Notes Toward a Close Reading of the New Lady Gaga Video

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 13 2009 2:34 PM

Notes Toward a Close Reading of the New Lady Gaga Video


 

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  1. Foremost among the many products advertised here is the song itself, "Bad Romance," a disco strut quoting "Billie Jean" and ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," among other synthesized sources. The lyrics express a desire for sex ("I want your love"). Specifically, the lyrics express a desire for a lot of superfreaky sex, psychologically charged, perhaps even damagingly so. In getting this point across, Gaga demonstrates both a command of basic French (" Je veux ton amour ") and at least a rudimentary grasp of Hitchcock ("Want you in my rear window, baby, it's sick"). In the third verse, she belt outs a line about what she does not want: "I don't wanna be friends." How exactly is that? She prefers a fantasy of stormy passion and sublime doom? She doesn't want a relationship? She doesn't even want to go to brunch in the morning? Or is she an active enemy? Is that all there is? If so, then let's keep dancing.
  2. Directed by Francis Lawrence and shot by Thomas Kloss , the video is a mean pastiche, cruel and gorgeous, designed to pervert young people in the best way possible. Think Cindy Sherman does Marilyn Manson. Or Stanley Kubrick presenting a Paris runway show. The color palette is strict platinum white, boot black, harlot red, mostly, though Gaga is pretty in pink in one important setup. Perfectly artificial especially at those moments when the performer appears least heavily made up and also richly ambiguous, the video might as well be adapted from a secondary definition of glamour in the OED: "a delusive or alluring charm."
  3. Good pop stars borrow. Great Gaga steals her choreography from a number of classic sources, most ostentatiously David Fincher's clip for Madonna's "Express Yourself." I count 12 costume changes involving 208 total inches of platform heels. The most fabulous outfit and the most fetishistic, those values being identical here hails from the house of Alexander McQueen and seems to have been designed as an exoskeleton for Marie Antoinette to wear out to the Limelight.
  4. "Bad Romance" is a pulp fiction with something like a linear narrative. Its action starts rising when two women abduct Gaga from a bathtub and force the contents of a martini glass down her throat. According to the artist herself , this scene represents a drugging a prelude to coerced sex with Russian gangsters. (Alternate interpretation: pregaming .) The gangsters bid on Gaga's services. Screens within the screen place her value at 1,000,000 of some imaginary currency. Gaga (the Pop artist) gives feedback to Gaga (the multi-platinum pop star) on the subject of moving units.
  5. Gagalogists schooled in theology should start a discussion in the comments section untangling the clip's religious symbolism. Gaga trained for her career in performance art on the burlesque stage "Bad Romance" is essentially a five-minute striptease but also at the Convent of the Sacred Heart . You can't spell romance without Roma . Is Tub-Time Gaga having a baptism? Are the girls with the martini serving communion? What's the Salome angle? Count the crosses in the video, many of which maintain the modesty of the singer's personal lady areas.
  6. Of course, the symbolism indicates that the heroine looking as serpentine as Natasha Henstridge in Species here, vamping in a mirror like a heartless widow there is bad news from the start. The femme-fatale finale pictures her as an apple of desire rolling around a torched orchard. Robert Rauschenberg, I'm really happy for you, and I'ma let you finish, but Gaga's closing tableau is one of the great combines of all time.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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