Analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” Video as Her Critique on Society
Abstract Since her arrival into the mainstream music scene in 2008, Lady Gaga has remained a constant changing force. Her first single, “Just Dance”, marked Gaga as an upcoming pop star and her second single, “Poker Face”, affirmed her status in mainstream society. In time Gaga would become an influence in the worlds of politics, fashion, pop music, and pop art.
Although often blunt about her beliefs, Gaga also crafts her viewpoints into her music videos which are multifaceted escapades into Gaga’s ideologies. She first made a critique of society and showed her opinions in her “Paparazzi” music video. In analyzing the video one can see that through her artistic choices of heavy symbolism, cinematography, and juxtaposition of ideas through visuals, Gaga satirically critiques and comments on the issues of celebrity behavior, feminism, sexuality, and the fame-obsessed American culture. To see these elements at work and how they all work together to promote Gaga’s critique, I analyzed the music video using literary and film devices. I evaluated the music video on different levels of depth starting with the surface imagery and working into the philosophical and symbolic aspect of the piece.
I analyzed the lyrics like a poem in order to discern Gaga’s purpose in writing the song and subsequently the making of the music video. After carefully analyzing both the music video on its many levels, I concluded that Gaga provocatively addresses the issues facing America. A limitation to the conclusion is there were no interviews of Gaga explaining the video in any databases, magazines, interviews and, press conferences with her that I consulted. Using extravagant imagery, she has shown the double standards given to celebrities and how society in general buys into it with the hope of it being them who are famous in the future. (Word Count: 297) Imagine a world where killing a man bares no consequence other than making the killer famous. The scene described is the world in which Lady Gaga’s seven and a half minute long music video for “Paparazzi” takes place, but is it really that different from the real world? Gaga does not seem to think so.
In “Paparazzi” Lady Gaga exaggerates the problems she sees in the world of celebrities and the media and makes her point with provocative, thought-inspiring, and symbolic visuals. Through her artistic choices of heavy symbolism, cinematography, and juxtaposition of ideas through visuals, Gaga satirically critiques and comments on the issues of celebrity behavior, feminism, sexuality, and the fame-obsessed American culture. The first step in deciphering Gaga’s grandiose video is to analyze the song’s lyrics. On the surface, “Paparazzi” is a love song about how Gaga will follow a boy in the same way the paparazzi follows celebrities which can be seen in the lyrics, “I’ll follow you until you love me, Papa, Paparazzi” (Appendix 1, 10-11). It is a love song that seems relatively superficial and quaint until one looks at the lyrics on a deeper level.
If one looks at the lyrics from the perspective of the narrator of the song being a fame seeker, the lyrics “Promise I’ll be kind but I won’t stop until that boy is mine,” show the way a celebrity, “I”, will always be kind, as in fodder for the camera, but it is all for “that boy” which is fame (14-15). Also, the lyrics “We’re plastic, but we still have fun,” can be seen as celebrities having no dimensions and being fake but still reaping the reward of more fame from the paparazzi’s coverage of them. This deeper meaning behind the lyrics helps prepare the viewer for what Gaga expresses in her video. The video’s introduction helps set up the viewer for the concept of celebrities being in their own world. The opening scene features close ups of a lavish mansion and then goes to an introduction of Lady Gaga and a man who appears to be her boyfriend.
The video opens up like a camera shutter, starting small and getting bigger until the viewer can peer from the opposite side of the camera into Gaga’s world (“Paparazzi” 0:00-0:01). Also, the dialogue between Gaga and her boyfriend is in Swedish which also helps alienate the viewer from the scene he or she is watching. Panning around the room, the viewer finds him or herself in The United States of Lady Gaga with Gaga’s face imprinted on the money. This reflects how society seems to be more observant of fame and its culture than in the real world of government and politics. The viewer is once again forced behind the camera as it begins snapping pictures of the couple illuminating how celebrities are in a different world and that a normal person can only see through the lens of the paparazzi’s camera into it (1:47, 1:55-2:20).
