Lady Gaga declares, and revels in, the power of her superstardom in every frame of the astonishing, long-form video for “Telephone.” Back in the Stone-Age-of-pop days when MTV actually stood for “music television,” an epic-length video was one of the ultimate signatures of a pop star’s prestige. Michael Jackson, of course, patented the form with “Thriller” and “Bad;” by doubling the length of a standard video, and by recruiting red-hot filmmakers (John Landis, Martin Scorsese) to put their stamp on his work, he was melding the aesthetic/promotional promise of music videos with the myth-making propensities of movies. He was placing himself on a pedestal of icons that, implicitly, reached back to those of Hollywood. But if Jackson’s long-form videos were, in every sense, miniature movies, they were not, at least to my eyes, his greatest videos. Irresistible as it may have been, the night-of-the-living-chorus-line dancing in “Thriller” took a step back from the magic of “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” — to me, it had a slightly dated Broadway stodginess — and the “Bad” video was delirious but also a bit cheesy in its update of West Side Story delinquency.
Lady Gaga, in “Telephone,” proves a far shrewder and more daring manipulator of music-video-as-movie imagery. She uses our collective cinematic memory not just to brand herself with the past but to assert herself into the future — to extend her image as a rock-star freak, a bad romantic man-eater, and a natural born feminine killer. I can’t add a lot to Tanner Stransky’s celebration of the video’s kitschy-camp delights (those cigarette glasses! those Diet-Coke-can hair curlers!), but what possesses me about “Telephone” is the way that Gaga, working with the Swedish director Jonas Akerlund, fuses kitsch and danger, exhibitionism and movies to create a sense of the uncanny. The video doesn’t feel long, like an overly extended production number. It’s intense and organic and perpetually surprising (no matter how many times you’ve seen it), a dream that keeps erupting.
Lady Gaga, in the last year, has singlehandedly revived the excitement of music videos, and now she revives the true, enticing promise of a long-form video event: the revelation of exposure. We want to see a side of the star that we haven’t been shown before, and sure enough, Lady Gaga, in “Telephone,” gives us a teasing new chapter in her pop-surreal, wigs-and-sunglasses version of the Dance of the Seven Veils. Her standard thing, of course, is to be shrouded, as she is in the video’s bitch-or-be-bitched early prison scenes. But then, when she picks up that prison phone and starts to sing, staring into the camera, with purple lipstick and Amy Winehouse mascara, she brandishes, right in our faces, what she’s always hiding — the harsh ethnic beauty of her features. Then comes the transformation: On the line “Sorry, I cannot hear you,/I’m kinda busy…” she bares her teeth, and it’s more than a stance. It’s a new kind of rock & roll rage — the Madonna of the ’80s reconfigured as a homicidal punk tigress. She doesn’t even want to talk to a man — she’s too busy! READ FULL STORY »