Aylin Zafar at The Atlantic:
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.
Alyssa Rosenberg at The Atlantic:
Now, this may be a little literal of me, but to start out with, women’s prison isn’t cute, and it’s not a device to be cheerfully re-appropriated. I’d be willing to listen to an argument that it’s a clever riff on lesbian exploitation movies from the ’70s or something. But for someone who’s spent a long time and a lot of energy cultivating a gay fan base, it seems a little odd to use stereotypically butch female prison guards and situational lesbianism as a framing device.
It’s the same kind of conceptual laziness that made the video for “LoveGame” mediocre. People wandering around the New York City subway and getting out of trouble by steaming up some windows with the arresting officer isn’t a new idea, even if you throw in glittery body paint for variation.
But that’s not even the real problem with the “Telephone” video. First, the clip is much more strictly literal in stretches than any video Gaga’s made since “Just Dance,” but it doesn’t have a coherent emotional narrative of the kind that works so well in the videos for “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance,” and even “Paparazzi.” She and Beyonce set out to murder a dinerful of folks for no explicable reason. Maybe they’re lovers, but the stilted dialogue and even more stilted delivery don’t really hint at any coherent connection.
I certainly believe that grotesquerie can be effective. After her lover tries to kill her by throwing her off a balcony in “Paparrazi,” there’s something satisfying about seeing a damaged-high glam Lady Gaga storm back into his house, re-establish herself, and cheerfully kill him both in an act of revenge, and as a way to kickstart her career. The charred skeleton next to Lady Gaga and her postcoital cigarette in “Bad Romance” is shocking not in so much that she’s committed murder, but that we share her emotional satisfaction and release in that murder.
The dancing’s also not very strong. I don’t think Gaga is a very sophisticated dancer, and her choreographers seem to recognize that, at least for videos. But she’s been more effective than this. The fists she and her dancers bang on the floor in the leadup to the last dance sequence in “Bad Romance” along with the wailed line “I don’t want to be friends” make for very effective, if not especially subtle, punctuation.
Natasha Vargas-Cooper and Choire Sicha at The Awl:
Choire: A WHOLE LOT of the imagery we’re seeing in today’s Very Important Video is not that different? Weird race spectre stuff, lesbian hot making-out, bondage, etc. etc. The thing I like more about the Gaga video is the color super-saturation and the timely updates. Also the Steven Meisel stuff in the “Sex” book was all very “arty”? Like, post Bruce Weber arty? Which didn’t age particularly well. And “Telephone” might not age well but it does look very NOW. And it’s more camp and outrageous and jokey, I mean, SMOLDERING CIGARETTE EYEGLASSES, which, I am still LOLing. The Madonna book was sometimes humorous but it was never like “HA HA SUCKA!”
Natasha: Yeah, what the Video definitely had was our Black President calls the fierce urgency of NOW-WOW! To it. I’d also say that while “Sex” was a scandal it was all highbrow.
Choire: Oh yes. It was Very Upscale.
Natasha: Like it was, here’s a serious art piece libertine adults could put on the coffee table. Where as this is sticky crude pop–in the tradition of Tarantino. Like YAAAAYYYYY GET CRZYYY ON YOUR (VIRGIN MOBILE) TELEPHONE!! Let’s talk about GaGa as a sex symbol. Because I think that’s what makes her so important that she 1) actually does something different 2) and what she does is scary and exciting.
Choire: You know, Madonna spent most of the early 90s dealing with her trademark. She tried to get Club Madonna, the famous strip club in Miami Beach, to change its name; when she started Maverick Records, she paid a band called The Mavericks $25,000 for the name; she got into it with Madonna Jewelers for the trademark of the name. And I cannot EVER see Gaga being involved in something like that? She seems more like a cult leader than a business entity, and that’s where Gaga is more interesting to me (despite maybe being a worse musician???) and what keeps her scary and funny and fun.
