As a concept, Lady Gaga is like something out of a William Gibson novel. A story-idea you might spot in a near-future sci-fi novel or movie that, if it were just a little more down-to-earth, you could totally see existing in the real world. Like, if you cartoonized Madonna, added a little more caffeine and Technicolor, and made the music just a little more generically infectious, you’d have something close to a fictional concept like Lady Gaga.

Even the name is so ridiculous and outsized. It’s something that could only be concocted by a writer unconcerned with verisimilitude. It is a perfect combination of royalty and gibberish – a statement so on the nose that you’d never expect to find it outside of fiction.

(Does anybody remember Phantom 2040? The Peter Chung-designed update of the old pulp hero, where the electro-graphics-spewing pop-star of the future was called, simply, Vainglorious? This is the only more obvious thing I can think of.)

And yet Lady Gaga – exactly as I have described her above – exists, in our present-day pop-culture landscape.

Doesn’t the 21st century just blow your damn mind some days?

Case in point: the video for “Telephone.” I want you to do me a favor, and listen to the song first. Hear the song itself, without looking at the video. Go listen, come back in like three minutes, we’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back. It is pretty standard dance pop, right? That’s not a criticism, by the way. Dance music is what dance music is supposed to be, no more, no less. It’s nothing new. If this was 2001, we could substitute Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Outta My Head.” And it did get into everyone’s heads. Such was the glory of Kylie Minogue. But it stretches back so much further.

Disco was created because by the late 70’s, dance music had become intentionally disposable, less a musical form than a byproduct of the Club Experience.  The point wasn’t poetry or feelings, it was the beat, and a few good rhymes. This has continued ever since. So no matter what flashiness dance music is lined with, it continues to be, ultimately, “a good beat and some words that pop.” The trick is to do something interesting within those constraints.

Hence, the idea made form that is Lady Gaga, and her apotheosis (so far, anyway), “Telephone.” Here are some of the lyrics, so we’re all clear:

“You shoulda made some plans with me,
You knew that I was free.
And now you won’t stop calling me;
I’m kinda busy.
[CHORUS]
Stop callin’, stop callin’,
I don’t wanna think anymore!
I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.
Stop callin’, stop callin,
I don’t wanna talk anymore!
I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.”

This is not what you’d call a “deep,” or by any stretch baffling, Beck-style song. Taken on its own, this is a song that is purely and literally about a woman who does not want her man calling her while she is out at a club. And again – there is nothing wrong with this kind of song existing. It is built for being played while people dance at a club.

But then…watch the video:

The song might be about dancing and ignoring a crappy boyfriend. But the images – the visuals that sell Lady Gaga as a pop-culture icon – tell a barely-related story (if not for the phone motifs of Gaga’s multiple costumes post-prison-break), indulging in a Tarantino-style fascination with prison movies, 70’s suspense, and then – out of nowhere – a RoboCop-esque commercial for How To Make Poison.

Using actual product placement.

The whole ten minutes is littered with product placement, used to sell fictionalized poison-making. And that there is probably the genius of Lady Gaga as a 21st-century powerhouse: she manipulates the now-standard use of product placement to sell an utterly lunatic fantasy story, draped in translucent plastic and re-appropriation of  grindhouse influences.

Miracle Whip and Sprint are happy to have their brands displayed while Lady Gaga mixes poison in her video, killing a room full of people (who also engage in an impeccably choreographed dance number – which is something I’m always a sucker for, I won’t deny).

This is Power you can’t buy. The ability to get market recognition because your own branding capabilities are somehow so effective that being visually associated with poison is still a pretty good way to get your brand name out there.

Make no mistake: Despite our “Where’s my jetpack?” whining, we live in the future. We just took too long to realize it.

People-ideas like Lady Gaga got there first.

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Comments
  1. Rick Russell says:

    After seeing a video of Miss Germanotta playing piano in college (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM51qOpwcIM), it became clear that everything about her career is intentional. She’s like the Andy Warhol of our time; every piece of clothing, every dash of makeup, every prop, every frame is a composed like a warped magnifying glass turned on our world.

    No part of it is truly genuine, it’s just layer after layer of commentary. It’s turtles all the way down.

  2. Amanda says:

    I stayed away from her music for a long, long time because her bizareness was so offensive to me. But I kept hearing her songs here and there – in movies, during an awards show performance – and every time, I would find myself bobbing along. So finally I caved, my curiosity got the better of me, and I bought her mp3 album (the newest one (“The Fame”) along with the older track, the “Bad Romance” single)….And now I am addicted.

    The way in which she won me over is part of the reason why I admire her music so much: She’s no Taylor Swift or Enrique Iglesias (inset choice token attractive singer here)- she didn’t go trolling for admirers with her looks and then lay out some mediocre, formula-stamped melodies that one can manage to swallow without much difficulty. She did the complete opposite, winning over (at least) one fan by the sheer quality of her talents. And trust me, I am not easily sold on new music these days.

