After being bailed out from prison by Beyonce ‘bad girl’ Lady Gaga returns the favour, lending a hand in the plot to kill an abusive boyfriend. From their respective positions of the serving kitchen and the breakfast table, both women poison the offender incidentally killing all the diners. The pair (backed up by the kitchen staff) erupt into a choreographic spectacle complete with costume changes recalling, among other things, comic book superheroes. What, if anything, can be gleaned from the heavy layering of pop cultural references in this video?
Some interpret Gaga’s videos as just another cheap sell of sexuality, while others view them as viable assertions of women’s empowerment. Is the violence and excess in Telephone a symptom, sickness, or cure for what ails feminism today? To avoid confining it to limiting comparisons with other female pop stars, I propose its curation within a wider cultural context. That Lady Gaga is part of current feminist discourse is a given, however, her enactment of gender through excess, irony, and sexuality also redefines the boundaries of pop music. These themes present to varying degrees in all her videos comprise a defining feature of her work.
In Telephone the performative aspects of gender can be read differently for their intersections with pop art. The lines between person, art, and commodity become blurred when they are embodied by Gaga in this clip. Consider the use of product placements: diet coke cans in her hair, a Virgin Mobile phone, and lit cigarette sunglasses. These items are not employed in a directly promotional way; they figure as odd extensions of Gaga’s body drawing connections to her status as a fetishistic object of consumption. Yet Gaga embraces consumerism much in the same way Andy Warhol did when he used coke bottles, soup cans, and celebrity images in his silkscreen paintings, albeit to a markedly different effect. Gaga's body, however complicit in conflating gender with processes of self-objectification, also repackages pop cultural references as products for pop music.