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Latest: Gaga's Telephone currently hotter than Bard

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Will Gompertz | 12:15 UK time, Monday, 15 March 2010

Lady Gaga's video for Telephone, guest-starring Beyonce, has been watched more than 14 million times on Youtube in two days (you can see it here; it contains "adult themes"). That's a lot of interest.

Lady Gaga's Ttelephone

By contrast, the video for Gil Scott-Heron's Me And The Devil has attracted a third of a million views in over two months.

Even Beyonce's Single Ladies - a global Youtube hit which inspired multiple homages and spoofs - never hit those Gaga numbers in its original form.

Gil Scott-HeronThey are all good in their own way. The Scott-Heron imagery, albeit in HD, has a grainy texture that suits the song, a re-working of an old Robert Johnson blues number. The talk is that Telephone is the new Thriller. Perhaps Single Ladies better deserves that accolade: Beyonce nails the choreography/pop mix as surely as Michael Jackson did a generation ago.

Jonas Akerlund directed the Gaga promo. He has form. At the saucy end of the scale, his videos for German metallers Rammstein make Telephone look like an episode of Andy Pandy. And he's been making pop-kitsch promos for ages; Mika's We Are Golden is a high point.

Nobody truly minds that Gil Scott-Heron is slowly building an audience for his new tracks, while millions have instantly gone gaga over the new Gaga. In fact, both sets of fans will be pleased in their own way. The people at Shakespeare's Globe theatre should take heart.

Last week, they published a survey which tells us that among 13-to-14-year-olds, "99.4% have been to the cinema, but one in three has never been to the theatre, whilst four out of five have never seen a Shakespeare play."

The way the release is written suggests disappointment in the uptake of theatre in general and of Shakespeare's plays in particular. It doesn't seem so awful if you change the emphasis. Nearly 70% of the surveyed group of young teenagers have been to the theatre, while 20% have been to see a Shakespeare production.

Felicity Kendal as Viola in a BBC production of  Twelfth NightThat's 13-to-14-year-olds who have actually been to the theatre. Not those who have read a text at school, or seen their older sister perform in a school production of Flashdance; this lot have experienced a professional theatrical production. You might equally be surprised that it's so high. This is an age-group that has many calls on its time: school, friends, sport, video games, social networks, shopping, flirting, partying, learning.

The education departments in the UK's arts institutions work very hard; these figures are testimony to that. But they need to be realistic. An exciting new movie is always going to be more popular than a production of Twelfth Night, just as Gaga will pull a larger crowd than Scott-Heron. So it goes.

PS: Another slice of the new Gil Scott-Heron album comes in the form of a fan video where the album's title track I'm New Here is illustrated by photographs from Robert Frank's The Americans.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well, she can dress up a perfectly ordinary and passable pop song as much as she likes, but Lady Gaga's little opus is softcore pornography for the kiddies. Gil Scott-Heron's video and the music production are also more than passable, although some of the imagery in that, too, is aimed fair and square at the kiddies. It's a nice treatment for the song, though.

    The Lady Gaga thing is freely available to anyone using Youtube, which is mildly distressing for any parent with young computer-literate kids and who'd like those kids to hang on to their innocence a year or two longer. Gaga is hugely popular at the moment and is churning out been there, done that dance pulp for the less demanding music-loving younger person. She's smart, slick and sassy and is doing the kind of thing Madonna did to become so famous, and rich, a decade or two back.

    Unlike Gaga and Mr Scott-Heron, no matter how good they are this week, this month, this year, Shakespeare was a genius and a greater or smaller percentage of children for eons to come will read his works and marvel at them.

  • Comment number 2.

    Pay me I'm famous...

    Gil Scott-Heron gets rewarded for being a former junkie and man of many squandered talents with a brand new album deal via XL, as well as a tie-in reprint of his books. Instead of investing in someone young who can deliver a bulletin from the ghetto in 2010, XL would rather cash in on an existing "name". Albeit a name who can't keep his nose clean. A man who has let down his fans by becoming a stereotype.

    Lady Gaga gets to peddle smut-dressed-as-art as a vehicle for product placement. The amount of casual advertising in Telephone is crazy, the song is completely meh, it's cruel and violent for no particular reason, and it's hubristic beyond belief. But hey, what does it matter? People (Gomp now included) can't stop praising her, for fear of being seen as a dinosaur or for fear of "not getting it". Wearing sunglasses covered with cigarettes is not something to "get", it's just stupid. You know it deep down, just say it already...

  • Comment number 3.

    The song is moderate, but she certainly upped the anti on the video, with the "short film" format and production to create a short musical...

  • Comment number 4.

