entire galaxy.
If Grande’s interpretation of the cosmos is correct, we should be thankful that the woman pulling the strings wears something more interesting than a baggy robe. In 1995, Joan Osborne asked, “What if God was one of us?” With Grande, the more pertinent question is, “What if God wore Madonna’s cone bra?”
The most uncanny scenes in “God Is a Woman” look like they were ripped from Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time: Grande walks a tightrope over amber waves of grain, using planets as balloons to keep her steady; Grande gyrates in silhouette in the center of a rather vaginal candle flame, framed in a heavenly bank of clouds. In DuVernay’s very bad movie, Oprah appears as an ethereal, larger-than-life guardian figure, watching over the child protagonists from the sky. Though Grande imagines a far more erotic and fertile godhead in her video, both figures exude femininity, warmth, and calm.
But there’s one part of the video that should give viewers pause as they prepare to bless the way of their divine, miniskirted creator: The groundhogs. Midway through “God Is a Woman,” the music cuts out, and a dozen groundhog puppets poke their heads out of holes in a stretch of barren desert, their eyes empty and wide. The one closest to the camera (the lead groundhog?) lets out two earsplitting screeches for no apparent reason. The other ’hogs act like nothing out of the ordinary is happening. And then the song just … picks back up?
What could it mean? The most likely answer is that the groundhog is issuing two primal screams on behalf of all living creatures, warning us that having a sexy God whose legitimacy rests in her abilities as a lover isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Lest humans be distracted by Grande’s naked body in a pool of pastel paint, the rodents remind us that it might be cool to have a God who stops natural disasters in their paths instead of manually stimulating them.