Gaga and Bey­oncé leave mil­lions hang­ing on the

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Lady Gaga’s video for Tele­phone looks likely to be­come the most-watched mu­sic video of all time. In the five days since its release there have been around 18 mil­lion view­ings of the nine-and-half minute short, as Gaga con­tin­ues on her in­ex­orable move from pop singer to pop cul­ture icon. With Tele­phone she ob­vi­ously felt the mo­men­tum was there to un­leash a Thriller on the world – an era-defin­ing au­dio­vi­sual mo­ment.

The video is like an en­try-level MTV class in semi­otics. “What I re­ally wanted to do with this video is take a de­cid­edly pop song, which on the sur­face has a quite shal­low mean­ing, and turn it into some­thing deeper,” says Gaga. A tall or­der when the lyrics to the cho­rus go: “Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh . . . Stop tele­phonin’ me! Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh . . . I’m busy! Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh . . . Stop tele­phonin’ me! Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh . . . ”

Gaga and video di­rec­tor Jonas Ak­er­lund (who has also worked with Madonna – a woman who prob­a­bly is stick­ing daggers into a Gaga voodoo doll even as we speak) have ran­sacked pop cul­ture’s wardrobe to con­trive a “hy­per­ki­netic joyride” that en­thu­si­as­ti­cally bor­rows from Quentin Tarantino, Thelma and Louise, John Wa­ters, Oz (one of the best TV pro­grammes ever), the photography of David LaChapelle, and the very best in soft porn girl-on-girl scriptwrit­ing.

The video opens with an in-joke. There has long been a ground­less in­ter­net ru­mour that Gaga is a her­maph­ro­dite. Tele­phone be­gins in a prison where Gaga is be­ing thrown naked into a cell. “I told you she didn’t have a dick,” one of the guards says. Gaga then pro­ceeds to the ex­er­cise yard where the first thing she does is get it on with an­other fe­male in­mate. And the cam­era does linger here. Then Bey­oncé calls her up and she goes into a chore­ographed dance num­ber with her fel­low in­mates.

Af­ter be­ing bailed out by Bey­oncé, the pair go to a diner and kill every­one, then drive off into the sun­set. The words “To Be Con­tin­ued” flash por­ten­tously up.

Per­haps of more in­ter­est than the rather de­riv­a­tive and clichérid­den video is the amount of, and na­ture of the, com­ment be­ing pro­voked by the work. Gaga ac­tu­ally refers peo­ple to a minidoc­toral the­sis writ­ten by a stu­dent, Meghan Vicks, on her blog (on­ly­word­sto­play­with.blog spot.com/2010/03/ref­er­en­tial­ma­nia-lady-ga­gas-tele­phone.html).

Vicks at­tempts to “de­code” the “many vis­ual me­taphors” con­tained in the video. Amid the breath­less ref­er­ences to Michel Fou­cault, we get plenty about how the prison scenes are a “metaphor for im­pris­oned iden­tity”. She teases out a lot of in­ter­est­ing points, par­tic­u­larly about how the fe­male equiv­a­lent of the “bro­mance” is por­trayed in the video. Else­where in com­ment­land, the Tele­phone video is de­con­structed with ref­er­ence to Ju­dith But­ler’s The Les­bian Phal­lus and the Mor­pho­log­i­cal Imagination es­say.

So, is Gaga just shak­ing her mon­ey­maker to tit­il­late the “Male Gaze”, or has she “suc­ceeded in break­ing the ar­ti­fi­cial bar­ri­ers and bound­aries that still im­prison women in the realm of pop­u­lar mu­sic”?

In re­sponse to the ac­cu­sa­tions of “lezz-ploita­tion”, her aca­demic fan­base reach for the big guns: Gaga is “queer­ing the nar­ra­tive on her own terms”, “The Tele­phone video is dra­mat­i­cally rev­ers­ing the Male Gaze”, “Gaga trans­gresses gen­der norms” and (deep breath) “she is break­ing the het­eronor­ma­tiv­ity man­date of our cul­ture”.

How­ever you feel about the Gaga video, the most re­mark­able as­pect here is that a pro­mo­tional tool for pop mu­sic can cause such a heated de­bate. Who would have thought that a glossy all-singing/ all-danc­ing video could get peo­ple reach­ing for phrases such as “the het­eronor­ma­tiv­ity man­date of our cul­ture”. The lat­ter phrase re­minds us of what Philip Larkin once said of the Bi­ble: “It’s beau­ti­ful, but it’s bol­locks”.

Lady Gaga – still tweak­ing the nip­ples of pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Lady Gaga and Bey­oncé: Thelma and Louise for a new age

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