Before you begin reading this, it’s imperative that you watch the video. That is, if you’re one of the five people in America that haven’t seen it. For the sake of propriety, the video below is the edited (whether it’s safe for work is your call) version of Lady Gaga’s Telephone, featuring Beyoncé.
(Here is the link to the original, which is definitely not safe for work…unless your job is really awesome.)
This epically long music video/advertisement raises many questions. First and foremost: what’s happening? Why are there so many product placements? Are her glasses smoking? Is that a Honeybun? The list goes on.
In the 9-minute video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund (who has also worked with Prodigy, Madonna, Rammstein and—get this—Roxette. HA!) about 9 different brands were featured: Diet Coke, Heartbeats headphones, an HP laptop, Wonder Bread, Virgin Mobile, Miracle Whip, Polaroid, Little Debbie and the online dating site PlentyofFish.com. Gaga has a vested interest in Heartbeats (her design), Polaroid (she was named their creative director in January. Whaaaat?) and Virgin (sponsored her latest tour), so their presence is sort of a no-brainer. That’s just your garden variety self-promotion shameless as it may be, but it’s to be expected with popular music, that thrives on dollar signs and a large, non-discerning fan base.
The other brands mentioned (except for Diet Coke) paid good money to be apart of what is now an historical event in pop music. The video itself cost millions of dollars to make, over a month to edit and got over 4 million views within 24 hours of its premiere, causing Vevo to crash. Then yesterday Lady Gaga became the first musician in history to reach one billion online views- for only three of her top hits.
In just a short period of time, she has become the ultimate pop culture commodity. From a marketing and money-making standpoint, it’s easy to see why brands would want to align themselves with the auto-tuned chanteuse, and why they’d be willing to assist with financing those expensive music videos.
But from an image standpoint, I’m still trying to figure out how Wonder Bread fits in with Gaga’s “no pants” philosophy and over-the-top persona. Or in the case of Telephone, how the products mentioned above relate to naked lady inmates and a murderous pair of divas.
She’s talking about a scene in the video where Lady Gaga, backed by a troupe of dancing kitchen hands, acts as the cook at a quintessential roadside truck stop. Armed with Wonder Bread, a jar of Miracle Whip and a whole lotta poison, she murders everyone in the diner. In the context of the video, the products represent the basest parts of American low culture- they’re highly processed, nutrient-sapping manufactured “food” products.
Gaga lays waste to the entire restaurant, filled with unsavory depictions of slobbering and ignorant average Americans, then she and Beyoncé don
bedazzled, Nascar-chic American flag outfits and dance around the corpses.
You’re right, Dyana Kass, that does make sense-since there was a kitchen involved, and that’s where things like bread and poison and Miracle Whip are stored. Now who wants some mayo?
It seems obvious to me that certain aspects of this video reflect the worldview that Americans are self-centered, unintelligent and over-stuffed, with no care or concern for the world outside of our insular communities. References to low culture abound throughout the video- everything from the fast food trash that litters Beyonce’s dashboard to the giant, gas-guzzling truck they’re driving.
But perhaps I’m paying too much attention to it. There’s really no ground to make an argument for creative expression, nor to get upset that Lady Gaga “sold out” as it were. It would seem that her image, despite having this sort of awesome Ziggy Stardust meets H.R. Giger meets the bionic woman aesthetic, I think it’s safe to say that her image is as processed and manufactured as the brands in her video.
But maybe she knew what she was doing. Maybe brands like Miracle Whip paid the Haus of Gaga wads of cash for product placement, only to have their messages subverted. Wouldn’t that just be the best hustle ever?