As you may know, I’m not a Lady GaGa fan, because I’m not interested in her vapid pop music (yes, I’ve listened to her album and I quite enjoyed it, for a short time, of course) nor in her endless strive for fame and media interest. I am quite annoyed by the fact that she always justifies herself saying she spent so many years feeling rejected and neglected and unappreciated. Ok, enough! What I’ve recently realized is that she’s turning into a visual artist, more than an estimated singer. There’s nothing wrong with it, because she’s great in putting on a performance, but you must admit her singing and writing abilities (she’s a song-writing machine, but she isn’t Mozart) are overwhelmed by everything else. And if you don’t know what I mean by everything else, well, please watch her latest work, Telephone, directed by the one and only Jonas Akerlund, her partner in crime in Paparazzi.
This music video is connected to Paparazzi for several reasons, and this is another thing I like of her: she’s creating her own world of visual references, where she sometimes takes inspiration from. As for the plot, Telephone starts where Paparazzi finished, from the arrest of the protagonist, who killed her boyfriend by poisoning. For this reason, the first part of the video is set in a jail “for bitches”.
The opening credits are written in yellow/pink/red, a combo we will find later in the narration, along with many other references to the world of cinema. The first reference, for example, is to a 1974 movie by Jonathan Demme, Caged Heat, telling the story of girls in a sexually-charged prison, just like the one in the video.
When she arrives to the prison, GaGa is escorted by two female officers, both blonde, wearing unconventional versions of their uniforms (unbuttoned shirt and bra in full display, a sort of homage to the bombshells of Russ Meyer’s movies). This will set the pace to the rest of the sequence: prisoners seem to be coming from the pages of a sexy fashion photospread, all beautiful, tattooed and scandily clad.
The dress seen on GaGa – low-cut with exaggerated shoulders, a custom-made creation by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac – reminds us of the stereotyped black and white striped jail uniforms. Her platinum blonde hair is styled in a curly/wavy updo, and her eyes are hidden behind Mercura butterfly-winged sunglasses.
When the officers open Gaga’s cell’s door, they take her dress out. This reminds me of a scene in Bad Romance, when she’s taken out of the bath-tub, stripped and forced to drink vodka (or water, who knows?).
The general tone of the video is completely different from Bad Romance‘s: in this case, the officers leave her half-naked because they want to be sure she’s not a hermaphrodite. As it traditionally happens in GaGa’s videos, some scenes don’t have a narrative relevance, but are inserted just to allow an outfit change.
I think this costume is quite tacky, but I’ve never said nor thought GaGa is a model of elegance. It is made of crime scene tape-like bands and is a custom-made creation by Brian Lichtenberg. The singer is obsessed with hiding her eyes, and in this scene she covers part of her face with a crime scene tape headpiece.
The following scene is set in a stereotyped part of the jail, the yard where prisoners can spend some time outdoor, chatting, smoking or exercising. I think most of the movies set in a jail have one or more scenes in a similar yard, where something violent usually happens. The newcomer is attacked or sexually harassed by other prisoners, and this somehow happens to GaGa, too.
All the prisoners are dressed in black or white: some of them exercise (two blondes, resembling the officers), some listen to music from a boombox and some are speechless in front of GaGa’s over-the-top outfit. She’s a prisoner, so she’s sporting a jumpsuit with some chains draped on the shoulders (a custom-made piece by Viktor & Rolf) and disturbing smoking cigarette sunglasses. If the razor-blade glasses she wore in Bad Romance have puzzled you, I don’t know what can be your opinions about this style. I personally hate it (and I don’t care if someone considers it art or satire or whatever; it’s extremely tasteless, period). GaGa is not attacked by anyone, but she passionately kisses an androginous prisoner, wearing a leather vest and sporting short hair.
The third scene of the video takes us back to the prison. The girls are spending some time in a community room. In this scene, GaGa is standing next to a brunette who shares her same features.
This is none other than Natali Germanotta, GaGa’s younger sister who has made her debut on screen in this video. They’re both wearing sunglasses: she’s wearing Chanel vintage sunglasses, while Natali is wearing Ray-Ban Clubmaster sunglasses. Natali is wearing a plain white tee and black leather biker jacket; from her make-up (dark lipliner and lighter lipstick, horror!) and hairstyle it is safe to assume in the video she’s a chola.
While two girls engage a catfight, GaGa answers a phone call. From the screecaps below, we can see she’s used Diet Coke empty cans as hair rollers. Crafty girl!
Her black leather studded jacket is by Search & Destroy, with a Doom patch on one side (a homage to the British crust punk band of the same name). Her make-up is amazing, I absolutely love the heavy eye-liner and dark crimson lips.
GaGa is not a natural-born dancer, in my opinion, but in her videos at least one dance routine can always be found. In this case, she dances with four mates in the aisle of the jail. This scene is clearly a reference to the infamous Cell Block Tango from the musical Chicago.
The embellished bra and panties seen on GaGa and on the dancers are by Haus of GaGa.
GaGa is a lucky girl, because she’s released on bail, so she can leave the jail. She does it in style, wearing a dramatic outfit, a huge hat, gloves covering four fingers only and round sunglasses.
Her hair are not platinum blonde, but have some bright yellow highlights. The black and white suit and the hat are both Thierry Mugler vintage creations.
In the following scene, we get to know the second protagonist of the video, a gorgeous Beyonce, who has paid the bail for GaGa. The first meeting between the two is set in a van: Beyonce is behind the wheel and scolds her friend (“you’ve been a very bad girl, a very very bad bad girl, GaGa”, sublime), then they leave the prison. During the trip, GaGa takes some Polaroids of Beyonce and throws them out of the window.
