Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lady Gaga's video for "Paparazzi": Irony, innocence, and the death of the heterosexual binary

This is an excerpt from a paper entitled "'We're C-Coming Out': Lady Gaga's Postmodern Videographic and Public Bisexual Persona"

Full disclosure: Åkerlund’s video for Paparazzi does not have the rich visual subtext found in his later Telephone, although the lyrical content is far more relevant to the presented visual themes than the words in the Telephone lyrics. The disjointed presentation that occurs between the narrative and the song-and-dance numbers could have something to do with this, or it could be because this video deals with a heterosexual relationship that does not overtly challenge the representations of relationships. Through a close reading of Lady Gaga’s interactions with her male lover in the video’s narrative and by reading into the irony present in the juxtaposition between the song’s lyrics and the narrative elements, one can understand Gaga’s need to be loved by men and her ultimate distrust of the male relationships she has had in her life. The ending of the video will also provide a clean segue into the beginning of the video for Telephone in which Gaga is punished for her actions toward her heterosexual lover.

Lady Gaga is shown in bed intimately kissing her male lover, played by Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård of True Blood fame, until he asks her to come with him out to the balcony. In this moment we identify the gender of Gaga’s sexual attraction for this video as a cisman who likely functions as a stand-in for her real-life boyfriend before she became famous. He carries her outside, propping her body on the edge of the balcony ledge, and the viewer soon finds out his real motivations for carrying her outside were not to be romantic but to have their intimate moments captured by the paparazzi. Once the Lady realizes the motivations behind his intentions she hits him across the face, which enrages him enough to drop her small body over the edge of the balcony. Just after both parties have admitted to loving each other – and indeed, Gaga has admitted in interviews that she has “only been in love with men” although she has had sexual attractions to women [1] – the male half of this couple makes the decision to push the woman he “loves” to her death, questioning the ability for love to exist in a life so comingled with artistic performance.

Interestingly enough, the play with gender that occurs between the lyrics of the song and the actions on screen allow for an ironic, nuanced reading of the video that further positions it within Dyer’s definition of the queer camp aesthetic[2]. The lyrics of the song describe a female fan totally “gaga” over an unidentified male celebrity. The fan swears to him that “I’m your biggest fan / I’ll follow you until you love me” and promises “I won’t stop / Until that boy is mine.” Taking on the role of the female fan instead of the celebrity who is typically the object of fandom, she presents a critical look at both herself as a celebrity persona and the obsessive, bloodthirsty fans who subscribe to the cult/ure of celebrity. If we take her male heterosexual lover in this video as an embodiment of a potential adoring (read: obsessive) fan who is actually thinking “I won’t stop / Until that girl is mine.” It is foreboding that these lyrics play over the image of Gaga pushed in a wheelchair and then attempting to walk with crutches; as her voice is heard in the song singing the lyrics above, she advances awkwardly on her crutches as the video is intercut with shots of Lady Gaga sitting on a couch simulating auto-asphyxiation, indicating that obsessive infatuation with both a celebrity and a lover can lead to suffocation. Using fandom as a metaphor for romantic and/or sexual love, Lady Gaga comments on the sacrifices she will go through as a lover, and the subsequent sacrifices that her lover will go through as a die-hard fan, in order to obtain the object of their desire.

At the end of the Fosse-driven dance sequences that occur for the middle portion of the video we return to a now-recovered Lady Gaga and her lover who share afternoon tea together. Lady Gaga pours a flask of poison – the same poison we will later see utilized in Telephone – into his beverage, which kills him almost instantly. Gaga wears a bright yellow outfit decorated with a graphic print of Mouseketeers and black sunglasses quite similar to Mickey Mouse ears. Looking both like a cartoonish and a childish version of herself, Gaga places her hand to her lips in an innocent yet knowing fashion after her lover is officially dead. By poisoning her boyfriend who literally and figuratively robbed her of her mobility both physically and socially, Lady Gaga the character and the actual celebrity will now self-reflexively steal back her rightful place at the top of the fame food chain by the tabloid coverage that this homicide will afford her. By killing off her heterosexual partner Lady Gaga is effectively doing away with this strict sexual binary that society has attempted to assign to her, leaving open the possibility for new forms of sexual exploration. As she is lead into a police car through a sea of screaming fans, Lady Gaga’s regained fame spins out of newspaper headlines as she drives off into the next phase in her life and in her “career”: a short stint in prison.

[1] In an interview with Barbara Walters, Gaga states “I’ve only been in love with men, I’ve never been in love with a woman but that’s really what the song was all about: why, when I was with my boyfriend, was I fantasizing about women?” Walters reacts with far more dignity than Jonathan Ross, who, when she makes a similar proclamation on his show, reacts with “Oh, good lord…blimey.”

[2] Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. London: Routledge, 2004.

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