    I’m not saying she’s brilliant or deep or a poet, I’m simply saying she is VERY talented musically. Her voice has an enormous amount of variety – in one track she can sound like Gwen Stefani, in the next, a persona all her own. And her songs are catchy and can even get you to move. They only get more mesmerizing with repeated listens.

    While some days I don’t just love, but actually crave the beautiful, profound, lyrical and musical poetry of a Dave Matthew’s song, other times I seriously just want to dance. And to something other than an electronically-enhanced, computer-generated remix of mince-meated “beats.” Enter Lady Gaga. I’ll just dance with my eyes closed…..

  3. Moff says:

    If she isn’t a genuine genius, she fakes it awfully well. One of the handful of artists (I think there are five total?) whose next album I can’t wait for.

  4. braak says:

    In related news: holy shit, I had no idea there was that much to Phantom 2040. I used to watch that show!

  5. braak says:

    Is she wearing glasses made of cigarettes?

  6. braak says:

    Also, QUESTION: I can’t now listen to this song without wanting to see it remixed with Was (Not Was)’s “Walk the Dinosaur.” Is such a thing even possible? Who knows about remixing songs?

  7. Heather says:

    I kinda wish I could have the last 15 minutes of my life back. Ugh. I too appreciate a good synchronized dance number and pretty much any Tarantino (or Tarantino-style) flick, but jeez, that was just awful.

    That said, I agree she is a talented artist… I just don’t care. I also would argue for some more clothes. Just a bit. I’m all for nudity and eccentricities and I’m a big fan of burlesque, but I don’t think it should be on public tv…

    wow that made me sound really conservative…

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    To be fair, I don’t think it’s on “public TV,” since for the life of me I can’t think of a music video channel that plays music videos anymore.

    Which, yes, is a complaint that people have been making for like 15 years now but STILL.

  9. wench says:

    I like her. She’s a freak. Freaks are fun. Ergo, she’s fun.

    She’s the absolute embodiment of the phrase “the only sin in Hollywood is to be boring”.

  10. Moff says:

    Here’s a pretty good interview with the girl (or boy? read it and you’ll see) who’s her prison lover in the video:

    http://www.out.com/detail.asp?page=1&id=26601

  11. dagocutey says:

    Re: mixing this tune with “Walk the Dinosaur” — totally possible, but what is up with that song? One minute he’s watching TV, the next he’s “walking the dinosaur” ?? What am I missing here?

  12. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Love, love, love eccentric performers with oversized personas or personalities and/or melodramatic divas. They’re vital, they color life and challenge social expectation.

    Full disclosure: I’m an artist, so, as a rule, nudity of consenting participants (those in the position to consent) is always a non-issue, throwing flashy colors on everything makes life !!HAPPY!! and there will always be a soft spot in my heart for “lost souls” who choose to search for the meaning of their existence, by way of compassionate Hedonism. Lady Gaga’s a blast.

  13. Moff says:

    A few months ago, some dipshit on io9 was going on about how all the costumes and provocation and so on were evidence that she wasn’t really a serious musical artist. BECAUSE COSTUMES AND PROVOCATION AND SO ON HAVE NEVER BEEN A PART OF POP AND ROCK MUSIC. I just like the fact that nearly all of the folks I consider smart have not reflexively dismissed her.

  14. braak says:

    @dagocutey: I dunno, it was the eighties. That was a time when everyone was at all times just one step away from doing a weird dance.

  15. Lethargi says:

    Gotta be honest, not my type of music. Without the excellent cinematic direction, exotic costumes, Tarantino references and scantily clad ladies I would never have sat through 9 minutes of mediocre music and ads.

  16. Rick Russell says:

    @Moff

    “how all the costumes and provocation and so on were evidence that she wasn’t really a serious musical artist. ”

    Right, just like opera, with all of its costumes and provocation. Not musically serious!

  17. Jeff Holland says:

    Right, and “Anchors Aweigh!” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “Oklahoma” – wait, you know what? I might have to rethink this a little.

  18. dagocutey says:

    @braak: So it was a DANCE — shwew! I thought it was one more sexual euphamism or “guy secret” that I’d never heard of.

    Are you sure?

  19. braak says:

    I think so. If you watch the video:

    it definitely is structured in such a way as to suggest that they’re trying to start a new dance craze. Scantily-clad dancers doing a relatively simple repetitive dance routine, it’s eventually picked up by a bunch of ordinary folks…

    Maybe it’s a sex metaphor, but I’ve never heard anyone call it that.

  20. Jeff Holland says:

    I assumed you were talking about Kylie Minogue’s revival of the Locomotion. In which case, I’ve heard sex called that ALL THE TIME.

    You’re just not going to the right clubs.

  21. dagocutey says:

    I’ve never heard that one — maybe it’s just YOUR motion that’s loco.

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