The next scene sets up the idea Gaga is trying to express throughout the video: a celebrity can have either love or fame but not both. In this scene, Gaga and the man, who seems to be her boyfriend, go outside on the balcony where they are stalked by the paparazzi until the boyfriend becomes obsessed with it and throws Gaga over the edge after she fights against him to get away from the camera. Going outside, the couple takes their love to the outside world to be picked apart by the paparazzi. They try to live a “normal” life, but fame corrupts her boyfriend, and he becomes less and less interested in Gaga and more on the camera and shows his love for her only because of her fame (1:56-2:00). The camera that her boyfriend is interested in starts out by flashing short and only occasionally.
However, as the kissing becomes more aggressive and Gaga’s boyfriend begins to get rough, the camera begins taking pictures faster and more frequently symbolizing how the paparazzi is more focused on people caught in bad romances rather than the celebrities who have happy and healthy relationships (1:47-2:21). After Gaga is pushed off the balcony, Gaga is sent into a downward spiral reflective of how the paparazzi are more obsessed with the downfall of celebrities than all of the good things celebrities do. The scene moves to Gaga swirling in a hypnotic screen showing both her literal and metaphorical downfall (2:28). As Gaga falls, she begins caressing herself more and more provocatively as an announcer showcases her with cries of, “Come on, right here,” which highlights how Gaga wants the viewer to interpret herself as an animal or freak in the media circus which allows the viewer to look at and ridicule her (2:41). Also, the announcer yells, “Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful,” exemplifying how the paparazzi are obsessed with finding some pleasure in the celebrities who cannot get their lives straight (2:45).
Gaga is also seen in this scene wearing two accessories which help clarify the point she is trying to make. The first is a heart necklace with a skull in it which shows how love leads to tragedy. She is also wearing four rings that spell out Dior, a French designer who during World War II created extravagant dresses to contrast with the gloomy boxy dresses of the time and is still seen as an emblem brand of the rich (Charleston), which shows how celebrities over exaggerate in crisis (2:30). After she falls, a swarm of paparazzi starts taking her picture. They act like vultures swarming a dead carcass in the way they report the death of her lime light. To further the point, as stories of Gaga’s fall go into the tabloids, one paper has a picture of Gaga, but it has been altered.
In the picture, Gaga is not wearing her sunglasses even though it is obvious in the scene that she is wearing them which allows the viewer to see how the media twists what it wants to make the masses believe its ideologies (2:50). One tabloid reads, “Lady No More Gaga” further exploiting how after a celebrity falls from the spotlight, no one seems to care for that celebrity because he or she is no longer special (2.55). When the song begins, the video splits into two parallel scenes of two separate Gagas happening at the same time. The first shows Good Gaga trying to rehabilitate and become pristine and is shown going through a mansion with the help of her friends. The second scene shows Bad Gaga trying to entice Good Gaga into giving into her dark desires.
These two entities represent the battle inside of Gaga which is whether to become a good clean celebrity or become a “fame w****” and indulge in drugs and sex escapades to garner more attention and fame. The parallel scenes begin with Good Gaga being helped out of a limo into a wheelchair. She is seen wearing a cross necklace which shows how after a crisis or downfall, religion suddenly rushes into a celebrity’s life. (2:58). She is slowly being helped back into her lifestyle by her friends and escorts while Bad Gaga acts sexy on the couch and eventually tells Good Gaga that she is okay by making the “Ok” symbol with her hand (3:21). As Good Gaga is being wheeled in, it is clear that she is wearing sunglasses.
As she gets closer to walking on her own and taking her life back, her sunglasses’ lids open which shows how one must fix himself or herself on the inside before being able to open up and face the world. Good Gaga is then stripped of her bloody diamonds and clothes which represents her stepping away from her previous lifestyle of excess and over-the-top fortune (3:40). She is then introduced on a purple carpet instead of a red one which can imply both that she thinks she is royalty on her triumphant return and/or that she is not good enough both physically and famous wise to be presented on a red carpet to the world yet. In the first chorus, the struggle between the dark and the wholesome sides of fame erupts into a fight between Good and Bad Gaga and displaying the internal struggle of a celebrity to choose between the two. As the struggle begins, men surround Good Gaga, protecting her from the advance of Bad Gaga, who flanked by women tries to entice Good Gaga to fall once more (3:41). Good Gaga appears wearing metal casing and able to walk on her own again.
