EXCLUSIVE: Music Video Pioneer Michel Gondry on Lady Gaga: 'I'm Not Interested'

Michel Gondry has made some of the most indelible music videos of all time for some of the biggest acts of the last two decades, including Radiohead, Björk, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes, Beck and even Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. So when Movieline caught up with him today to discuss his forthcoming documentary Thorn in the Heart, it seemed a great opportunity to feel him out on the new vanguard of the form: Lady Gaga, whose epic "Telephone" video has swept popular culture with a fury, frenzy and inspiration not seen since the glory days of which Gondry himself was a part. His response -- which swept through genre monoliths from Michael Jackson to Madonna to Marilyn Manson -- was unexpected to say the least.

"I'm not interested," he said. "To me it's like a form of Marilyn Manson. It's hard for me to talk about it; I've seen a couple of videos of hers, and not for very long. I stop watching them each time because I don't think there's melodies. I'm sorry to be negative. Like I'm not a big fan of Madonna. I respect her very much, but unfortunately the videos didn't help the music in the long run. Well, I guess it helped it to survive to the point where the video was irrelevant. So music has to find its own way, which is good for the music. It becomes smaller and more alive and it's not as crazy, except for some R&B. To me, it's just talking about the surface. I compare it to Marilyn Manson. The music to me is very expected. I don't think there's anything in the tone or the melody that makes me say, 'Oh, there's something going on.'

"And I like commercial music," Gondry continued. "Michael Jackson will always be my favorite pop musician; he was for years and years until his death, which was horrible to me. So I like pop culture. But to me, even if it's popular, there is a quality in the music you have to be able to appreciate. And I don't see it. Her melodies are very conventional. I remember when my friend and I would argue about Killing Joke. I remember him saying, 'It's so great!' But I said, 'It's so conventional! How can you find anything original? It's just surface!' I don't know, maybe the comparison is ridiculous. But the melody was very, very flat. That's probably why they are famous. But maybe it's considered high art just because of the way she dresses?"

That raised the question of the decline of the music video overall, the foundational art form that MTV has essential banished from network.

"But you know, in 1999 or 2000, MTV and VH1 did the 100 Best Videos of All Time -- two different selections -- and I had zero videos in either of them," Gondry said. "So when people tell me I'm the 'MTV Generation,' I just say, 'No.' I never won any MTV [Video Music Awards]. Oh, except for one for a video I did for Massive Attack, actually, and I lost it. My producer was furious. He wanted to put it in his office. But I loved videos. I remember watching videos very late at night -- Michael Jackson videos. The first rap videos were amazing: Run-DMC, Tone Loc, all of that was just amazing. The Beastie Boys videos were always great. But then it became very stereotyped. There was this confusion. Also: The MTV Video Awards were never about the video, but about the song. Most of the time it was just to glorify people for the wrong reason."

Got it -- and there's more where that came from. Look for it here at Movieline as Thorn in the Heart's April 2 release date approaches.


  • applepie says:

    Couldn't agree with Michel more. There is nothing there. And this video has no real context to anything, not even the song lyrics.

  • Bebop Rocksteady says:

    Gaga IS Marilyn Manson. Or.. Josh Saviano, (a.k.a. Paul Pfiefer from the Wonder Years!)

  • Ace says:

    I personally am fairly indifferent to her music-- I don't seek it out, but if I hear it on the radio I won't change the channel. It's empty and catchy, like most pop music.
    I wouldn't quite say she's a female Marilyn Manson, though they do carry the same sense of attention-seeking anti-pop culturalism. I would however certainly call her a mix between Manson and Madonna, and if you're not a fan of either of those as Gondry isn't, then of course you won't like her.
    I would also like to add she's got some balls on her, and I respect that. Also a huge fan of the fact that she's been dressing ridiculously since the very beginning of her mainstream career instead of waiting till she picked up some steam to pull stunts (like, for instance, Madonna).
    She's fun to watch, and I have no need to speak ill of her.
    All my friends hate her, but I find her personality to be refreshing in her genre.

  • Genevieve says:

    "Anyone who doesn't get Gaga probably doesn't get Warhol either."
    I don't think it's a matter of "getting it" or not, it's that some people just plain don't like her, and that's perfectly fine.

