I know you’re probably jowls-deep in coronavirus coverage, so allow me to discuss something of arguably greater social and political import: a classic bop.
On the Ides of March, 2010, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta dropped one of her most ambitious videos to date, a collaboration with the reigning queen of pop and life itself, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter.
Gaga originally wrote “Telephone”—the second single off her 2009 EP, The Fame Monster—for Circus-era Britney Spears, which explains a lot. The “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh! Stop telephoning may-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay!” does seem tailor-made for Brit. That girl never did like a hard E.
Alas, Britney ultimately rejected “Telephone,” so Gaga kept the song for herself, apparently planning at one point to record it as a duet with Spears, though that didn’t pan out either. In the meantime, Beyoncé recruited a then red-hot Gaga for the remix of her song “Video Phone,” and so began the diva “phone” series. [Sidenote: Still waiting for the third installment.]
On the strength of a collaboration between two of music’s biggest names, “Telephone” charted in December 2009 before being officially released on January 26, 2010. Two days later, Gaga and Bey filmed the video, directed by the great Jonas Åkerlund.
Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, with references to Russ Meyer, John Waters, and Quentin Tarantino, “Telephone” was a sequel to Gaga’s 2009 video “Paparazzi,” also directed by Åkerlund. After she kills her boyfriend, portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård, we find the Lady serving time and lewks in a women’s correctional facility.
Within the first few minutes, we’re treated to some of the Haus of Gaga’s most inspired fashions, including the smoking cigarette glasses:
The Diet Coke can hair rollers:
And the caution tape… whatever this is:
There’s also some jarringly blatant product placement for Virgin Mobile and the dating site Plenty of Fish, which lends a knowing cheapness to the video that kinda works in its favor.
Anygay, we’re halfway through before Beyoncé shows up in a bold black lip as Gaga’s accomplice—and, dare I say, lover—Honey Bee.
Bey is serving you full-on soft-butch-dyke realness, and to this day, save perhaps her brilliant and underappreciated clip for “Why Don’t You Love Me?,” Queen Bey has never been this campy, this fun, and this irreverent.
Lest we forget, just two years later she would drop her self-titled fifth studio album on an unsuspecting world, beginning her evolution into a “serious” artist and an avatar for blackness, womanhood, and bad bitchery around the world. This was the last gasp of Beyoncé as pop star before she ascended to something greater.
Perhaps channeling her B.B. Homemaker persona from “Why Don’t You Love Me?,” Bey again dons a Betty Paige wig for “Telephone,” but this time around she’s not weeping into her camisole about being forsaken. No, this was a Beyoncé we had never seen before. A gleefully foul-mouthed, man-killing Beyoncé.
This was years before Lemonade had her dropping F-bombs and leaving Jay-Z’s career for dead. This was back when Beyoncé was still doing interviews, and moreover, still doing duets. Can you imagine Bey hopping on a track with Gaga now? I know you can because I do, too. It’s all I think about. They are so good together. Gaga brings out a less-guarded, more lighthearted Bey, and Bey elevates Gaga’s game by her mere presence.
By the time they’ve successfully poisoned Tyrese—and a number of presumably innocent people—it’s time for the big dance number! Because we can’t have two pop divas in one video without some tight choreo.
“Telephone” ends in one of my truly favorite music video moments of the past 10 years—insofar as music videos have become less of an event and less relevant to my life. Gaga and Bey run off looking like the Gabor sisters escaping Grey Gardens: two merry murderesses in matching matronly gowns with extravagant hats and accompanying veils, stopping to pose and vogue on the side of the road as the sound of cop sirens blare in the background.
We just don’t have this much fun in music videos anymore. Or in music in general.
Ten years later, “Telephone” is still a pure joy to watch, especially considering how far both women have come since then. Back in 2010, Gaga was still a pop phenom on the rise, while Beyoncé was a pop superstar reevaluating her place in the zeitgeist and her value as an artist.
Here, they joined forces at two wildly different points in their careers to have a blast, give the gays everything we wanted, and show the world that two divas can indeed get along and create magic.
Shortly after the video’s release, however, Lady Gaga, distanced herself from it.
“I hate it so much,” Gaga said in 2011. “Beyoncé and I are great together. But there are so many fucking ideas in that video. All I see in that video is my brain throbbing with ideas—and I wish I had edited myself a little bit more.”
But that’s actually why it’s such a great video, and why we initially fell in love with Lady Gaga. Like “Bad Romance,” “Telephone” is ambitious, bombastic, and off-kilter. All those ideas definitely result in overkill, but it’s also a lot more impressive than not reaching far enough.