Let's start with the good news, because it won't take long to detail.
Lady Gaga's latest song, Telephone, isn't as problematic, lyrically speaking, as some of her previous hits. This duet with Beyoncé is actually little more than an extended, electro-pop complaint voiced by two women at a dance club who are annoyed by guys who won't stop pestering them.
"You shoulda made some plans with me/You knew that I was free/And now you won't stop calling me," Gaga sings. "Stop telephoning me." And about all she adds to that is a couple of references to having a "drink in my hand." Relatively, that's tame these days.
But that ends the good news. Because the real story here, the video for "Telephone," rings with a whole different tone.
The plotline for this "epic," nine-minute-plus video actually has nothing to do with a dance club. Instead, Gaga has been incarcerated at a "prison for b‑‑ches" for some unstated crime. The mini-movie that follows is an expedition into pulp fiction bizarro-land that involves, among other things, mass murder, lesbianism, barely pixelated groin nudity and breast nudity obscured only by pasties.
This isn't a music video, it's an R-rated movie. Gaga shows up on the prison yard wearing a pair of ersatz "sunglasses" made of lit cigarettes. But that's almost beside the point since she's shortly grabbed by another female inmate who kisses her and gropes her crotch. Next? A brawl between two women savagely beating each other in the mess hall, to the delighted cheers of the other inmates. A Thelma & Louise-style getaway concludes things with the girls riding in Quentin Tarantino's infamous "P‑‑‑y" car.
There's more. Lots more. I haven't even begun to deal with the unbleeped use of the f-word (in the "explicit" version). But I'll get to the point: By her own admission, Gaga takes depraved delight in juxtaposing pop culture motifs with sexuality and violence. "[I] really believe in the power of visuals," she told Ryan Seacrest on his KIIS radio show, "and sometimes visions come to me and I know I have to do them. It doesn't really matter if it makes sense or if it doesn't make sense. By the end of the video, it became so much more as we explored each scene. It became about transsexual women and it became about making fun of American hallmarks like soda cans and cigarettes and mayonnaise and bread."
Joan Jett? Trumped. Madonna? Left in the dust. Janet Jackson. Jilted. It seems clear that Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, stays up late every night trying to puzzle out how she's going to top the only competition she has left—herself. "I have a vow to myself to desperately serve show business until I die," she told Seacrest. "I believe in it so much, and I'll have to think of even more exciting ways to do it the next time around."
Exciting? Maybe to the tens of millions of viewers who've already watched this video on YouTube think so. Thankfully, though, not everyone is convinced that Lady Gaga's latest is so worthy. In their Huffington Post article "What's Next From Lady Gaga, a Snuff Film?" Jim Schumacher and Debbie Bookchin write, "The extent to which Lady Gaga has the media wrapped around her finger is mystifying. Unable to unpack her exact message, critics laud her flashy stage show as avant-garde, dub her the most important innovator in rock music in 20 years, and claim she is presenting us with a kind of cultural meta-critique that must be respected, however much it appears to defy definition. But what if the emperor has no clothes? What if glitzy Lady Gaga is exactly what she appears to be: The latest manifestation of a culture industry that pushes the boundaries of civility and sexuality to the extreme in order to make a buck? And worse, pushes it on our kids long before they want or need to be presented with some middle-aged ad executive's personal sadomasochistic sexual fantasies?"
Lady Gaga is indeed the emperor in this scenario. And she definitively does not have any clothes on.