Song 295: Lady Gaga (feat. Beyoncé), “Telephone” (2010)

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Lady Gaga obviously has the aesthetic thing down. Even aside from the meat dresses and creepy dancers, Gaga has an amazing visual sense. Consider the song “Telephone,” which conjures images of club strobe lights and cell phone displays through sheer production. The synths and beats fall heavy, and the vocals—often twitchy and hard to make out—are just barely human.

As usual, technology is making it hard to understand each other, and anyway, all Gaga wants to do is dance. Can I stretch it so far to say that the song represents a conflict between the physical and the tangible, the natural and the man-made? I was an English major, so I can stretch anything I damn well please.

I’m a sucker for a song that sounds like the scene described in the song—which is a weird subgenre to love, but it’s a surprisingly common gere. In terms of a club song about being bothered at the club, it reminds me of They Might Be Giants’ song “Man, It’s So Loud In Here,” in which John Linnell sings about not being heard above the DJ. The song itself is a pitch-perfect dance track. Did I just compare Lady Gaga to They Might Be Giants? Yes. English major!

Let’s talk about Beyoncé’s appearance in “Telephone,” one of the rare guest verses essential to the final product. Gaga’s verses are complaints, but Bey’s lines are pure fury: “The way you’re blowing up my phone won’t make me leave no faster/Put my coat on faster/Leave my girls no faster/I should have left my phone at home cuz this is a disaster.” Gaga’s annoyed; Beyoncé is pissed. It’s good cop/bad cop, id and superego, Abbott and Costello.

The pair are just as natural in the song’s video, a Tarantino homage that treats the narrator’s need for liberation as a prison break. You’ve probably seen the clip by now, but if not, watch it. It’s glorious.

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Song 59: Beyoncé, “Countdown” (2011)

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This one was on repeat for ages. I think it’s damn near perfect. It’s a bunch of moving gears, seemingly dissimilar parts that somehow work together to make one dizzying whole.

I wonder how songs like this come into being. I can totally picture someone sitting down at a piano and banging out that melody (which, especially in the chorus, sounds like it was yanked out of a ‘60s or ‘70s R&B hit), but the arrangement is bonkers. Who figured out that a marching band would blend so well with that tinkly guitar line, all with Beyoncé deliriously declaring her love in staccato? I don’t know, but I want that job.