The Night Lady Gaga Blew Up the Internet with 'Telephone'

by Natasha Vargas-Cooper


Natasha: Can I ask you something?

Choire: Yes!

Natasha: Do you ‘get it’?

Natasha: Like Gaga overall.

Choire: I *largely* get it. I mean, obviously I groove on the, I guess, excitement level? And I don’t despise the music, although it’s remarkably unremarkable. But I get it!

Natasha: Good! Let’s talk about this videeeeoo.

Choire: You mean: the night the Internet exploded?

Natasha: The night of broken Internet glass. Did it shock you?!

Choire: Part of the excitement with this Important Short Film was that everyone was sort of group-excited? Like pockets of Twitter were going “kablammo” and definitely all of Tumblr that wasn’t talking about racism was like “UM TELEPHONE”?


Natasha: Which in itself is pretty mind-swaying is as how this is over a MUSIC VIDEO — a medium which was sacrificed largely by its maker

Choire: And not one made by actual prisoners in the Philippines or whatever. There’s one thing that happened last night.


Tom Scocca: I have not even watched.
Choire: Is a Tarantino pastiche mostly?
Tom Scocca: So… pastiche pastiche?

Choire: Which: right. So can we start with talking about Tarantino??? Who you and I are both largely on the same page about which is: yes please, QT.

Natasha: So a Tarantino pastiche — about ladies.

Choire: Right, the lady element is key. And I do wonder why the video is sort of like way more than just a tribute to Tarantino??

Natasha: So you have the pussy wagon, the girls bent on vengance, the kind of altered state feel of the whole thing a-la- Natural Born Killers —

Choire: Um and you have the HAIRDO on Beyonce from Death Proof, etc. On and on.


Natasha: Tarantino visuals are kind of a lingua franca to the youth organically.

Choire: Because your generation grew up all on him?

Natasha: Yep exactly. But what I think offsets everything, in a good way, is the LADYNESS of it.

Choire: Yes! That’s what’s I love and also what takes us back to Madonna again.

Natasha: She resonates with the ladies so furrriously. I think that it’s largely because she comes out of theater instead of being a recording artist. The one way to snap your audience awake is by being grotesque. In the traditional sense of the term. Outrageous and over the top. Transgressive. And speaking of trans!

Natasha: The girl on girl trope is so tired but here we have here surrounded by surly dykes, leathery cholas, and forbidding black ladies. So here’s where it gets transgressive because unlike say Madge, who leaned over and kissed Britney on a “GEE ARENT ME NAUGHTY” trip.

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Choire: Well, you know, I *just* looked through Madonna’s 1992 “Sex” book the other day. Because we found the opened and the unopened copies in the back of the closet. (Which: LOL, gays!)

Natasha: Were you scandalized?

Choire: Oh America came to a standstill back in 1992. I mean it was on the TV and stuff and there was “shock.”

Natasha: Tell me what is was like the Before Time, Pa.

Choire: Well, you must not forget that people were enraged about “Beavis and Butthead.”

Natasha: How do the “Sex” and “Telephone” compare in terms of visuals?

Choire: A WHOLE LOT of the imagery we’re seeing in today’s Very Important Video is not that different? Weird race spectre stuff, lesbian hot making-out, bondage, etc. etc. The thing I like more about the Gaga video is the color super-saturation and the timely updates. Also the Steven Meisel stuff in the “Sex” book was all very “arty”? Like, post Bruce Weber arty? Which didn’t age particularly well. And “Telephone” might not age well but it does look very NOW. And it’s more camp and outrageous and jokey, I mean, SMOLDERING CIGARETTE EYEGLASSES, which, I am still LOLing. The Madonna book was sometimes humorous but it was never like “HA HA SUCKA!”

Natasha: Yeah, what the Video definitely had was our Black President calls the fierce urgency of NOW-WOW! To it. I’d also say that while “Sex” was a scandal it was all highbrow.

Choire: Oh yes. It was Very Upscale.

Natasha: Like it was, here’s a serious art piece libertine adults could put on the coffee table. Where as this is sticky crude pop — in the tradition of Tarantino. Like YAAAAYYYYY GET CRZYYY ON YOUR (VIRGIN MOBILE) TELEPHONE!! Let’s talk about GaGa as a sex symbol. Because I think that’s what makes her so important that she 1) actually does something different 2) and what she does is scary and exciting.

