Friday, April 5, 2019

Crime Stories and Music, Part 1 — The Crimes of Lady Gaga: Fame, Love, Female Empowerment, and Revenge

UPDATE: I found some excellent new blogposts abour these three music videos and I think I'll rewrite this post soon. I included links to these posts under each video. Look for the links to gaggajournal and blackberriesandapples. These posts bring up things I should have caught such as Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You can find crime stories in unusual places, places you might not have thought of particularly if you are my age. I'm kicking off my discovery of crime and noir in music series with three music videos from Lady Gaga: Paparazzi, Telephone, and Bad Romance. I owe a student in a English class where I was a teaching assistant for bringing up the association of Bad Romance with crime stories —human trafficking in this case. It lodged Lady Gaga videos and crime stories in the back of my mind. Lady Gaga is a splashy way to launch this series and one my readers might not have considered.

Click to view on
Lady Gaga's lyrics and music videos inspire an amazing range of interpretations. In addition to the normal and enthusiastic fan discussions, there are people who find the occult, the Illuminate, and MKUltra in Gaga's work. This is particularly true with Bad Romance. I, however, am only concerned with Paparazzi, Telephone, and Bad Romance as they relate to crime stories and am not going to consider the lyrics. All three videos have two major themes: female empowerment and revenge.

Paparazzi and Telephone are related and can be viewed as straight-out crime stories. Bad Romance is much more complicated and surreal but does have a crime element and the female empowerment and revenge themes mentioned above.

Paparazzi (from the 2008 The Fame album)

View the video here.

The Paparazzi music video opens as if it is a movie complete with a title sequence. A celebrity,
Lady Gaga, is nearly killed by her lover who goes into a rage when she doesn't cooperate with his narcissistic need to be photographed by the paparazzi. She is left broken and deserted by the public but recovers through sheer force of will and takes her revenge. In a cynical view of our culture, her revenge propels her back into the spotlight and is once again "loved". 

The story is framed within a narrative on the corrosive effects of celebrity and the fickleness of the press and public. There are scenes of artfully posed dead models who I interpret to be other victims of the paparazzi and/or who couldn't achieve the fame they craved.

Not surprising, this is a lavishly visual production with  the extravagant costumes you expect from Lady Gaga. In the revenge sequence, her yellow jumpsuit, black corset, round glasses, and black lips are disturbing, even scary, like a deranged and surreal Minnie Mouse. Her lover is played by Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård (Tarzan, True Blood).

There is a nice homage to Hitchcock's film, Vertigo when Gaga is pushed off the balcony. Take a look at the Title sequence from Vertigo and jump to the 1:20 mark in this clip from the film. The Wikipedia article on the video points out another film reference, Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Telephone (from the 2009 The Fame Monster album)

The Fame Monster is a reissue of The Fame album and includes the Bad Romance and Telephone
tracks in addition to Paparazzi which was on The Fame.

View the video here. Explicit version.

Telephone is also a short crime film and begins with a movie-style title sequence showing the outside of a prison. It picks up where Paparazzi ended with Gaga now in prison. Telephone is the most playful and fun of the three videos I'm featuring. It starts with grainy black and white surveillance  camera view of Gaga being escorted to her cell by two butch guards. The guards strip her and we get a funny reference to the rumour that Gaga is intersex,  This first half of the film is a delightfully exaggerated homage to the girls behind bars trope with a nicely executed fight in the commissary and leather clad lesbians in the exercise yard. And, as always with Gaga, the costuming is pretty remarkable including sunglasses made from burning cigarettes and an outfit consisting only of crime scene tape.

Gaga gets bailed out of prison (I know, it doesn't work like that) and is met on the outside by Beyoncé driving the Pussy Wagon from Tarantino's film, Kill Bill and they speed off. When Gaga explained her concept for Telephone, he told her she had to use the Pussy Wagon and loaned it to her. There is a link below for more Tarantino references. They end up at a diner where Beyoncé  poisons her thuggish boyfriend(?) and Gaga takes over the kitchen with her poison recipe and murders everyone else in the diner. They take off pursued by law enforcement and the video ends in a Thelma and Louise moment.

Bad Romance (from the 2009 The Fame Monster album)

Bad Romance is the most complex and surreal of the three videos and the one that generates the most
far out theories. I'm taking the straight crime angle where we see Gaga in the opening scene looking drugged and wearing glasses made from razor blades. She's been kidnapped and drugged by a gang of supermodels who sell her to the Russian mafia to be auctioned off. We see the bids in rubles registering on laptop screens; she is highly saught after. She overcomes her drugged kidnapped victim state and dances seductively for one of the bidders then incinerates him on the bed where he thought he was going to take his prize.

There are some real stretches for symbols in the last two links. For example, in the chorus Gaga sings Rah Rah and Ro Mah. Some think Rah actually refers to the Egyptian sun god Ra and that Ro Mah might refer to the Roman Catholic Church. Lady Gaga says both are just short for the word "romance". Of course, that's just what a member of the Illumante would say. It is nonetheless interesting to see what people take away from the video. It certainly is rich with symbolism. 


  1. This is fascinating, Mack. I've always thought that songs are rich resources of crime stories. Whether you look at country (Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billie Joe), rock (e.g. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody), or any other genre, there are so many stories there, and a lot of them are crime-related.

  2. Mack maybe you can have a look at this song in Spanish

    1. Thanks for sharing this video, Jose. I like it. It's interesting to see a crime/noir video with a salsa rhythm instead of jazz. I looked at a translation here and there are some nice noir elements to the lyrics as when the dying woman says "I thought this wasn’t my day, I have no luck, but Pedro Navaja you are much worse, you are a nobody” I couldn't tell if it is in the video but I like the nod at the end to The Naked City "I like to live in America New York City has 8 million stories".

      Let me know if you think the lyrics on are a good translation.

    2. Jose, I forgot to ask but if you know of similar music videos send them my way. I thinking I might be able to work them into my project.

  3. Mack, the translation seems to me pretty accurate.

  4. Wonder if this will qualify in your opinion:

  5. May be this section at Calibre.38 can give you some ideas

    1. This is an interesting site. The video of prostitutes is raw.


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