Natasha: Yeah. Her music is unremarkable. Except it is perfect dancing in your bedroom music for girls. Which is something we all do.
Choire: Sure we do! Look, that product is EAR CANDY. What’s amazing though is that if you listen to Britney Spears’ last two records, the production is radically more inventive and challenging than Gaga? And yet Britney is dullsville.
Natasha: This is where I think the theater thing matters. She’s a performer first. Not a PR construct. Also, there is so much more honesty in GaGa’s game.
Choire: Well she’s her own construct. And sure, from Day One: Fame Monster, hello. Wait, can I tell you my fave thing about the video? Speaking of transgression? It’s from the director’s Wikipedia page: “Jonas Åkerlund was a Masonic member of the Swedish black metal band Bathory from 1983 through 1984 and openly worships Satan.”
Natasha: You see, people take the Viking Metal Genre for granted. It’s at their own peril.
Choire: FOR REAL.
Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:
Okay, so the video is daring in its visuals and aesthetically interesting — it isn’t a sensibility I particularly like, but I can appreciate its stylistic appeal to others, and its draw as spectacle.
But why is Lady Gaga a successful recording artist? We can all freeload off her spectacle sans purchase. Who is buying her singles on iTunes? Let’s compare the song in her new video to Poker Face, an earlier Gaga hit. As it happens, Poker Face makes me want to pour concrete into my ear holes whenever it is forced upon me in a bar or even via the ambient ring tones of strangers. Telephone is definitely less annoying. But “unremarkable” is the best thing you can say for it. Why would anyone buy it disaggregated from the visuals? And even with images intact, the video suffers due to the sub-par lyrics: they don’t seem to have anything to do with what’s happening onscreen, whether you’re casually watching or a hard core fan versed in all the background.
Despite all this, critics are hailing the video as the best thing we’ve seen since the heyday of MTV. “A nearly ten-minute long mini-epic directed by Jonas Åkerlund and featuring Beyoncé and cameos by Tyrese Gibson and glam rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons, ‘Telephone’ is nothing short of a masterpiece,” Japhy Grant writes. “…And doesn’t Gaga’s arrival in the ‘prison for bitches’ bring back memories of Paris Hilton’s brief incarceration? Åkerlund and Gaga are offering up a pointed commentary on how even L.A.’s grit is buffed to a glossy sheen.”
To be declared a masterpiece in the music video realm, shouldn’t you have to master every aspect of the medium? Compare “Telephone” to “Smooth Criminal,” a classic Michael Jackson vid that offers an enduring pop hit, exceptional costumes, images that generally complement the lyrics, and choreography that climaxes in the kind of “no one has ever seen that before” dance move that MJ unveiled at various peaks in his career.
As for social commentary in the Gaga video, I am sure I don’t understand it well enough to opine, but I can report that the gritty side of LA is actually just gritty, and isn’t at all “buffed to a glossy sheen.”
Just when I thought I’d written everything I had to write about Lady Gaga, Telephone comes out. An inevitable deluge of e-mails instantly followed, demanding an article about it. So I watched the video and, gosh darnit, the people who wrote those e-mails were right. There are, yet again, a whole bunch of Illuminati/mind control symbols in Lady Gaga’s latest video. I can’t say I was surprised, however, knowing that Jonas Akerlund co-wrote and directed the video. In the article Lady Gaga, the Illuminati puppet (which I suggest you read before this one), I dissected the Akerlund-directed video Paparazzi and its references to mind-control programming. Telephone acts as a sequel to Paparazzi, where Gaga still plays the role of a mind-controlled drone who kills people. This concept is never openly discussed by the artists when they are asked to explain their videos because it is not meant to be understood for the masses. The hidden meaning of the video actually depicts the elite’s contempt for the general population, hence the scene of ritual murder of average Americans in a diner by mind-controlled slaves. Don’t know what the hell I’m talking about? Keep reading.