    Where any of these 13-14 year olds asked if they had seen Baz Luhman's version of Romeo & Juliet? I should think most of them have they just do not realise that its Shakespeare.
    Trouble is that during their school life the average child has to read the same Shakespeare play five or six times this makes it monotonous and causes an instant dislike. Shakespeare needs to be seen not read, when I went to school we never went to see a play, and my children have only been because I have taken them.
    Secondly Shakespeare is usually played in the old Elizabethan making it long, boring and hard to understand. The plays are rarely set in a modern context, as Shakespeare intended them to be, although the Globe are good at doing both Elizabethan and modern versions of the plays! And when they are it is much more enjoyable. Want to get kids interested in Shakespeare stop making them read it and take them to see it performed!

  • Comment number 5.

    "(you can see it here; it contains "adult themes")".

    And that's why it's more popular than Shakespeare. If the kids think they will see something rude or naughty then of course they're going to watch it. Anything cultural is the territory of geeks and that's not what they want to be.

    I do take my daughter to the theatre but admit I do try and find shows that are entertaining, easy for kids to follow and fun. However I would like to think that when she's older she will already appreciate what theatre is about and would be more inclined to give any genre a go.

    On GaGa, while this video might just about pass for the older teens, the woman appeals to kids of all ages. On the one hand, her outlandish dress sense is fabulous (in it's own little way) as a lesson to my 8 year old and all of her little pop music fan friends that you don't have to be like everyone else to get ahead and a bit creativity is nothing to be afraid of. But when it comes to putting that pop music to videos like that... afraid I don't agree with that.

  • Comment number 6.

    And what exactly is the point of this entirely fatuous article?

  • Comment number 7.

    Is who ever wrote this article getting paid to do so by Gil Scott-Heron?`
    This whole piece is awful and isnt bbc worthy.

  • Comment number 8.

    #6. Guy J wrote:

    "And what exactly is the point of this entirely fatuous article?"

    Perhaps, Will Gompertz, just like all us bloggers, needs to practice our writing skills don't we? And what would we be responding to if the article had not been written? Don't we all like slaughtering English!

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with laura about the slanted subject matter of this piece.

    Also, who decided that Shakespeare is the one standard that we hold the Arts to? Why must everything always pale in comparison to Shakespeare? I was never given the choice to decide what good art and literature was. I was just told what is, in school. So whose to say that the "Telephone" video is not a brilliant piece of artwork, in its own right? 15+ million people on youtube would say otherwise.

    This article continues to mention that the video is not suited for children, but it was never meant to be. So does all "good art" have to be child-friendly? I don't think so. And if you don't want your children watching the video, then take measures as a parent to block youtube using a parental internet block. It's not very hard to do. And if a child truly is very internet literate, than he/she could search far worse things than some Lady Gaga video.

    It would be a step in the right direction for us to loosen up a bit. It's okay to blur the lines between being sexy and being artistic. Who is to say that Michael Angelo's paintings are not pornographic. What is the line that makes that tasteful and artistic but makes gaga trashy and distasteful?

  • Comment number 10.

    What's with BBC campaign to promote this disgusting person - Gaga? I mean, Will links DIRECTLY to this X-rates video with the encouraging words (you can see it here). Gaga appeared recently on Jonathan Ross' show too. Someone must be paying the BBC for her promotion or someone inside the BBC in high position must be ordering the promotion.

    Care to share any details, Will?

  • Comment number 11.

    I agree that the writing style of the article is a little weak and seems to drift a bit, although it has generated comments not unlike the subjects it is covering.

    Gaga is in a different media/time than Shakespeare, so I don't want to start drawing comparisons too deeply... but many of Shakespears plays had some very dark themes; revenge, murder, adultery, insanity, toture etc etc...

    And these themes were also etertaining for his audience, not unlike the Gaga publicity train entertaining audiences of today.

    Music artists having been singing/acting about drugs,sex and rock and roll for ages, so its nothing new.

    I think she is very talented, not the worlds best voice, but definitely the full entertainment package. Good on her for pushing the limits and taking a stand against all the bubblegum pop that completely repulses and offends me. Gaga vs Pink would be fun though...!

  • Comment number 12.

    11. At 02:30am on 16 Mar 2010, dave wrote:
    I think she is very talented, not the worlds best voice, but definitely the full entertainment package

    Yes, she's got a full dumbing down package.

    The power of the speech and language was what Francis Bacon realised in his efforts to impove the fortunes of this nation. It seems to opposite process in now in place.

    This country has had it!

  • Comment number 13.

    Hooray, more articles to ignore. Seriously now, "Lady Gaga" is a manufactured hack.

  • Comment number 14.

    pull your heads out people, live a little, take risks, PC is so last year.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Plamski

    I'm sorry to hear you think 'this country has had it'

    lets all move to North Korea or something, its so much better over there...

    be grateful you have a voice

  • Comment number 16.

    Would you have taken your ten year old to see Shakespeare in the 17th century? I think not - with his 150 different references to female genitalia and 180 to male, it wasn't exactly SFW. Although maybe kids were less cosseted back then, and would have just laughed at all the cock jokes along with the rest of the groundlings.


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