Deconstructing Lady Gaga's "Telephone" Video

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Lady Gaga's latest music video, "Telephone," premiered last week, and the 9 ½ minute spectacle was nothing short of what you'd expect from the Gagaloo. Teaming up with "Paparazzi" director Jonas Akerlund, "Telephone" picks up where his previous video left off—with Gaga heading to the slammer after killing off a lover who did her wrong. Saying she is "always trying to convolute the idea of what a pop music video should be," Gaga told E! that she wanted to take "the idea that America is full of young people that are inundated with information and technology and turn it into something that was more of a commentary on the kind of country that we are."

While many on the interwebs are raving about Gaga's latest, others wonder where the substance is. It's easy to say you want to take something with "quite shallow meaning, and turn it into something deeper," but just because your video has a "Tarantino-inspired quality" doesn't make it profound. However, Gaga's talents aren't without merit. She's a great singer, captivating performer, pushes the boundary of style—she's basically a walking performance art piece.

We shouldn't just assume that a woman who cares so much about aesthetic and artistic value would just spew out a string of seemingly random images and product placements. To give Gaga a fair and fighting chance, we've deconstructed her pièce de résistance—and were rather surprised with what we came up with:



Here we have Gaga entering the "Prison for Bitches," accompanied by two butch-looking ladies, ready to serve her time for the crimes she committed in "Paparazzi."



Stripping Gaga of her clothes, they also strip her of her persona, leaving her exposed and vulnerable—naked. Her sexuality is on full display, but she's helpless behind bars—a statement about the trappings of fame (a theme continued from "Paparazzi") and society's entitlement to comment so freely about the sexual identity of its celebrities. As the guards are leaving, we hear one address the rumors of her gender, saying "I told you she didn't have a dick."



Our heroine is then led into the prison yard of lesbians, covered in chains and glasses made of smoking cigarettes—imagery alert! We also get an image of Gaga's HeartBeats headphones, from Beats by Dre (the first of many product placements), while someone is busting her song "Paper Gangsta" on the radio. The song choice is, of course, deliberate; it's a song about girl power ("A superwoman chick you know that I am/Some shit don't fly by me in a man"), and a tirade against flaky men: "Don't want no paper gangsta/Won't sign away my life to someone/Who's got the flavor but don't have no follow through."



In the end, men are all talk and Gaga is ready for a change—which later prompts her decision to hop on the "Pussy Wagon" (Tarantino himself suggested she use the iconic truck from Kill Bill). Her smoking glasses are a cloudy veil that obstructs her view of reality, allowing her to base her feelings on senses alone, blurring the genders of the women around her.



Once chained down by her sexuality as defined by society, we see Gaga shed them and come out in the next scene in full badass-bitch garb. She stands side-by-side with her true self (Stefani Germanotta, played here by twin-like 17 year-old sister Natali), who eyes the Chanel-donning artist, in all her Diet-Coke-for-hair-rollers-glory. (Coke! How Andy Warhol! And apparently also a nod to her mother's beauty techniques.) A chick-fight ensues as Gaga looks on; she lives in a world where men make women end up in correctional facilities, where they end up turning on each other instead of joining together and embracing girl power. She's disgusted.



The first dance sequence is all about...honestly, it's about how skinny Lady Gaga has become. While she was certainly slim at the start of her Gaga career, her weight was still in the realm of normal, and it was refreshing to see someone in the industry flaunting healthy-looking thighs with such reckless abandon. That girl has been replaced with the Incredible Shrinking Woman, adhering to cookie-cutter expectations of what pop stars should look like. How's that for being a groundbreaking artist? Perhaps we needn't look much further to explain the strange accent she's adopted and her ridiculously slow response time in interviews—this girl is HUNGRY. It's also a nod to David LaChapelle, who famously shot her for Rolling Stone and the special limited-edition copies of The Fame Monster.)



Time for more product placements as we get a shot of a Virgin Mobile phone and PlentyOfFish, a dating site whose appearance seems out of place and has everyone scratching their heads. While it has been revealed that the site has some sort of deal with Interscope Records, it's inclusion isn't purely product placement. Everything Gaga-related is art, after all. Yes, men may have screwed over our Lady G, but there are plenty of fish out in the sea...including a whole 'nother gender pool to consider.



After a few Michael Jackson-inspired moves, Gaga enters the much-anticipated Pussy Wagon with Beyonce at the wheel. After scolding her for being a "very bad girl," B feeds Gaga an unidentified piece of food a Honey Bun (a Pulp Fiction reference, and fitting with B's "Honey B" nickname in the video).



While it's commonplace for video vixens to be licking ice cream cones or eating food seductively, there is nothing attractive about this. Gaga and B are taking a common music video trope and flipping it upside the head; objectification=not sexy.



They pull up to the diner where Tyrese is waiting for Lady B (sidebar: What happened to Tyrese?? Has it really been 12 years since "Sweet Lady"?).





Alternating between Japanese and comic book-style subtitles, the video channels Gaga's beloved pop art pioneers Roy Lichenstein and Andy Warhol. Inspired by the Warhol's exploration of mass consumer culture and advertising through his Campbell's soup studies, Gaga and Akerlund challenge the gender stereotype of the "perfect housewife" portrayed heavily in 1950s pop culture, using Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip as their artistic devices. Bloggers and fans are crying product placement—which in the case of Miracle Whip, it partly is—but its inclusion is more likely an homage to her greatest idol, who himself was a living, breathing piece of art.

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Aylin Zafar is a freelance writer based in New York.

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