Pop artists turning to Satanic imagery to drum up controversy, sales, experts say

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    Lady Gaga. (AP)

It’s an age-old saying in Hollywood that sex sells, but with consumers finding themselves oversaturated with sexual imagery, today’s top acts are turning to something even more sinful to get our attention: Satan.

Performer Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” is getting a lot of buzz this month, due in large part to her infamous Grammy performance earlier this year, where she acted out scenes from an exorcism onstage. While critics, particularly religious groups, blasted the imagery in that performance as ill-timed and awkward, there is no denying that Minaj garnered the attention she was looking for with her antics.

“Like sex, provocative subject matters and whatever is perceived to be forbidden intrigues the human psyche,” explains Kelly Brady, a partner in Brandsway Creative, a marketing and public relations company. “Nicki Minaj’s performance, although criticized, created an intrigue and it kept her fans wanting to know what’s next.”

The pop star continues to feed into the buzz machine and has even gone so far as to explain that she believes a demon named Roman lives inside her.

“His name is Roman. Basically, the religious figure is there because he was called by Roman’s mom to rehabilitate him. That’s pretty much it,” she said post-Grammys. “I had this vision for Roman. I had this vision for him to be sort of exorcised. People around him tell him he’s not good enough ‘cause he’s not normal, and he’s not blending in with the average Joe. People around him are afraid because they’ve never seen anything like him. Not only is he amazing, sure of himself and confident, but he’s never going to be exorcised. Even when they throw the holy water on him, he rises above.”

And while her statements may be dark, bizarre and have religious groups up in arms, they have translated to massive sales for Minaj. Her album “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” debuted at Number one last week with an impressive 250,000 album sales.

More importantly, it got everyone talking about her in an environment where celebrity news often lasts for a mere few minutes before eyeballs are moving onto the next story.

But invoking Satanic imagery is nothing new in music, and Minaj is following in some successful footsteps.

Heavy metal bands in the seventies and eighties pioneered the trend of Satanic marketing, most noticeably acts like Black Sabbath, Motley Crue and KISS.

“What goes around comes around. The metal bands of the 70s and 80s who presented themselves as satanic sold records, and apparently it’s time to try the idea again. There’s a reason it’s called ‘shock value,’” says Shawn McEvoy, the Managing Editor of the Christian website Crosswalk.com. “It sells, though logically it shouldn’t, because if Satan is real, then he’s our enemy who has nothing but our destruction in mind, and if you’re an atheist, why buy that which glorifies the losing side of a theology you don’t believe in anyway?”

But some experts believe it’s a far more complicated issue than album sales alone with potentially dangerous repercussions for young fans.

According to developmental psychologist Shoshana Dayanim, who studies the effects of media on children, when a younger child sees satanic imagery, it typically only sees it as a cartoon devil they might dress up as for Halloween. However, for a preteen or adolescent, a time in development when a child is ‘trying things out for size’ and exploring their identity, these images can have a much deeper resonance.

“At a time when risky behavior is often part of identity exploration, the idolization of satanic imagery can serve as an impetus for risky behavior,” Dayanim said. “If a teenager relates a satanic image with something cool — or someone they aspire to be — even if they do not understand what it means, they may later come into contact with the ‘real’ thing and transfer those desires of who they wish they could be to unhealthy, risky and dangerous behavior.”

And while Satan-loving bands of yesteryear were marketing to a mostly rock and roll audience, the trend has leaked into genres like pop and hip hop. Many of today’s Top 40 acts like Lady Gaga, Kanye West and MTV’s Best New Artist Tyler the Creator have claimed the devil as their own to drive dollars using shock value.

“Many musicians make the sign of the horns gesture with their hands to celebrate rock and roll. But the gesture is widely known for mimicking devil horns. There are also many other satanic symbols like pentagrams and the numbers 666 that show up in more and more music videos,” explains Yahoo! Music editor Billy Johnson. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s these images mainly appeared in hardcore rock and roll videos and album covers. Today they are also more prevalent in hip-hop and R & B videos.”

Lady Gaga, for example, frequently uses satanic imagery in her music videos. A simple Google search of Gaga’s name yields results that suggests everything from her being a servant of the dark lord, which she does little to dispel, to her involvement with the Illuminati, an alleged secret society of powerful musicians, CEOs and politicians rumored to worship the devil.

Similarly, Kanye West has garnered attention with controversial satanic images in his music videos and joking that he is involved with the Illuminati. West’s frequent collaborators Jay Z and Beyonce are rumored to be involved with the group as well.

Rapper Tyler Okonma, better known by the stage name Tyler the Creator, has even branded himself the son of Satan in his song “Bastard.”

And with Satan’s imagery arguably translating to remarkable success for these stars, who have Grammys and gold records under their belts, experts don’t see it going away any time soon.

“Whether it’s good or bad, it keeps music fans talking about artists,” Johnson said.

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