This outfit is a symbol for the need of a barrier between the outside world and the world the celebrity lives in as can be seen by Good Gaga making her way through all the angry, fist-shaking women and even Bad Gaga (3:43-3:55). However, try as Good Gaga may to get away from the dark side, Bad Gaga “promise[s] [she]’ll be kind” by extending her hand to tempt Good Gaga back into sex and drugs (3:57). Whereas the first verse focuses on Good Gaga rehabilitating and showing the good things that come from doing that, the second verse contrasts with that idea by Bad Gaga exaggerating the glamorous side to being bad by having a multiple concurrent sexual partners, and showing off her assets of her body, money, and her ability to have fun; however, a slew of dead models appear throughout the mansion to show the negatives of this lifestyle. Dealing with just Bad Gaga for now, she tries to entice Good Gaga by reaching out and promising, “Baby, you’ll be famous” (4:05). Bad Gaga caresses her body and invites Good Gaga to take a part in this to show how being bad makes a celebrity seem sexier and more exciting (4:23 – 4:36).
This does not seem to do the trick, so to further her point, Bad Gaga engages in sexual activities with three blonde men. The first meaning seen behind this is the obvious one where people are attracted to a famous partying type person. Her plan backfires when one of the boys licks and bites at her shoe (5:26). This highlights that celebrities are sought after for their money and commodities rather than for personality reasons. Interspersed throughout the second verse are shots of dead women that have gone through a death that symbolizes some type of fame but also shows the effect of fame on ordinary people as well. The first woman appears in a bathtub wearing bunny ears, a symbol often associated with Playboy, showing the downfall of promiscuity (3:32).
The woman decked out in a diamond mask is representative of money (4:13). The dead woman with horns on her head and a bullet wound through her head could be seen as the lure of cult like promises of obtaining fame (4:15). The woman hung from stairwell with an eye patch and wine bottle in her hand explains how some are blind to what ails them and in doing so bring about their downfalls (4:17). The woman wearing a fur a coat with blood flowing from her neck, the girl in the forest suffocated by plastic in the nice dress and expensive jewelry, the woman in all gold surrounded by plants, and the woman in an expensive looking hat and makeup who was bludgeoned by a shovel all represent how overindulgence in anything can overpower the individual and bring him or her to ruin (4:23, 4:29, 4:39, 5:36). The broken woman by the pool can represent the party life of most celebrities (4:25).
The nurse maid, who is spilling out gold blood, represents how a celebrity is valued and respected more dead than alive (4:35). The girl hung from the ceiling with the black veil is representative of the death or suicide of the individual to become celebrity perfect (4:44). Lastly, the woman with drugs in her hand lying on the plastic bed symbolizes overdosing of both drugs and the fame lifestyle (5:26). The second time the chorus plays both Good Gaga and Bad Gaga are juxtaposed by combining into one Gaga whose sides represent either the good or the bad. The right side, the good side, is completely bare.
It is simple and clean just like the lifestyle Good Gaga has rehabilitated into. Even her hair on this side is completely blonde, void of any tinges of color (5:06). The other side of her dress is almost the complete opposite. On the left side, Gaga is decked out in a giant ruffle skirt and a neck and shoulder piece which exemplifies the extravagance and lusciousness of the dark side (5:15). Her hair has purple-black streaks in it as well to show the darkness seeping in (5:06).
The first implication that something is about to go wrong is when Gaga is dancing and she makes a claw with her hand and sneers straight at the camera (5:23). This shows how the “Fame Monster” slowly crept into Gaga and transformed her from someone trying to be good to someone indulged in the seedier side of fame. Continuing on from the previous part, the scene during the bridge of the song presents Gaga mainly in a black dress with tints of white thrown in explaining how Bad Gaga is overwhelming, but Good Gaga is not completely gone. Her dress is actually made out of film strips which represent how whatever side she chooses, she will always be watched and criticized by other people The scene shows Gaga thrashing around like she is being possessed and the internal fight between being a good wholesome celebrity or bad paparazzi-fodder celebrity (5:27-5:43). The fight finishes, but the decision of what she has chosen- good or bad – is not apparent.
