Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ is a Super Bowl Infomercial Mini-Film-Marketing Nirvana!


“You know what they say; once you kill a cow you got to make a burger.”

I love Lady Gaga’s new video Telephone with Beyonce Knowles. It’s a harkening back to exploitation women-in-prison films; of which the best example is Caged Heat, a 1974 film by Jonathan Demme done for Roger Corman’s Pictures. Telephone has the ingredients of a gumbo stew, a Doctor Seuss Green Eggs and Ham with arsenic and lace added as spices.

Gaga Telephone
My favorite dance scene in Lady Gaga’s Telephone; the American flag outfits make my day! Photo by John Kays

Beyonce bails out Lady Gaga from the slammer and the two turn over the tables at a local diner like the Duke in Drag in Dodge City; they systematically convert ‘mean men’ having breakfast into human hamburger patties. The serial killer twosome cruise around in Quentin Tarrantino’s “Pussy Wagon,” (from Kill Bill) escaping the cops and preparing for their next caper and sequel.

The song Telephone was written by Lady Gaga and Jonas Akerland, and appeared on last year’s smash hit Fame Monster. Originally written for Brittany Spears, this is a big beat extended dance number that better utilizes the talents of Beyonce. The lyrics are about not wanting to be bugged by phone calls when partying on the dance floor. Not too heavy, but how is the slammer like the dance floor? Use your imagination, genius? This is Gaga!

This video comes in at nearly 10 minutes and is almost a mini-film. Telephone is an extension of the Paparazzi video; one more then she’ll have a short film. Apparently, the old music video format of ’80s MTV days is dead. Telephone is an outlier in terms of this format; what you have now is more of a Super Bowl Infomercial, with Gaga as the New Orleans Saints wearing her funny hats.

This new format is highly successful; by now YouTube has probably racked up 17 million visits. The video supports her 31 date “Monster Ball” tour later this summer. I may travel up to Dallas myself and catch Miss Gaga. So what you have is a video acting as a stimulus for the tour, and probably beaucoup souvenir sales (Gaga Ts, puppets, bumper stickers, action figures, notebooks and of course, CDs.) Marketing folks!

Gaga don’t plan all of this out that meticulously. It justs flows out naturally from her instinctual artistic reservoirs. Later on she rationalizes how every shot was carefully blocked out and ties in with the greater whole. The big pie is greater than the sum of its parts, ya see? But choosing a jail to hatch her mischief with Beyonce, a quasi-Thelma and Louise parody, or ladies gone wrong in the diner, is a spiffy sponge of a post-modern exploitation games.

Didn’t know that jail could be so fun? And what’s up with the smoking cigarette helmet, chains and boombox wafting old Gaga ditties? All the dance scenes are outstanding, but my favorite is the diner scene with the American flag outfits. Since when were female serial killers ala Aileen Wuornos patriotic role models? Starting on March 12th when Telephone was released, I suppose?

Some may argue that Lady Gaga has worn out the funny hat routine (Cher did it ’70s too) or that there is a vacuum of intellectual content in the song and in these staged scenes. They are wrong! Just look at the scene in the diner when Gaga is a waitress and she serves the poor black man spiked ham and eggs. She poses as a statue looking like Maurleen Dietrich in a Weimar Republic Bauhaus art scene.

The video is replete with arty references that make it a collage of modern times, a loaded time capsule of sexual motifs and historicity. The freak flag dance sequence harkens back to Ken Kesey’s Pranksters, the prison rumble to Caged Heat, the closing clip to Thelma and Louise and the diner scene is like a Denny’s ad gone awol. Or you could just as easily substitute I-Hop for Denny’s.

John Kays identifies timeless remnants from our past that will endure, or be admired by future generations.