The song has very few lyrics. It starts out with a woman singing that she's "fallen from the sky, falling for a guy." The guy has a "halo round his head" and they say they have "feathers in our bed." The rest of the song is a repetition of this melodically crooned intro and the words "Sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege you say" sung with increasing power and passion.
Alone, the song brings into question our cultural assumptions about sex, purity, and sin. Taken with the video, though, it does more than question those assumptions; it indicts them.
You should watch it. Maybe twice. (Edit: Okay, more than twice. See the update at the end on a major mistake I made in this analysis.)
The video opens up with a fire blazing while a crowd looks on. Through non-linear editing that often shows the same scene replayed from a slightly different perspective, we begin to piece together how this blaze began and who is sitting at the center of it: a half-naked young woman tied to a post and a masked young man lying on the ground.
As the story moves forward, we see that the onlookers staked the woman to the ground and piled scrap lumber around her before setting it ablaze. The utter glee in some of their faces as they look on underscores their mob mentality. The parallels to witch hunts are pronounced.
Further details start to unfurl. The masked man lying on the ground is shown running. He's shot through the chest by one of the people who will later be participating in the witch hunt. The video moves back in time and he's being shoved to a bed. The time jumps again, and the mask is being taped to his face.
The primary narrative arc becomes clear. This man and woman were in bed together when the mob appeared at their door. The woman ran off through the window while the assailants grabbed the man, masked him, and sent him running before they shot and killed him. Meanwhile, the woman flees for her life, but it's no use. She's in the middle of a small, rural town and it seems like everyone in it is pursuing her. She's caught, tied to a pole, and burned as she perches next to her lover's body.
The rest of the video, then, is flashback. We flash back to scenes of the girl having sex with several of the mob participants. In each one, she seems to play a different role.
She could be the innocent teen necking in the backset of a car chewing bubblegum:
The Hester Prynne character sleeping with the town preacher:
The conservatively-dressed housewife-type making out at the top of the stairs:
The voyeuristic tease who has sex in the middle of a public business in broad daylight:
The bored other woman:
And a sophisticated lady of taste:
While neither her partners nor her personas remain constant, one thing does: she doesn't show much sign of enjoyment. She's frequently bored during her sexual escapades.
Her partners don't seem to mind that she's playing all of these roles as long as she continues to be their object of fantasy. She is not a person to them, but a game to be played.
There's one role, though, that she's not allowed to play: wife. And it is only when she's assuming this role that we see a hint of a smile, a sign of some enjoyment.
The townspeople were unfazed by the fact that their toy was a plaything for their neighbors. As long as she could still fulfill the fantasies they needed her to fulfill and as long as she could still carry their perceived sins by behaving as the "town slut," they were satisfied. After all, you can hardly blame someone for sleeping with the "town slut." That's just what she does. When the "town slut" takes herself out of the game, though, all of the guilt that she carried in the double standards of a culture that deems her sinful while her partners often live their lives without reproach was too much. Rather than face the hypocrisy of their sexual standards, they opt to destroy any signs of their transgressions.
Make no mistake. This is not an act of in-the-moment passion. These people have met, discussed, and plotted. This is an organized double-homicide that acts a cleansing ritual for the town as a whole. They must literally burn the reminders of their sins.
All the while the lyrics echo over these scenes of violence interspersed with scenes of her peaceful marriage. "It's sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege you say."
The sacrilege, in the eyes of these people, is not her promiscuity. It is not infidelity, hers or their own. It is her audacity at thinking that she can remove herself from the role of sexual plaything to the role of autonomous person. Her marriage is the sacrilege because it is an act that allows her to define herself on her own terms rather than society's misogynistic ones.
This video depicts an act of marriage that so enrages a group of hypocritical zealots who cannot handle having their own lens of scrutiny turned upon themselves that they lose their ability to reason or act as individuals, turning to mob rule. As a mob, they collapse into a series of more and more extreme acts of hate and violence, culminating in expressions of glee at the destruction of something they once "loved."
Interesting, isn't it, that this video first aired on March 26, 2013, the day the Supreme Court heard it's first case about the constitutionality of gay marriage bans.
Perhaps it's time we examine what "sacrilege" really is and realize that what happens "in our beds" is not for a mob to decide or govern. Marriage can be a powerful act, and those in power don't like to share.
Update: After someone with an eye more discerning from mine left a comment saying that the man they masked and shot was the preacher (and not her husband), I compared some screenshots and realized I was wrong. It is definitely the preacher they break in on and mask and shoot. I'm really disappointed because I think that "girl sleeps with preacher and gets seen as sacrilegious" is much less interesting than what I thought the video was doing in the first place. I still think it's an interesting look at sin, sex, and hypocrisy, but it's a lot less interesting to me than it was before. (And thanks to the commenter that pointed out my error!)