  • i've never been a huge fan of Gondry, but my respect for him definitely went up here...his criticisms are both intelligent & much needed in the face of unquestioning worship of this irritatingly bland ripoff artist. Gaga, or rather her 'creative' team, simply picks through the work of lesser-known artists & designers, scavenges the most 'controversial' bits, & mashes them together to create instant mind candy for the two-second-attention-span set. if she came with a mute button it would at least be fun to watch, sort of like a kid getting into her mother's closet if her mother happens to be a crazy-rich prostitute with a taste for impractical haute couture.
    & i don't even know what to make of that video...the song was repetitive & generic like everything i've heard of hers, & the video had absolutely nothing to do with it [aside from a few telephones popping up here & there] & little to do even with itself, from the first half to the second half. again, a bunch of 'controversial' pop culture motifs thrown into a blender & half-assedly mashed together. i count Kill Bill, Natural Born Killers, Chicago [all of which are far better than this technicolor yawn - & all of which, as feature length films, felt shorter...]. i'm wondering how much PlentyofFish & Virgin mobile paid for the product placement & if that's how they funded this visual abortion.

  • RESPECT, MON! says:

    YEA! Finally a person in the music business who is honest about her complete lack of artistic presence. See, little 11 year old fans, she has "haters" because her corporation wants to call her bad Marilyn Manson act "Warholian" and "Post Modern". It is self indulgent tripe. I didn't even watch the video. I saw one from her, and it was so awful I thought it was a joke, or finally RuPaul had a rival. It is so hilarious to see these sheep speak of this latest videos horrible product placements as "comments on society". The best comment she could make would be to construct a melody.
    There is one thing I would disagree with him about though....Killing Joke has lyrics. They are polysyllabic and relevant about the world. Even Marilyn Manson tried lyrically. This person is a failure at everything, except for appropriating from the estates of the dead. Klaus Nomi and Wendy O Williams......bad karma, baby.

  • dkcroski says:

    oh okay now i understand why the 18 year old girls are no longer responding to my phone calls. thats fine if they all want to become lesbians at least we will have less teen pregnancies.

  • One man's 'high art' is another man's gimmicky, derivative, pop song. says:

    I can understand if people find her little pop songs catchy and her derivative fashion sense 'fun' but when people start calling this 'high art' they must be ignorant, delusional, or both.
    I love Bjork, Bowie and MJ (all are also dependent on visuals) but I don't need those visuals to keep me interested in their music and most of the time the music is more powerful than the visuals. I really doubt Gaga would ever be brave enough to ditch the costumes and wear a white sheet for a year and allow her video clips to consist of just a blank white screen. This visual 'smoke screen' that she has put up is perhaps there to mask the fact that she mostly writes fun disposable pop songs. Which is fine but I would hardly regard someone who uses a visual smoke screen for that reason a creator of 'high art'.
    Also her 'Haus' is heavily inspired by designers like Hussein Chalayan, Thierry Mugler, Viktor & Rolf and the late Alexander McQueen. Sure she has 'borrowed' a few pieces from said designers but her Haus has also blatantly ripped off (I'm sure they would called it 'appropriating') designer's original concepts right off the runway. Anyone in the music industry today can wear crazy clothes if they have the right connections and are able to borrow pieces from certain labels for free as long as they mention the label's name. But not everyone can write truly great music.
    Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition are both more original and more powerful than any of the CFGAFGC chord tripe that Gaga, Katy Perry, Ke$ha et al. have created and both of these works premiered in the early 1900s! And as far as I know Stravinsky/Ravel didn't have to dress in runway garb to compensate for their lack of writing skills or create a music video blatantly sponsored by Plenty of Fish, Lady Gaga Heartbeat Earphones, Polaroid, Wonder White, Miracle Whip and Gaga's good friends at Virgin Mobile.
    I'm sure many people would call me a 'hater'. Well I actually find 3 of her songs quite catchy, but that doesn't mean I have to consider everything she does and will ever do 'high art'.
    Perhaps if some of these ignorant 'hater labelling' fans actually knew anything about art, pop culture, Classical music + music from the 60s-90s and fashion instead of basing all their prior opinions off of info they acquired from gossip blogs, MTV, and Teen Vogue they would probably understand Gondry's pertinent point: that nowadays the over dependence of fashion and the over-styled video in the Pop genre is sometimes just another poor attempt at beefing up a lazily written pop tune from a derivative musical dilettante.

