Here are a few notes I’ve made watching Lady Gaga’s newest music video, Telephone. It's not in any particular order, nor do I claim to make a cohesive argument. These are just a few ruminative observations of things I feel Gaga is challenging, or, at the very least, engaging in her newest video.
glasses - Lady Gaga is known in an iconographic sense for her usage of sunglasses, along with other accoutrement. In her videos, she assumes the power of the gaze through her employment of glasses, possibly mostly by way concealment of the direction of the gaze, which endows her with panopticonic faculty.
cigarettes - In the video, the sunglasses used in the prison yard are fully tinted and partly comprised of cigarettes. This notion of the gaze having power is expressively meaningful in this scene, for cigarettes have utilitarian significance in prison as means of currency. If we are to see, materialistically, that the gaze is a form of an exchanging of power, the cigarettes act metaphorically demonstrating Gaga’s status among her fellow prisoners and her relationship to the viewer.
videophone - (This idea of the gaze is carried over from Beyonce’s song Videophone, on which Gaga also collaborated. In that video, the gaze is inverted a different way, where the canons of cameras, which are in place of men’s faces, are traded imagistically for guns that Beyonce and Gaga wield for the tail end of the video.)
pulp - Pulp and comic mediums are locations for social commentary on so-called deviance. The heightening of social (read: sexual) roles into a campy hyper-awareness is the engine of the pulp medium. There too is blaxploitation here.
gay - In Gaga’s videos, there is always the presence of gay male bodies: backup dancers, party-goers, objects of affection, furniture &c. The gay male body is absent for the first five minutes of the video. Or is it?
prison - The depiction of women in prison is an interesting paradox for normative representation. It is a location where women’s bodies are simultaneously hyper-masculinized and hyper-sexualized. This video participates in that paradox. Throughout Gaga’s stint in prison, we see women in bikinis with long flowing hair and women with their hair slicked back lifting weights. We get the polarities of sexual expression located in a spectrum of female bodies. That is to say, there is a push to gay-male-homosexualize the female body to alleviate the absence of the straight male.
surveillance - In surveillance footage, which is exhibited in the video, one can see but cannot hear. On the telephone, the subject of the video, one can hear but cannot see. The form of the music video inherently reconciles these problems with seeing and listening. Perhaps the music video can reconcile the fracturing of sexual identities. Of racial identities. This is also related to the notion of Foucault’s panopticon.
objectification - Lady Gaga and Beyonce resist being objects of visual pleasure (see: Laura Mulvey). They embrace their sexual appeal but characterize it into drag-queen-like proportions, essentially imitating the feminine and the sexual.
dialogue – At the beginning of the video, the ward says, “Told you she didn’t have a dick,” to which the other replies, “That’s too bad.” They jokingly lament the absence of a gay body while contemplating the sex of Lady Gaga. This fixation on Gaga’s sex perhaps may be analogous with media and America’s discomfort with deviant sexualities and female ownership of sexual beingness.
dialogue 2 – Beyonce tells Gaga that “Trust is like a broken mirror, you can fix it if it’s broke.” Gaga complete’s the adage: “But you can still see the crack in that motherfucker’s reflection.” They go on to call each other “baby” and “mama”. In Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage, the acknowledgement of selfhood is only understood once a child is held up to a mirror by its mother, thus realizing that it is not the same as the mother, that the mother is representative of the other. In this reinvention of the metaphor, Gaga and Beyonce’s selves are problematized; they oscillate between mother and daughter (perhaps reifying each other’s identities) and the metaphorical mirror is broken, always reflecting a shattered version of the ego.
diet coke – The video is littered with product placement. There is an inevitability to this; it is futile to resist the machine of commercialism. In the video, product placement is hyperbolized and even parodied in the “Cook-n-Kill” sequence.
icon - I've used this word before. Here, Beyonce takes iconic images of Betty Page, Pam Grier, Britney, and Madonna, to name a few. There is proliferation and accretion of identifiable female icons presented in this video, by two notable female icons themselves, and shows an awareness of a participation in a tradition of being a female superstar that challenges notions of the passive object.