I don’t know what you think of the collaboration between GaGa and Beyonce, but I quite like it. They come from two different worlds, but the chemistry between them works. Beyonce is so sexy in this video, and note she’s not half-naked all the time. I think it takes class and a strong personality to steal the scene to Lady GaGa and Beyonce has striken twice: the two appeared in Beyonce’s tragical Video Phone together, where Beyonce was magnificent and GaGa vapid. This time she’s ever more beautiful and funny, if possible, so next time GaGa should think twice before filming another video with her.
Beyoncè is wearing a vintage hat and bra by Thierry Mugler, one of her favourite designers .
When they stop at a diner, we get the first glimpse of their car, which happens to be the iconic Pussy Wagon , driven by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill I (2003). Tarantino is the responsible for the car’s appearance in the video: GaGa and him reportedly met for discussing the concept of the video, and he suggested she use the same car featured in the movie.
It’s weird to see the yellow van with pink and red decorations (here is the colour combo of the opening credits) featured in this short movie, but it’s a nice reference to one of Tarantino’s best movies. GaGa and Beyonce stop at a diner, where they will stage a dramatic revenge for all they’ve gone through; Beyonce, in particular, meets her boyfriend here (the character is played by Tyrese Gibson) and poisons him, probably because he cheated on her.
She steps into the diner wearing a yellow latex bustier dress by Atsuko Kudo, while her sunglasses are the infamous Mickey Mouse sunglasses by Jeremy Scott for Linda Farrow.
Here there is a reference short circuit: it is not coincidental that Beyonce wears these sunglasses while poisoning her boyfriend, because GaGa wore them in the same occasion in Paparazzi.
Beyonce is stunning in this scene: her cat’s eye make-up is gorgeous and I really love her short bangs. I’m not a fan of nail art, but her nails with the American flag painted on them are too cute.
The setting and violent events that will take place in there connect this video to another work by Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, the ground-breaking movie which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994. The opening scene of the movie is set in a diner: Honey Bunny/Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) and Pumpkin/Ringo (Tim Roth) are going to rob the customers.
While Beyonce is poisoning her boyfriend, GaGa takes care of the customers: she’s in the kitchen, preparing deathly food for everybody. This scene includes a simple dance routine and is called Let’s make a sandwich.
GaGa is wearing a rubber dress by Rachel Barrett (she wore it in the bath tub scene in Bad Romance) and an extravagant telephone headpiece by Fred Butler. I am in awe because I love her make-up, especially the blue eye-shadow in contrast with fuchsia pink lips. She’s wearing OPI Alpine Snow nail polish on her nails.
She pours poison in all the food which will be served at the diner. The ingredients of Cook’n’Kill come from the information technology/science-fiction cinema: it includes Rat Poison (the name of a tiling window manager for the X Window System), Meta-Cyanide (a fictional fatal toxin used by Bene Gesserit Proctors in Frank Herbert’s Dune), Fex-M3 (a deadly nerve toxin in Star Wars) and Tiberium (the fictional crystal in the videogame Command & Conquer).
The poison kills all the customers of the diner, but the protagonists don’t care: they cheer on the success of their crime and perform a dance routine. This scene is notable because GaGa and Beyonce’s clothes pay homage to the American flag.
In this case, GaGa is wearing a two-piece costume by Haus of Gaga and Christian Louboutin Supra Fifre over-the-knee silver boots, while Beyoncè’s costume is by Oscar Olima (it has the same colour scheme as Captain America’s costume). I hate the styling on GaGa in this scene: her costume is hideous, especially if compared to Beyonce’s frilly short dress, and the bandanna on her long, centre-parted hair is reminiscent of Axl Rose‘s trademark hairstyle, not so cute.
The following scenes are just fillers: in the first, Beyonce is yelling at a phone in what we assume is a motel room. The embellished military jacket, ripped denim shorts and pumps are by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.
In the second, GaGa is dancing (or sort of) in front of the Pussy Wagon, wearing a leopard jumpsuit and hat (both designed by Haus of GaGa). She’s sporting a heavy smokey eye make-up and black matte lips, a combo I am not digging at all. Don’t you think the leopard-printed jumpsuit could be a reference to Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much video? After all, a recurring theme in Telephone is the inner strenght and independence of women, which are present in Twain’s video as well.
The last scene – my favourite – is set in the desert: GaGa and Beyonce dance in front of the Pussy Wagon, before leaving. Both the outfits – sheer dresses and veiled cowboy hats – are by Emilie Pirlot. Beyonce is so sexy in this scene, even if she’s all covered, while GaGa is completely washed out by the lavender colour of the dress. The western mood of the outfits and the setting remind me of two movies starring Brigitte Bardot – Viva Maria! (1965) by Louis Malle, where she starred with Jeanne Moreau, and Les pétroleuses (The Legend of Frenchie King, 1971) by Christian Jaque, starring Claudia Cardinale as well . In both cases, the protagonists are women who don’t conform to the standards, independent and proud to be such.
Different place, different outfits, but same car and same framing: GaGa and Beyonce are ready to leave again and never to go back to the place of the mass killing.
The make-up of the singers is flawless! Their cat’s eyes are perfect.
In the last scene, the protagonists hold their hands to seal an agreement – they will go far away from there, never to come back – and this is another reference to a movie which exalts the ideas of friendship and sisterhood, Thelma & Louise (1991) by Ridley Scott, starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. The closing title says this story will be continued, so we’d better watch out for GaGa’s next step into short movies, which she will hopefully take with Jonas Akerlund again.
 Mugler was Beyonce’s creative advisor for her 2009 world tour and designed all her costumes.
 The name of the vehicle is a reference to Grease, because it comes from the lyrics of the song Greased Lightning.
 These movies have been sources of inspirations to Bandidas (2006) by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek.