There once was a time when a music video was meant to promote a song. In the last year, Lady Gaga has been hard at work reversing that equation. By the time she releases videos for her singles, they’ve already saturated radio playlists. When “Alejandro”, the third promoted single from Gaga’s The Fame Monster album, first hit the airwaves a couple months ago, I was less excited by the song itself than I was curious about what the song’s video would be like. Increasingly, her singles have become teasers for forthcoming short films, which are increasingly promoted the way movies are, with trailers and making-of videos popping up via Gaga’s website, her Twitter and Facebook feeds to throw a little lighter fluid on the bonfire of her “little monsters'” ardent devotion. The songs are just soundtrack.

In this case, the soundtrack is essentially the greatest Ace of Base single they haven’t recorded since “The Sign”, although it’s drawn more comparisons to Madonna – apparently because it’s got Spanish names in it and Madonna sometimes sings songs with Spanish names in them too. The video, however – a collaboration with fashion photographer Steven Klein – is unmistakably Madonna: a veritable mash-up of “Vogue” and “Express Yourself”, with a heaping dollop of arty que-erotica (“Justify My Love”), a big, drippy, melty scoop of religious provocation a la “Like a Prayer” and, what the hell, a tiny bit of “Live to Tell”‘s confessional intimacy. It’s all enough to forget about that silly Ace of Base re-write entirely.

But if the song seems a bit beside the point, the video, after nearly nine minutes, seems disappointingly pointless. It’s not the video’s imagery I object to, although the images’ presumed objectionability appears to be one of the video’s central objectives. The marionetted bodyguard holding a golden gun where his penis ought to be? The leather military uniforms and near-naked goosestepping choreography. The funereal march, the disembodied heart strapped and spiked to a silk pillow? The rubber Joan of Arc hoods and scarlet nuns’ habits? Gaga in ill-fitting flesh colored undies, simulating penetration of a man on an institutional bed? When Gaga previewed some of the video’s imagery on the American Idol stage last month, she was fairly inviting Fox viewers to stage protests and boycotts. (All I could think of was poor Adam Lambert, simulating a little oral sex and giving a band member a kiss on a low-rated awards show after kiddies’ bedtime, while Gaga’s spectacle appeared on a top-rated paragon of family entertainment.)

But “Alejandro” doesn’t feel courageous, or even outrageous, or even terribly interesting. More than anything, it reads as parody – of Madonna, yes, but of Gaga herself. How else to read the way she allows herself to be manhandled by her flock of gay-boy dancers with their ridiculous Catholic monk bowl cuts? The first time I saw it, it just looked hokey. More and more, it comes to resemble a really expensive, really elaborately bit of sketch comedy – only it’s not that funny. In fact it’s a bit dull. And it’s friggin’ long. “Bad Romance” was a masterpiece because it packed a universe of ever-escalating sexual menace and spectacle (and heaven knows how many damn costume changes) into five action-packed minutes. “Telephone” succeeded because it demonstrated a wicked, mordant sense of humor, and it just looked fantastic. There’s no question that “Alejandro” is beautifully photographed. But none of it feels new. And it’s ultimately, strangely… boring. There’s nothing in either the song or the video to justify nine minutes of this stuff. Then again, this could be one of Lady Gaga‘s most subversive innovations: she’s managed to erect (yes, I said “erect) a monument to a character in a really dumb, Ace of Base-like song out of old-guard gay fetish imagery, sadomasochism, and Catholic iconography that people can yawn at, that people will click away from, not because their sensibilities have been offended, but because that article about where the original A-Team stars are now looks way more interesting.