Friday night I saw Lady's Gaga's breasts.
It wasn't just a flash of boobage glimpsed during a quick wardrobe change. It was more like a lingering observation made from a darkened jail cell, staring at a video monitor while standing behind her proud parents...and her grandmother.
While this may come off as some bizarre vision dreamed up as a result of a toxic combo of vodka Red Bulls and too much dancing at The Factory, it was an actual moment I shared with Mama and Papa Gaga (and a production crew of 20) in an abandoned prison on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. I was on the set of her latest music video, "Telephone," the second high-energy single from the wildly entertaining album, The Fame Monster. The scene in question took place a few yards from where we sat. Gaga donned a black-and-white-striped prison gown complete with amplified shoulder pads and a slit down the middle, exposing her pale torso underneath (what would you expect from the woman who once wore a Kermit the Frog frock and rotating metallic rings on her head?). She had just been escorted by two surly-looking female prison guards, one of whom had played Miss Man in the first Scary Movie. As soon as she was placed in her cell, the dress came off, and the director rehearsed some shots with her arms draped outside the bars, her nipples covered with small pieces of what appeared to be black tape. They weren't pasties as I had texted to several friends while I stood next to the executive producer and asked myself, "Am I really here?"
The music video, directed by Jonas Ackerlund, happens to be a continuation of the video for "Paparazzi" (also directed by Ackerlund) in which Gaga poisons her abusive lover. In "Telephone," we find Gaga in a women's prison after committing her crime of passion. From the costumes and choreography I managed to catch in the two hours I spent on set, this thing aims to be Chicago on acid. With more tattoos. And nude shower scenes. And a whole lot of girl-on-girl action. And did I mention Beyonce shows up to rescue our pop diva? In a Hummer?
After exiting the 110 Freeway and navigating my car through the pothole-riddled backstreets of Godknowswhere, I arrived at the Lincoln Heights Jail, parking my car in a very dark lot one block away from the lights and production trailers. A security guard tapped on my window. "You here for shoot?" His mumbled question was weighed down by an accent I couldn't pinpoint. He must have seen the callsheet and map in my hand as I tried to get a sense of my surroundings. I nodded.
"See the big light? Go to the light," he told me.
I took it as his best impression of St. Peter greeting me at the Gates of Heaven. And heaven this almost was, in a weird and warped way. I made my way past a field of trash and under some train tracks to come across another security dude who looked as if he had been sitting there for an eternity.
"Are you supposed to be here?" he asked.
I told him I was and gave him the name of the production supervisor I was supposed to meet. I'm sure I could have said I was there to clip off some platinum locks of Gaga's hair and sell them on eBay, and he still would have let me in. I walked past several racks of costumes (more prison outfits), a large trailer housing backup dancers (hey look, it's Mark from So You Think You Can Dance) and a tent covering tables of processed snacks and uneaten fruit and veggie platters. Another security guard to my left. A woman with a clipboard and walkie to my right.
It was like a sleepaway campground for the glittered and garish.
I was soon guided into the main building. I walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor, following a line of cables which led me down a corridor of corroded gates and cracked walls. If any location scouts were in need of a setting for Paranormal Activity 2, they could include this place on their lists. The end of the hall was a hubbub of activity, full of crew members and extras, most of whom were standing around and trying to catch a glimpse of the scene that was unfolding. Gaga was prepping for the opening shot of the song, standing at a pay phone, wearing a black leather jacket covered in studs and spikes. Her hair was rolled up with Diet Coke cans. And naturally, she was pantsless.
The opening chimes of the song trickled out of a speaker. Hello, hello, baby you called, I can't hear a thing. I have got no service in the club you see, see... Then the bassline kicks in. She throws the phone down. Sorry I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy...k-kinda busy... Bump and grind. Turns away. Walks off with a shake of the ass. "Cut!" The crew cheers. It's an excellent take. The "security guards" are all smiles, admiring the spunk of this 5-foot-2 girl from New York we've all gathered here for tonight.
A PA started to hand out bottled water. Apparently this was going to be a long night (call time had been 8 in the morning). I gladly accepted one and inched my way closer to the video village that was stationed past the cell in which Gaga and her mohawked cellmates patiently waited for the next take. Soon Gaga's glam squad rushed in; touch-ups were needed. An assistant wrapped her up in a blanket, because dank, dark prison in January = not so comfy.
But back to that boob shot...
Who knows if it will make the cut? I'm sure there will be an "unrated" version available to a select few once the video is released (sometime at the end of this month). After offering a few poses for the camera, Gaga came back to the monitors, covered up with a jacket, and walked into the arms of a tall, frat-looking dude - her boyfriend apparently. Mom and Dad offered a few mumbled words to their daughter. For some reason I didn't care to eavesdrop, but I did notice the interaction between the family members. Suddenly Gaga wasn't Gaga for those brief minutes. She was Stefani Germanotta, a little girl covered in makeup and hair extensions, huddled up next to her loved ones, a support system that's clearly kept her grounded during these last 18 months of insanity. I felt as if I were on assignment for Rolling Stone, placed there to observe a side of a superstar only few have been privileged to see. One minute she's vamping it up with Amazonian biker chicks, the next she's hugging a father who can't stay too long because Grandma wants to take advantage of the senior discount at the nearby Denny's. To her family, Gaga is their little girl who gets to run wild with the vivid imagination she had always had as a child, taking the game of Pretend to the extreme, making a living by doing so, and undoubtedly inspiring millions to turn their own ideas and dreams into a reality. I think it's pretty safe to say we're only witnessing the infancy of a true megastar.
I tapped the shoulder of my contact, saying I had to get going and miss out on the upcoming choreographed routine. Two birthday parties remained on my Friday night to-do list, and I had a timetable to follow. I thanked my contact for the opportunity, grabbed a coffee at the kraft service table on the way out and retraced my steps back to the car.
I couldn't help but whistle the chorus repeatedly to myself I as I went.
Leaving my head and my heart on a dance floor...somewhere,