Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”: A Narrative Lyrical Analysis

Lady Gaga.*  Two words synonymous with “Understated songwriting.”

Tackling the subtleties of the work of a performer with a proverbial finger on the very pulse of popular culture can modestly be described as daunting.  Yet, that’s what we’ve attempted.

The subject will be Gaga’s 2010 hit “Telephone.”  While anti-Gaga blasphemers and iconoclasts might label the song as chorus-heavy and repetitive, they fail to appreciate the intricate and powerful story that unfolds throughout her magnificent verses.

The multi-level analysis proved too challenging for one person to handle.  That’s why I’ve enlisted the help of Mike Austin to expedite the deconstruction.   He’ll be interpreting the Beyonce** portion of “Telephone” (marked by blue text) as the two of us explore the weighty undercurrents that flow through this cultural touchstone.

And so we begin:

Hi there, my former lover.  You’ve tried reaching me by phone, but your attempt was sadly fruitless.  The first of many reasons for this is that my phone’s reception is nonexistent so long as I’m in this particular dancing establishment.

You understand, understand.  Pa-pa-pardon me?  We seem to have a bad connection.

Apologies, but poor audio quality is making this phone call impossible.   In addition to the aforementioned technical limitations, I am also indisposed and unwilling to have this conversation with you in any case.

In-indisposed.  In-indisposed.  Apologies, but poor audio quality is making this phone call impossible, and I am indisposed.

Wait a moment.  I believe I hear the introductory notes of my song of choice, giving me yet another reason not to talk to you.  I should also point out that sending you an SMS message is out of the question, as one of my hands is preoccupied with an alcoholic beverage.

Failing to schedule a get-together was an error on your part, especially considering that you were aware that I was available for socializing.  Yet, you’re currently trying to rectify your blunder by phoning incessantly.  I’m indisposed.

Cease your attempts to contact me, cease your attempts to contact me.   Contemplating this problem has grown tiresome.  I surrendered my capacity to think and/or care about you as soon as I began to dance.

Cease your attempts to contact me, cease your attempts to contact me.  I no longer have any desire to have a conversation.   I surrendered my capacity to think and/or care about you as soon as I began to dance.

Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh – Cease your calls at once!
Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh – I’m indisposed.
Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh – Cease your calls at once!
Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh . . .

Despite what I said a moment ago, feel free to attempt to phone me as much as you like.  This may seem to contradict my earlier comments, but, incongruity aside, understand that I’m figuratively not here.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.  Also understand that I’m out dancing, and, as described before, drinking alcohol.  We shan’t be speaking anytime soon.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but you can feel free to attempt to phone me as much as you like.  It won’t matter.  Your calls will remain forever unanswered.  Also understand that I’m out dancing, and, as described before, drinking alcohol.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.

As I’ve established over and over, we’re not communicating tonight.  Nevertheless, I’m going to say this again: Feel free to attempt to phone me as much as you like.  However, understand that I’m figuratively not here.   Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.  Also understand that I’m out dancing, and, as described before, drinking alcohol.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.

I have a distinctly urban sensibility.  As a consequence, I must speak plainly: Stop calling my cell phone.

If the purpose of your nonstop phone calls is to motivate me to leave this dance club, then color me unmotivated.  I’m just going to riff through a list of actions that your repeated phone calls will not inspire me to do:

(1) Leave the dance club more quickly (a given);
(2) Don my jacket more quickly (for obvious reasons); and
(3) Abandon my dance-friends more quickly.

Your constant calling has turned a night of innocent fun into something on the order of Chernobyl.  Except, instead of gobs of radioactive materials showering and killing thousands of innocent people, the sound of your repeated phone calls is showering my friends and me with roughly approximate consequences.  Seriously, you are calling more than my undergrad alumni association.

So, to sum up: Stop calling.

I probably seemed a little standoffish earlier, but there are really no hard feelings intended.  I’m merely preoccupied by my current social activities.   However, in the interests of full disclosure, I should add that I’m genuinely annoyed by the seemingly-looped playback of my ringtone as I receive your perpetual calls.

This may be a terrible analogy, but I think that this situation bears a strong resemblance to what it might be like to reside in a major hub of rail travel.  Does that make sense?  No?  Ok.  Well, I won’t be answering my phone at all this evening, as I’ll instead be cavorting at a night club

I’ll instead be cavorting at a night club.  I’ll instead be cavorting at a night club.  I won’t be answering my phone at all this evening, as I’ll instead be cavorting at a night club.

Cease your attempts to contact me, cease your attempts to contact me.  Contemplating this problem has grown tiresome.  I surrendered my capacity to think and/or care about you as soon as I began to dance.

Cease your attempts to contact me, cease your attempts to contact me.  I no longer have any desire to have a conversation.  I surrendered my capacity to think and/or care about you as soon as I began to dance.

Cease your attempts to contact me, cease your attempts to contact me.  Contemplating this problem has grown tiresome.  I surrendered my capacity to think and/or care about you as soon as I began to dance.

My central premise is that repetitive behaviors (here, your phone calls) can be unbearably annoying.  But I don’t think this point has quite hit home with you.  So, in an ironic twist, allow me to say this a fourth time: Cease your attempts to contact me, cease your attempts to contact me.  I no longer have any desire to have a conversation.   I surrendered my capacity to think and/or care about you as soon as I began to dance.

Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh – Cease your calls at once!
Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh – I’m indisposed.
Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh – Cease your calls at once!
Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh . . .

Go ahead – phone me as much as you like.  However, understand that I’m going to act as though your call is unimportant and won’t answer.  And, again – I am more interested in dancing and consuming alcohol than I am in talking to you.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.

Feel free to attempt to phone me as much as you like. However, understand that I’m figuratively not here.  In case this hasn’t been made abundantly clear, I’m highlighting the fact that I’m emotionally unavailable.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.  Also understand that I’m out dancing, and, as described before, drinking alcohol.  Don’t expect to speak to me.

I’m referring to my cell.  M-m-my cell.  Also understand that I’m out dancing, and, as described before, drinking alcohol.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered.

I’m referring to my cell.  M-m-my cell.  Also understand that I’m out dancing, and, as described before, drinking alcohol.  Therefore, your calls will remain forever unanswered . . .

You can follow us on Twitter, where the reception is usually pretty good.

______________________________________

*Born Stefani Germanotta, Gaga was a near-prodigy who gained early admittance to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts before dropping out to pursue her career as a pop songstress.
**I’m referring here to Beyonce Knowles (formerly of the girl group, Destiny’s Child).
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6 Responses to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”: A Narrative Lyrical Analysis

  1. Pingback: High Wankery: Lyrical Edition #1 | Cynical Nostalgia

  2. Dr. Skeptic says:

    WHAT would we have done without you!

  3. SWK says:

    Very understated and subtle indeed. The repetition really reveals this. Lady Gaga is a master of putting forth the intricacies and complexities that come with a fulfilling social life into a song that the masses will truly enjoy.

    “In-indisposed. In-indisposed!”

  4. aylablahs says:

    Very nice and I’ll be indisposed.

  5. Michael says:

    Wow…I had no idea that Lady Gaga was capable of that sort of deep ironic subtext and challenging metaphorical usage. Clearly she is one of the most weighty philosophers of our age. Verily, how fortunate we are to have such an incredibly brilliant mind in our midst.

  6. dtrasler says:

    Thanks for clearing all THAT up!

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