The penultimate scene of the video begins with Gaga sitting on the couch reading a magazine while her boyfriend, the same one who almost killed her earlier, reads the paper. Gaga is wearing a Minnie Mouse-esque dress illuminating how a celebrity has to be a celebrity and a role model even during traumatic times in his or her life. Gaga looks at her boyfriend and then slams down the magazine which claims there is a new “It girl” and that there is “No More Lady Gaga” (5:52). This magazine helps illustrate the point that if a celebrity does not do anything to garner attention, the media will just move on to the next person or idea that excites it. Gaga starts to prepare a drink of “Neuro Sonic” for her boyfriend which she then poisons.
This tiny part of the scene highlights some major themes of the video. First, the bottle for “Neuro Sonic” looks phallic representing how Gaga has triumphed over her boyfriend’s misogynistic views of her as a commodity and turns his own manliness on him by making her get his drink. Next, “Neuro Sonic” is a real energy drink that increases brain function, but is ironically used to stop brain function here which ties in with the small Poison icon which flashes on the screen. The icon shows how things are not always as they seem in celebrity world but the paparazzi colors it so the audience sees what it wants to see (6:03). “I just killed my boyfriend,” Gaga explains to the operator after having just poisoned her boyfriend (6:37-6:40).
After the police investigate the crime scene, they arrest Gaga who is more than willing to play along. She has put herself back in the spotlight, and so, flaunts about as she tries to pose for all the paparazzi who are taking her picture (6:55-7:15). This clearly illuminates how celebrities who get caught doing illegal things and behaving illicitly use their arrests as more fodder for their stardom. Tales of her innocence and comeback begin to sprout right away which shows how even bad behavior is rewarded with more press coverage. The video ends with Gaga taking her mug shots at the station and putting on a show for the camera.
Afterwards she walks away knowing exactly what she did and why (7:16-7:30). Provocatively addressing the issues that are facing America, Lady Gaga’s music video “Paparazzi” clearly shows how she feels about the subjects of celebrity behavior, feminism, sexuality, and the fame-obsessed American culture. Using extravagant imagery, she has shown the double standards given to celebrities and how society in general lapse it up in hopes of it being them in the future. Lady Gaga fills the viewer of the video with a sense of enlightenment on the issues and a message: she is coming and she is going to change how the world views fame. Works Cited Charleston, Beth D. “Christian Dior (1905–1957) | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Metmuseum.org. Oct. 2004. Web. 26 Nov.
“Paparazzi Music Video.” LadyGaga.com. 29 May 2009. Web. 12 Aug.
2010. ;http://www.ladygaga.com/player/default.aspx?meid=4931;. Appendix #1 “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga We are the crowd, we’re c-comin’ out Got my flash on, it’s true Need that picture of you It so magical, we’d be so fantastical Leather and jeans, garage glamorous (5) Not sure what it means But this photo of us it don’t have a price Ready for those flashing light ‘Cause you know that baby, I I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me (10) Papa, paparazzi Baby, there’s no other superstar, you know that I’ll be Your papa, paparazzi Promise I’ll be kind But I won’t stop until that boy is mine (15) Baby, you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me Papa, paparazzi I’ll be your girl backstage at your show Velvet ropes and guitars Yeah, cause you’re my rock star in between the sets (20) Eyeliner and cigarettes Shadow is burnt, yellow dance and we turn My lashes are dry, purple teardrops I cry It don’t have a price, loving you is cherry pie Cause you know that baby, I (25) I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me Papa, paparazzi Baby, there’s no other superstar, you know that I’ll be Your papa, paparazzi Promise I’ll be kind (30) But I won’t stop until that boy is mine Baby, you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me Papa, paparazzi Real good, we dance in the studio Snap, snap to that s*** on the radio(35) Don’t stop for anyone We’re plastic but we still have fun I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me Papa, paparazzi Baby, there’s no other superstar, you know that I’ll be (40) Your papa, paparazzi Promise I’ll be kind But I won’t stop until that boy is mine Baby, you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me Papa, paparazzi (45)