Choire: You know, Madonna spent most of the early 90s dealing with her trademark. She tried to get Club Madonna, the famous strip club in Miami Beach, to change its name; when she started Maverick Records, she paid a band called The Mavericks $25,000 for the name; she got into it with Madonna Jewelers for the trademark of the name. And I cannot EVER see Gaga being involved in something like that? She seems more like a cult leader than a business entity, and that’s where Gaga is more interesting to me (despite maybe being a worse musician???) and what keeps her scary and funny and fun.

Natasha: Yeah. Her music is unremarkable. Except it is perfect dancing in your bedroom music for girls. Which is something we all do.

Choire: Sure we do! Look, that product is EAR CANDY. What’s amazing though is that if you listen to Britney Spears’ last two records, the production is radically more inventive and challenging than Gaga? And yet Britney is dullsville.

Natasha: This is where I think the theater thing matters. She’s a performer first. Not a PR construct. Also, there is so much more honesty in GaGa’s game.

Choire: Well she’s her own construct. And sure, from Day One: Fame Monster, hello. Wait, can I tell you my fave thing about the video? Speaking of transgression? It’s from the director’s Wikipedia page: “Jonas Ã…kerlund was a Masonic member of the Swedish black metal band Bathory from 1983 through 1984 and openly worships Satan.”

Natasha: You see, people take the Viking Metal Genre for granted. It’s at their own peril.

Choire: FOR REAL.

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Natasha: I think the reason why people, espesh, ladies of their mid twenties, are excited about Gaga as much as they are…


Natasha: …is that we matured during the Britney Days.

Choire: Oh, because you were all raised on crap and Nickelback!

Natasha: Madge was already brittle and creepy and a fading icon.

Choire: Whereas we had Kate Bush.

Natasha: Snd so here comes Gaga who has the kind of shamelessness of a reality tv star. In the sense that she’s like “BOOM. MAKE ME FAMOUS.” Which seemed a taboo thing in the before Britney? Who was like, “I just love to sing yall (covered in oil, grinding on a giant snake.” And not only that but instead of the virgin slut bullshit.

Choire: I guess at least you guys had Tori Amos. But right. None of the “girls” in your time were allowed to be like, MAKE WAY BITCHES. Or be like, “I’m a horny lady!”

Natasha: We get the pain/pleasure. scary / twisted. And Tori was for Wiccans at my high school.There was Garbage and Manson. But every one was trying to hard to build their brand on shock or being an outsider. The triumph of GaGa is how mainstream she is.

Choire: The time now was right. And that stuff plays very well on Long Island, “IN DA CLUB.”

Natasha: And ultimately, she clearly doesn’t think girls will run screaming if she frenches a leathery dyke!


Natasha: AND as a fan? That makes me feel good! Gaga trusts me! Gaga ain’t talking down to me! Gaga knows I like it rough! BECAUSE MOST GIRLS DO!

Choire: *runs, hides*

Natasha: **eats blood**

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Choire: Well what seems great to me is that the lingering effects of Riot Grrrl are still with us. Like this video wouldn’t have been set to dance music 15 years ago! But then it also wouldn’t have co-starred who I guess is the MOST POPULAR SINGER of our day? But when you look at it, everything in it is punk, from the Klaus Nomi outfit in the “strutting down the jail” scene, to the chains, to the vinylwear, reminiscent of the late great Poly Styrene and company.

Natasha: And yet it maintained the girly fantasy aspect of it — like some half clad broads running around in bras being BAD.

Choire: Totes. And more ephemerally, the “attitude.” Also you know KILLING EVERYONE. Ha. But can we talk about Beyonce? Because that part is baffling to me!

Natasha: Yes B is, how we say, PROBLEMATIC.

Choire: She has always been so image conscious? And always willing to rip her kit off down to panties basically, but you know, “classy”-like.

Natasha: What I find interesting is the GROWL. Like she can do that empowered black woman angry growl? Snd she does it on the track. But she has no VISUAL GROWL. Fierce but not scary.

Choire: Because she’s sort of winking and backing away. She’s the good girl who hangs out with the bad girls sometimes.

Natasha: She’s not ugly and doesn’t know how to be. And let’s be honest. Gaga is average looking.

Choire: OH sure. That’s why I like her. I mean she’s emaciated. And she cleans up real pretty. But she’s One of Us. (Not you, honey, you’re gorgeous.)

Natasha: Oh I’m mistaken for Beyonce all the time. But Gaga, she does her make up like broken cabaret dancer! A woman on the edge! In a society that is falling! I also love the cyclical nature of her videos.

Choire: Well right, she loves drama. All she wants to make are dramatic moments. My problem with the Gags is that she’s all tableaux? And hence there’s some cyclicalism, yes.

Natasha: Like she’s angry! She’s kissing! She’s dancing! She’s making food! She’s killing!

