There wasn't a whole lot of buzz preceding the premiere of Lady Gaga's new video, "The Edge of Glory." And following the overwrought and shoddily edited "Judas," I expected it to be the first Gaga video since "Bad Romance" not to receive its very own write-up here on The House. Even after the first viewing of "The Edge of Glory," there didn't seem like much to write about. The video is unexpectedly simple, surprisingly low-concept. Gaga looks good and it's shot beautifully, but what else was there to say?
But then I watched it again. And again. In fact, I found myself coming back to it again and again last night, its references—or maybe just my projections, but no matter—slowly starting to reveal themselves. The intentionally barren, old-Hollywood backlot sets recall Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" and Janet's "When I Think of You." There are even shades of Singin' in the Rain. The bombastic "Edge of Glory" may have begged for an equally grandiose visual treatment, but the pretense on display here perfectly complements the track's garishly '80s sonic milieu.
The most obvious Reagan-era reference, however, is Ken Russell's 1984 sex thriller Crimes of Passion. Gaga emerges from the window of her crimson-lit boudoir like Kathleen Turner, except she's sporting Terri Nunn's two-toned, new-wave hairdo and the red glow isn't coming from a blinking neon sign outside—it's coming from within. The light seems to follow Gaga wherever she goes, seeping through door cracks and windows, stalking her as she turns the corner. There might not be any deeply hidden thematic meaning here, but the art direction is breathtaking, the video's cool, gray-blue-black color palette carefully calibrated by Gaga's vibrant lipstick and nail polish, a red painted stripe on the curb, and the gold of her jewelry and the studs on her leather, not to mention Clarence Clemons's brass.
The similarities between "The Edge of Glory" and Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" are also hard to dismiss: Both are indebted to Janet's "The Pleasure Principle," with minimalist sets, freestyle dancing, and artificial light playing key roles. The concept for "Call Your Girlfriend," though, would have worked better for last year's "Dancing on My Own," and it seems to leave less room for symbolic interpretation than it does in Gaga's video. And while Robyn's one-take format could have given "The Edge of Glory" a more obvious technical element for critics and fans to gush over, it's partly the clip's editing that makes it works so well. Early in the video, there's a long take of Gaga strutting through her red-light district, ostensibly courting her next john/beau/whatever ("I got a reason that you should take me home tonight"), and a shock of black hair falls in her eyes; wisely, she doesn't touch it, and then you realize she's started to walk backward, coyly turning her back completely and beckoning us to follow.
Popjustice called the video "boring," and suggested a series of changes that could have "saved" the clip. (Saved it from what? The judicious eyes of queens who want elaborate costumes, cheesy narratives, hoards of backup dancers, and...mermaids, apparently? It's all reminiscent of Beyoncé's fans' inane uproar over Sophie Muller's great video for the singer's "Déjà Vu" a few years back.) There are moments when Gaga's lip-synching is only half convincing, but that too only adds to the proceedings' deliberate air of artifice. Is Gaga a fashionista living a double life like Turner's China Blue? Will Clemons and his sacred saxophone try to save her soul? Who cares? The video is a stylistic triumph. Gaga reportedly had "creative differences" with original director Joseph Kahn, leading to his departure from the set, and that hideous Versace silk shirt and mustard-colored cap are further evidence of the pop singer's questionable taste when left to her own devices. But Gaga's still the only mainstream artist today churning out music videos that are worth picking apart the morning after.