Lady Gaga’s 'Telephone' turns 10: A look back at the epic music video

  • Music
  • Thursday, 19 Mar 2020

On March 15,2010, Lady Gaga’s Telephone music video, featuring Beyonce, hit YouTube. To say that it made an impact in pop culture would be an understatement.

The sprawling, nearly 10-minute video started with Gaga in prison (picking up directly after her crimes in the Paparazzi music video) and followed her and Beyonce as they took a joyride in the Pussy Wagon from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill on their way to poison an entire diner.

On the way, there’s everything from sunglasses adorned with cigarettes to product placement to a killer dance routine done in American flag-themed outfits. There is, put simply, a lot to dissect.

And dissect the internet did. In the decade since it was released, Telephone has racked up a massive 346 million views and inspired countless thinkpieces, as well as criticisms.

Jonas Akerlund, the Swedish filmmaker who directed and co-wrote the music video, spoke to Variety 10 years after its release about its hectic two-day shoot, improvising lines with Beyonce and Gaga and if fans ever will get a sequel after the mysterious “to be continued” note at the end of Telephone.

Tell me about how you and Gaga came up with the concept for the Telephone music video.

We had a practice run on Paparazzi like, a year earlier. So we kind of knew each other a little bit. I learned early on that Gaga is a very visual-driven type of artiste – she’s filled with ideas. So my job was basically to filter and just take in all her stuff and try to make a reality out of it, you know?

It was a really good collaboration, actually, a respectful collaboration, as always, with her, I have to say. But yeah, I don’t remember exactly where everything came from. Like we always do, she talked to me on the phone and I wrote everything down and added stuff to it. It’s a back and forth, and that’s how we do it.

Telephone was a direct sequel to Paparazzi. When you were working on Paparazzi, did you have an idea of where it would go?

Not really, to be honest. It wasn’t really meant to be a series. I kind of like the idea of putting “to be continued” at the end (laughs), just to make it more exciting. And then that kind of became like, “Oh, wait a minute. Let’s continue.” And then we ended Telephone with “to be continued” as well. It’s kind of fun, and it would be cool to have a third one coming.

And the internet has certainly been clamouring for that. Have you ever discussed doing a Telephone part 2?

Not really, not really – (pause) yeah, we have actually. I don’t remember what song it was – we started to write it, but then we ended up doing something else.

The Telephone shoot was so ambitious, so big-budget. How many days did you spend on set?

We shot the whole thing in two days, which is pretty incredible. It had everything that’s kind of like a production nightmare, with wardrobe changes and car stuff and different locations.

So we did one day around that jail, and then we did one day out in the desert. So it was a two-day shoot, and I remember clearly, while running out of time, when Beyonce showed up, and Beyonce and Gaga were practising, like, literally there on the spot, figuring out the choreography while we were waiting. It was crazy.

We were actually meant to shoot Beyonce’s performance part out in the desert, but then we lost daylight, so we improvised and put it in that little weird motel room. It was part of the location, where we were. We shot that whole part, like her speaking on the phone, all that stuff, in that motel room.

You worked with Gaga before Telephone, and you’ve worked with her since on John Wayne. Do you have plans to work with her again as she releases new music?

I don’t know. We have a good thing going, and I show up and do my thing. If I had it my way, for sure. I love her to death.

I’ve said it from day one: the first time I saw her play the piano on YouTube, I said, “This is, like, one of the most talented artistes I’ve ever seen.”

She can do anything she puts her head to, and that’s what she’s doing now. Again, for me as a director, she’s a dream person to work with.

Gaga said in an interview after it was first released that she wanted the video to be about “the idea that America is full of young people that are inundated with information and technology.” Ten years later, I think we seeing that concept even more. Do you think the video might resonate even more in 2020?

I don’t know. I do know that music videos are not really meant to get a long life. They’re always just meant to be in that moment. Like, they used to be (made) to sell an album, like at that moment.

But now, if you’re lucky, you get a video that people remember, and if people remember 10 years after, that’s a good thing. And people seem to appreciate it. I still have people tell me they love it. – Reuters

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