Lady Gaga Should Make Silent Movies

Over at The Awl, Choire Sicha says this about the new Lady Gaga video:

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!

Okay, so the video is daring in its visuals and aesthetically interesting — it isn’t a sensibility I particularly like, but I can appreciate its stylistic appeal to others, and its draw as spectacle.

But why is Lady Gaga a successful recording artist? We can all freeload off her spectacle sans purchase. Who is buying her singles on iTunes? Let’s compare the song in her new video to Poker Face, an earlier Gaga hit. As it happens, Poker Face makes me want to pour concrete into my ear holes whenever it is forced upon me in a bar or even via the ambient ring tones of strangers. Telephone is definitely less annoying. But “unremarkable” is the best thing you can say for it. Why would anyone buy it disaggregated from the visuals? And even with images intact, the video suffers due to the sub-par lyrics: they don’t seem to have anything to do with what’s happening onscreen, whether you’re casually watching or a hard core fan versed in all the background.

Despite all this, critics are hailing the video as the best thing we’ve seen since the heyday of MTV. “A nearly ten-minute long mini-epic directed by Jonas Åkerlund and featuring Beyoncé and cameos by Tyrese Gibson and glam rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons, ‘Telephone’ is nothing short of a masterpiece,” Japhy Grant writes. “…And doesn’t Gaga’s arrival in the ‘prison for bitches’ bring back memories of Paris Hilton’s brief incarceration? Åkerlund and Gaga are offering up a pointed commentary on how even L.A.’s grit is buffed to a glossy sheen.”

To be declared a masterpiece in the music video realm, shouldn’t you have to master every aspect of the medium? Compare “Telephone” to “Smooth Criminal,” a classic Michael Jackson vid that offers an enduring pop hit, exceptional costumes, images that generally complement the lyrics, and choreography that climaxes in the kind of “no one has ever seen that before” dance move that MJ unveiled at various peaks in his career.

As for social commentary in the Gaga video, I am sure I don’t understand it well enough to opine, but I can report that the gritty side of LA is actually just gritty, and isn’t at all “buffed to a glossy sheen.”

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Music videos are a visual medium, and Lady Gaga is most interesting as a visual spectacle, but what finally strikes me about this new effort is the gulf between its extreme ambition in the visual realm and the utter indifference to its “written content” (for lack of a better term). Why didn’t Gaga get a better song? Surely there are decent lyricists who work for a quarter of what they pay creative directors. And why is the situation so seldom reversed? Whether we’re talking about network television or Avatar or Hollywood movies, the visual and technical aspects are so frequently superior to the actual content, whereas it is hard to think of a high budget project where the writing is exceptional but the production values are as sub-par as writing we often see.