Pop culture commentary tends to focus more on fun than substance. But Lady Gaga's ten-minute music video, "Telephone," is so grotesquely weird that it seems to defy anything less than broad, sweeping conclusions about American society. The Awl's Choire Sicha and Natasha Vargas-Cooper, in a free-wheeling and typo-filled discussion longer than many magazine cover stories, convincingly connect the abstract and artistic video to, well, just about everything. It's a fascinating exploration of all that can be contained in a single clip. There's a lot more if you click through, which you should.
Perceptions of gender:
Feminist identities getting stronger:
Natashia I think what the [Director Quentin] Tarantino and gaga have in common is that an angry woman, a jilted woman, bent on doling out justice to those who done her wrong is something the two get and show well and seem to believe that women have a higher moral authority. So when they got done wrong, they do bad! Snd not bad in the 'oops my bras showing spank me' way.
Choire: Yeah, that coy little girl BS.
Natasha: But bad like put me in jail and pump iron with cholas and then go on a glorious blood soaked rampage. THE SANGUINE SEX.
Punk counterculture becomes mainstream:
Natasha: I think the reason why people, espesh, ladies of their mid twenties, are excited about Gaga as much as they are…
Choire: TELL ME ABOUT THE YOUNGS.
Natasha: …is that we matured during the Britney Days.
Choire: Oh, because you were all raised on crap and Nickelback!
Natasha: Madge was already brittle and creepy and a fading icon.
Choire: Whereas we had Kate Bush.
Natasha: And so here comes Gaga who has the kind of shamelessness of a reality tv star. In the sense that she's like "BOOM. MAKE ME FAMOUS." Which seemed a taboo thing in the before Britney? Who was like, "I just love to sing yall (covered in oil, grinding on a giant snake.)" And not only that but instead of the virgin slut bullshit.
On the fracture nature of emotion:
Choire: Well what seems great to me is that the lingering effects of Riot Grrrl are still with us. Like this video wouldn't have been set to dance music 15 years ago! But then it also wouldn't have co-starred who I guess is the MOST POPULAR SINGER of our day? But when you look at it, everything in it is punk, from the Klaus Nomi outfit in the "strutting down the jail" scene, to the chains, to the vinylwear, reminiscent of the late great Poly Styrene and company.
Natasha: And yet it maintained the girly fantasy aspect of it– like some half clad broads running around in bras being BAD.Choire: Totes. And more ephemerally, the "attitude." Also you know KILLING EVERYONE.
On young women and fame:
Natasha: I also love the cyclical nature of her videos.
Choire: Well right, she loves drama. All she wants to make are dramatic moments. My problem with the Gags is that she's all tableaux? And hence there's some cyclicalism, yes.
Natasha: Like she's angry! She's kissing! She's dancing! She's making food! She's killing!
Natasha: Which for ladies, is how WE FEEELLL. We don't feel like Britney crucified by our own fame.
Choire: I have always wondered What It Is Like For A Girl. (In your Rhythm Box, etc.)Natasha: It's like that! We have cycles!A vibrant pastiche of emotions!!! That can kill!! So I think that's why she resonates so much. I feel like she gets lady-ness from the inside and then paints it with fashion and music and images.
Natasha: I'm not sure where it fits in, but girls want to be famous. It's the same reason as teenagers we stare at ourselves for hours in the mirror, and make photo collages on out notebooks, and tend so diligently to our MySpace pages.
Choire: Isn't that about "attention"?
Natasha: Beyond that. We want an audience. An adoring audience. This is something a lot of girls grow out of. But I think it's a very teenage desire.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.