Friday, November 13, 2009

Caught in a bad romance

As my Facebook and Twitter feeds can attest, I love the new Lady Gaga video, "Bad Romance." I've watched the video, directed by Francis Lawrence, at least 20 times since it debuted online Tuesday. Whenever I do watch it, I can't watch it just once. It is one of the most exciting pieces of filmmaking I've seen all year, for reasons both intellectual and primitive.

It utilizes only one set: a completely white room with a grid ceiling. One immediately thinks of the room Dave finds himself in at the end of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and the Kubrickian imagery doesn't end there. (One could reasonably assume that the orgy scene from "Eyes Wide Shut" has inspired half of Gaga's eccentric wardrobe.) The song itself references another great director, Hitchcock, with lyrics ol' Alfred certainly never dreamed of. ("I want your Psycho / Your Vertigo stick / When your in my Rear Window, baby it's sick")

The number of cultural references I see (or at least think I see) in this five-minute clip is astounding. Gaga herself is like some otherworldly amalgam of Madonna, Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Prince and Grace Jones, and the video contains images that remind us of "Alien," "Where the Wild Things Are," the "Thriller" video, the "Black Hole Sun" video, "The Fifth Element," Amy Winehouse, "Taken," and even the old Sega game "Space Channel 5." (Check out the outfit at 3:32.) Then there are the product placements so obvious that one has to laugh: Heartbeats earbuds, Parrot sound systems, Nemiroff vodka, and even the Nintendo Wii (2:43). Gaga herself becomes some kind of faux product placement, between the "Bath Haus of Gaga" (0:28) and the symbol for her new album stenciled on her cryogenic coffin -- or whatever that is. Throw in a hairless cat and a bat headdress for good measure, and hang all of this on a non-linear plot in which Gaga's beauty apparently causes a Russian gangster to burst into flames.

But of course none of this visual stimulation works without the woman herself. Many can't accept Gaga as a sexual being: She looks odd, and she wears weird outfits, so she must have a penis. Anyone who says that and means it is either hopelessly juvenile or happy to go along with the joke for the sake of conversation. All I know is that, in this video, Gaga acts as if she is the end-all, be-all of the female gender, and who am I to argue with her? She is stunning in "Bad Romance," particularly in her tearful close-ups, and in the Leeloo Dallas-meets-Victoria's Secret get-up she wears in the final dance sequence. The choreography ranges from elegant to ridiculous, which serves Gaga perfectly; she seems to be leading a dirty, sexy, dangerous army at 2:46, and writhes like a newborn animal at 0:49. In an era when we've all been desensitized to suggestive music videos, Gaga makes us stand at attention.

Who can remember the last time I (or anyone else, for that matter) paid this much attention, this much reverence to a music video? Was it Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt"? A Spike Jonze/Bjork collaboration? Either way, it's nice that the medium has found a small bit of relevance again, thanks to pop music's indisputable champion; if there's a more fascinating figure in pop right now, I'd like to know who it is.

Man, am I gonna embarrass myself at this concert in January.

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