Natasha: Which for ladies, is how WE FEEELLL. We don’t feel like Britney crucified by our own fame.

Choire: I have always wondered What It Is Like For A Girl. (In your Rhythm Box, etc.)

Natasha: It’s like that! We have cycles!A vibrant pastiche of emotions!!! That can kill!! So I think that’s why she resonates so much. I feel like she gets lady-ness from the inside and then paints it with fashion and music and images. Also, QUIT CALLING ME IM DACINNNNN’. And poor Yonce, who is a dynamic performer and force of her own, seems stilted and two dimensional. Because, well, she kinda is!

Choire: But she’s the Actressess!

Natasha: Oof please. Let’s talk about the ‘acting.’ It was so John Waters to me! Beyonce is no good. But the dialogue, the super unnatural way it was delivered, the cheesey lines…. It was all so Crybaby.

Choire: You mean: Broad Strokes? But most of that was Tarantino too? A little John Waters? Where they meet, in camp heaven? My favorite stilted camp part is Gaga waiting tables, just standing there. Like, GREAT BRECHTIAN ACTING.

Natasha: YES!!!!

Choire: Hence the countdown in German? IDK!

Natasha: ALL BRECHT ALL THE TIME!! There is that 90’s vitality that they’ve exploited, without feeling retro. It feels new.


Choire: Could you do me the favor of rating your top three Tarantino movies in order?

Natasha: This is like my Sophie’s CHOICE!!

Choire: “LOL”

Natasha: 1. Pulp, 2. Inglorious, 3. Kill Bill 2.

Choire: I don’t think we should ever talk again!

Choire: Mine goes: 3. Inglorious Basterds 2. Death Proof 1. Jackie Brown

Natashia I think what the Tarantino and gaga have in common is that an angry woman, a jilted woman, bent on doling out justice to those who done her wrong is something the two get and show well and seem to believe that women have a higher moral authority. So when they got done wrong, they do bad! Snd not bad in the ‘oops my bras showing spank me’ way.

Choire: Yeah, that coy little girl BS.

Natasha: But bad like put me in jail and pump iron with cholas and then go on a glorious blood soaked rampage. THE SANGUINE SEX.

Choire: Finally, I do find something angry making: that they promise “to be continued.” Cuz you know that is a lie.

Natasha: They repurpose the pussy wagon! I believe that they will! I think this just means future collaborations, if Yonce can keep up (doubtful). I’m seeing Rihanna as a drifter, with John Mayer’s sacrificial head on a spike. Also, one last thing, and I’m not sure where it fits in, but girls want to be famous. It’s the same reason as teenagers we stare at ourselves for hours in the mirror, and make photo collages on out notebooks, and tend so diligently to our MySpace pages.


Choire: Isn’t that about “attention”?

Natasha: Beyond that. We want an audience. An adoring audience. This is something a lot of girls grow out of. But I think it’s a very teenage desire.

Choire: You were all jeals of the lonelygirl.

Natasha: MMMHMMMM But the kind of fame Britney had? That was terrifying and not real. Something about the way GaGa does it makes me feel 15 again lip synching in the mirror and pretending there’s an audience on the other side.

Natasha: I just realized that’s what my Tumblr is.

Choire: Well of COURSE that’s what EVERYONE’S Tumblr is!

Choire: But also this kind of fame? It involves your skin being scrubbed digitally in every single frame, because, MAN.

Choire: And anyway yeah, what do you people think you’re doing on the Internet? You’re starring in your own music video!

Natasha: Jerking off on Chatroullette?

Natasha: Oh one more thing. What did you think about the dick joke? And how the dick rumor is still like the favorite gag of a certain website

Choire: Oh, I enjoyed it, though I thought it wasn’t narratively consistent with the clearly delineated lesbianism of the matrons? I have a lot of thoughts on the rest of that whole issue which I plan to put forward at a later time! It is, as they said in the 90s, “problematic.”

Natasha: I think that reaction to her is the strangest.

Choire: Well and it’s pretty obviously phobic right?

Natasha: Yes! And a testament of how she’s grinding up against sexual norms that make people uneasy while selling millions of records. Pretty spectacular.

Choire: In the end? The fashion in this video is IMPECCABLE.


Natasha: OH. BEYOND.

Choire: And that’s sort of all I care about!

Natasha: I see all movie fashions” Chinatown, Dr. Strangelove, Rocky Horror Fishnets — then the high concept hats!

Choire: It’s ALL good. There is nothing in there that is not good. And that’s the true victory of this joint.

Natasha: Yes. It belongs to the ages.