As many of you, I’m sure, are aware, Lady GaGa’s new video, Telephone, featuring Beyoncé premiered last night to the world. This is her most highly anticipated video yet and the single of the same name just hit #1 on the Billboard Pop Charts, her record breaking, sixth consecutive #1, I might add. Needless to say it was everything that could be expected and more. It was epic in both its scope and imagery. The plot was fun and interesting the costumes were fabulous and the hair was even more outrageous than ever before.
The most interesting thing, to me, however, was the coded lesbianism throughout the entire video. Lady GaGa has, since her arrival in pop culture, always been a very queer coded and queer friendly diva, but she is most often associated with her own bisexuality and tendency to make out with women in her videos. After that she is most often associated with gay men and drag queens, who already take the space of her automatic and biggest fans in pop culture (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
But in Telephone she delves into new territory. This video is the most blatantly lesbian coded art she has ever produced. But, it is still coded and never spoken about outright. I intend to discuss here the lesbian imagery itself as well as the star personas of both Lady GaGa and Beyoncé and what is happening here.
The video starts with GaGa being thrown into prison. She is handled by these two fabulous, butch, sexy, female guards with enormous muscles and fake boobs who strip her down and throw her into her cell. As they walk away one of them remarks, “I told you she doesn’t have a dick” clearly addressing the rampant rumors flying around all the time about GaGa being intersexed. She then goes about life in prison and makes out with another pretty butch woman, which is, honestly, sort of groundbreaking for mainstream media. I mean it was one thing to have these butch, lesbian coded guards because that can be written off as comedy. Haha! Women doing manly things and appearing manly! But to have Lady GaGa make out with a butch lesbian with muscles and short hair without any man present is sort of amazing.
Then Beyoncé gives GaGa a call in prison. This is when the song starts. The beginning of the song is GaGa on the phone with someone saying that she can’t talk because she has no service and she is “kind of busy.” It is set to a sweet and delicate medley. The person she is talking to, whom she refers to as “baby,” is clearly intended to be her lover in the song. It is equally clear that in the video, the person on the other end of the line is Beyoncé. Obviously this points to a romantic relationship between their two characters.
Beyoncé bails GaGa out of jail and GaGa makes her exit past the guards in a fabulous Joan Crawford-esque outfit. Also, I would like to point out that GaGa’s eyebrows are working way overtime on this video. This is, in my opinion another subtle nudge at Joan Crawford, a fabulous, very glamorous, long-rumored lesbian movie star from the early days of film and the inspiration for the camp classic Mommie Dearest.
As GaGa walks past the guards, the camera sits behind the guard sitting in front of a computer at the security desk. It is easily visible that she is on a website with the text “The world’s largest online dating website.” In another, similar shot, it is revealed that the name of the site is “Plenty of Fish.”
Anyway, Beyoncé bails GaGa out of jail and picks her up in “The Pussy Wagon,” the car that Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill (another easily lesbian and/or feminist read film) drove. Beyoncé is in this fabulous sort of black leather dominatrix outfit. She scolds GaGa and GaGa continues to refer to Beyoncé as “honey bee.”
The two then embark on their journey that takes them to a diner in middle America where they poison most of the patrons including someone who seems to be Beyoncé’s character’s former, misogynistic lover. This is a place where the lesbian imagery becomes problematic. It is a narrative where two coded lesbian lovers set out to kill a man who wronged them. This points to the archetype that lesbians hate men. Or at least, they hate them enough to kill them.
Another problematic area is that, once again, these are two very beautiful and traditionally “feminine” lesbians, or “lipstick lesbians as they are sometimes called. Once again, lesbianism in any large form must be, in the end, gratifying for a presumed, heterosexual male audience if it is going to appear at all.
In the end of the video GaGa and Beyoncé are wearing these fantastic cowboy inspired dresses with veils that are a fabulous mix of masculine and feminine imagery. They hold hands, exchange some touching words, and ride off into the sunset together with a big pink hart imposed around them. It doesn’t get a whole lot more same-sex-lovin’ than that, without coming right out and saying it that is… Anyway, the “Pussy Wagon” rides off into the sunset and the credits role. And right after the credits, what else should speed by but the gender symbol for female?
Need I even mention GaGa’s incredible comfort with her body and her sexuality as a contributor?
So, clearly the lesbian imagery is there in code, even if it is only thinly veiled. So what does that mean? Clearly they never come right out and say that Lady GaGa and Beyoncé, two of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry as well as two of the biggest stars in the world, are playing lesbian lovers. Which is interesting, because the lesbian imagery is so very apparent. They are making no real strides to hide it and it clearly wasn’t censored down too much. GaGa can get away with whatever she wants sexually, I imagine, with her record label because that is a part of the star persona that she has created and is therefore part of what has sold so many records in the past few years. And GaGa is outspokenly in favor of the LGBTQ community as well as a member of it, being openly bisexual. But here she is clearly playing to and highlighting lesbianism and feminism (which, in many ways, in this instance, could be used interchangeably, because the imagery can be interoperated as both in many of the same ways) as oppose to bisexuality.
Beyoncé on the other hand, has made something of a name for herself as a good girl. She does not cuss outside of her music or performance and she is outspokenly Christian. She is also happily married to a man she was in a relationship with for years prior. She has not commented on her feelings about her gay following, that I know of, but she certainly doesn’t seem to dislike the community in any apparent ways. She even made an alter ego whose sole purpose, one could argue, was to make her feel better about her risqué performance style and to further differentiate her persona as Beyoncé, the caste one, from it. Is this why they are not even more blatant about the lesbianism?
I am not sure, but either way, this is a fascinating moment in pop culture. The most highly anticipated music video in a long time, an epic masterpiece running at nine minutes and thirty-two seconds, has highly visible lesbian undertones. That is saying something really important. What do you think it is?
To check out the video, visit: http://www.ladygaga.com/telephone/