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Mar 19, 2010

On March 11, Spring Break festivities tempered in anticipatory respite for the premiere of “Telephone,” the long-awaited music video collaboration between pop stars Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Nine minutes later, Facebook accounts updated, Twitters tweeted and ­— somewhere — manager-dad Mathew Knowles was laughing all the way to the bank, having conned daughter Beyoncé into participating in this lucrative but base excuse for artistry.

Sasha Fierce should shoulder some of the blame, but “Telephone” is inherently Gaga, with Knowles as a mere accomplice in a haphazard jailhouse romp gone awry.

This Tarantino-inspired short film follows sexualized criminals Gaga and Beyoncé as they break out of jail and murder an entire diner — complete with all the self-promotion and macabre histrionics now synonymous with the pantsless phenomenon known as Lady Gaga.

While the song itself is sassily exuberant, the video suffers from an awkward pairing. The brassy, assertive voice of Knowles unabashedly outshines the nasally Gaga. The former’s languid acting provides the impression that Mrs. Jay-Z has little patience with Gaga’s vision; the tension between the two is most evident in the sub par dance sequence at the film’s end — normally a climax for pop videos.

Slow, simple choreography and distracting screen shifts dampen the excitement of dual diva gyration. Knowles and Gaga are never shown in the same shot for more than two seconds.

When the camera does zoom out, they get lost in a sea of similarly lethargic dancers.
Additionally, imitating the grandiose, film format a la Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is little better than flattery if the length doesn’t correspond with a readily evident narrative. The lyrics do not remotely match the plot, and its myriad strands prevent a cohesive vision from forming.

Beyoncé and Gaga journey from a jail to a runaway car to a diner. This trajectory is juxtaposed with solo shots of Gaga in a kitchen and Beyoncé in a hotel room. The plethora of props are also distracting, as the audience likely spent half the video trying to figure out Gaga’s alien telephone-hat. “Telephone” remains but a visual symptom of the Gaga disease, a desire to propel pop music into the realm of high art without the means, substance or originality to do so. Gaga employs a machine gun approach to social advocacy, touching on many cultural problems, then disavowing these concerns through a sensationalized and vapid form.

Gaga claims to be a proponent of LGBTQ rights, serving as a speaker at 2009’s National Equality March. Yet, “Telephone” crassly employs lesbian porn undertones (“You’ve been a very bad girl Gaga,” seductively recites Beyoncé, satisfying every frat guy’s girl-on-girl fantasy. The flirtation between the two presents bisexuality in an exclusively objectified manner, complete with silicon, bikinis and dominatrix ethos — this hardly champions the queer community.

In a recent interview with E!, Gaga claimed “Telephone” is critique of materialism and “the kind of country that we are.”

Yet, Gaga herself is guilty of the same sin: inundating the audience with every logo from Ray Band to Polaroid (coincidentally, she is the camera company’s new spokesmodel). Even if this move was a convoluted commentary on materialism (as I’m sure she would tell you), she’s hawking the same companies inadvertently. Additionally, any serious commentary is masked by the whirl of plot lines and costume changes.

In a January interview with Barbara Walkers, Gaga discussed her music’s message: “I want to liberate [my fans]. I want to free them of their fears and make them feel that they can create their own space in the world.”

How can a synth-pop voice dare fans to be different by strutting around in a wardrobe that could belong to Britney Spears? Many consider her skimpy clothing avant-garde, but her costumes merely put an esoteric spin on pop music’s fiercest commodity: skin. Before urging her fans to part with convention, Lady Gaga might give it a try herself.

Gaga exists as a stain-glass window of pop music, fashioning herself piece by piece with the shards of her forbearers. Gaga’s fascination with shock fashion conjures early 1980s Madonna, albeit the effect is tempered in the Material Girl’s wake. Her obsession with cultural art recalls Andy Warhol. Her choreography is equal parts Michael Jackson and Britney Spears with its crotch grabbing, militaristic turns and brash gyrating.

Glaze this amalgam with the essence of the East Village and Lady Gaga emerges, unacknowledged parts that never sum to a whole. This synthesis is cheapened, not ground-breaking, when considering Gaga’s self-perception. “You have to be unique, and different, and shine in your own way,” Gaga once tweeted. Arguably she has yet to find her own way. Fusing and mimicking others is not originality, merely sensationalized recycling.

Blindly adhering to these pop-cultural paradigms limits the believability of her deconstructivist attitude. Gaga’s fascination with fame never reconciles with her desire to abscond from its constraints. This uncertainty soundly prevents the musical-philosophical uplift she so ardently desires. Post-modernist whining might forge a hit single, but never a pop revolutionary.

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Posted: Friday March 19, 2010, 4:48 am
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