  • In The Know says:

    Are most all of you on here culturally retarded? Alternatively, are you narrow-minded, Fox News-watching, lemmings? Or perhaps, you all belong to the same finger painting club in the nursing home?
    Nobody cares that YOU don't like Lady Gaga. Nobody outside the above suggested circles cares what YOU think at all.
    Recycle that!

  • Joe Condy says:

    Gaga may not be all that, yet, and some of her success maybe due to the lack of talent in the current musical atmosphere (don't blame her for that). She never claimed to be more than a commercial dance/pop artist. Nevertheless, some of the above comments(possibly by fans of other artists who are not hitting right now)reak of jealousy at her success by trying to pain her or criticize her for something she never claimed to be. So tipycal(smdh).

  • YZ says:

    So right! I totally agree! As a fashion designer I would also like to state that there's nothing cutting edge about Lady Gaga's fashion, its mostly late mainstream translations of stuff that happend five years ago in Europe and are now projected to mainstream audiance via some tacky stylists who call themselfs "avant garde" and "underground", uhh right...
    People stop calling Gaga fashion icon, her video's look like a lame Tyra Top Model photoshoot... like her music and her videos it all lacks any true originality or depth. Just very cheap and common. Funny when you're drunk though..

  • Ron says:

    Actually, much of today's music just sucks. Pretty girls who can't sing get their voices electronically altered, fain lesbianism, and make millions. TV killed the radio, boys! At least Gaga is interesting and presents her own voice.
    So this "guru" doesn't think the video, Like a Prayer, doesn't help sell the song because it has no melody? Right!!!!!! He confuses distracting with interesting.

  • filmmakerkindah says:

    Damn! this is awsome! Gondry I love you even more! Lady Gaga is a joke with some interesting clothing. Her music is empty bullshit! I like how everyone thinks shes so different. Shes just a tool.

  • Kate says:

    I TOTALLY agree here. I just don't get it. There's nothing groundbreaking about her music at all and being over the top and, no offense, somewhat nasty doesn't make you original or worthy of praise. Her music is conventional and catchy, but that's it. I've felt the same way about Madonna for years. Yes, Gaga dresses outlandishly but so did Elton John, Boy George and Cher way before she did. She's kind of a combo of the three in terms of wardrobe. But does being outlandish make you worthy of praise and elevate you to icon status....I don't think so. There's just not that much to get excited about right now out there so people are hyping her up way too much. Time will tell. As far as I'm concerned pop music/videos/true originality WITH A MESSAGE died with Michael Jackson. But that's just me.

  • Tiago Costa says:

    Well, I think Lady Gaga is a product and I have no doubt about it. I mean, every artist is a product on their own way, because, at the end of the day, they are selling music and image. But there are artists that can sell their image and music, and somewhat, being genuine and really focused on the beauty of their work, and not too much about a blatant reasuring way of haging on in the charts. Lady Gaga is new, new one day gets old, I think she chose a very limited path to keep her career going,maybe she will just get more and more outrageous with time, but it gets boring. There's no explanation how this image is related to her music, we see crazy designed dress, and shallow pop music at the background.

  • Julia says:

    I approve Gondry's words with a big amen. AMEN!

  • I really love films I could not really live without...

  • ArticleLover says:

    I really love films I weren't able to really live without...

  • tony says:

    I cannot stand lady gaga, she is a disgrace to music. The music industry is being stripped of its talent as it is so hard now for a musician who stands out from the rest to be successful. Its all about money now, this video supports that, look at how many fucking product placements there were..

  • joe angel says:

    Lady Gaga is an true artist with a great voice. 'Telephone' is one of my favorites and so is the video. I respect that many of the people in this comment section do not like her, the same for Gondry. I wonder if these same people understand Gaga to be a reflection of the state of the world today. She is also a pioneer, a politician and a hero.

  • hahaha says:

    hahaha people who don't like gaga just have a greater open mind, than the ones who are loving her. Whatever happened to videos going with the music? there's a lot of things in there that make no sense and no reason (with her other videos too). What's the point in her lyrics too? not only to this song, but with others. sheez.

  • Joe says:

    Good man Gondry! Showing some taste!

  • Bella says:

    No matter what she wears ...but she sings well...:-)

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  • […] com nomes muito fortes e nos quais ele acredita [lembro que quando a Lady Gaga era relevante, ele deixou bem claro que achava ela palha]. Agora, convenhamos, esse vídeo tá longe de ser a obra-prima do […]