A Letter to Three Videos

Essay by:

A Letter To Three Videos; A Letter To Three Lies

When I feel particularly hopeless, I turn to three YouTube videos for inspiration — Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night”, Susan Boyle’s Audition for Britain’s Got Talent, and the trailer for the 2015 film JOY.

ONE ︎:
Dear the music video for “Marry The Night” (“Marry The Night” by Lady Gaga),

It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loathe reality.

You aren’t even my favorite song off Born This Way. That honor goes to “Government Hooker” – Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy. But there’s an enthralling mania to your imagery. When I look at you I see myself flopping and succeeding and flopping and succeeding and struggling and sweating and dying and then living, but through the glorious lens of cinema.

Oh, (“Marry The Night” by Lady Gaga), you start off with the pop star being pushed around in a hospital bed. She’s in a white hospital gown complimented by high heels. She’s reciting an internal monologue about trauma and memory and the innate deception of retelling one’s story. It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loathe reality. You follow the origins of Gaga. She gets dropped by her label and then claws her way back up from the precipice, donning a bedazzled denim jacket to dance rehearsal that preludes her comeback. You may say that I have lost everything, but I still have my bedazzler. There are dramatic montages of Gaga making herself vomit, laboring up a stairwell with a keyboard, and pushing herself to the limit at rehearsals, all for the sake of fame. The music video ends with a car explosion. Gaga steps into a limousine and the camera glances at her hand — Interscope Records, Hollywood, CA 4 PM. It cuts to red. Some Satanic imagery — Gaga in a red leather dress, her head is obscured by a blue sphere. She floats into the black abyss. An ominous, off-kilter score.

You were posted on YouTube on December 2, 2011. You topped off a year of demented excess — this was Gaga at her height of her prowess. She wanted to group herself within a pantheon of demigods — Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna. But nothing is forever.

After you were posted, things started to go downhill for Gaga. She flew too close to the sun. Her Jeff Koons-themed dance album ARTPOP was messy and incoherent — pop culture was an art form, now art’s in pop culture in me. A media studies essay that should have languished in the drafts folder. But Born This Way was utopian Gaga. A pop star declaring that her journey to achieving fame and battling eating disorders and body image issues and assault and heartbreaks and breakups was indicative of anyone’s untapped potential. Crying in the hospital bed, Gaga whimpers — I’m going to be a star, you know why? Because I have nothing left to lose.

You, (“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga), are a spiritual sibling of another iconic video — “Lady Gaga - Brave Speech Live At The Monster Ball Tour” —  a clip of a monologue she gave a few years back at a sold out concert in Madison Square Garden.

I want to feel like my taste has changed. I want to have the confidence of knowing that all those things I found inspiring and moving and profound years ago, now seem trite and stupid. But that isn’t the case. There’s a part of me that will always need you (“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga) and your spiritual sibling (“Brave Speech Live At The Monster Ball Tour”) to get me through a rough night.

Social media platforms are blanketed with similarly trite messages — frequently viral Tweets that remind me of all the people who became successful artists in their 40s and 50s and 60s, infographics telling me some version of just remember that you’re a goddamn superstar.

But (“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga), there’s an integrity to your imagery. You weren’t made in some anesthetized content mill; a distant factory filled with creators crouched over their MacBooks, longing for an earthquake to wipe them the fuck out. No, you are glorious. Lady Gaga emptied her coffers for you. You are the most baroque testament to this lie. And that’s why I love you. 

Just because something is a myth doesn’t mean it can’t impact us, shape us, and help us in tangible ways. Scanning through your comments, it seems as if many agree. A recurring theme from your fans is that this video has brought them hope during their worst moments of crisis.     

Almost any pop music video on YouTube will have some fans in the comments section proclaiming that the bop is underrated or slept on or should have been a bigger hit. For instance, here is YouTube user Tristen Torres declaring that you’re a masterpiece:

I wish I could tell Tristan that I have always thought of you as a masterpiece. Maybe four years ago, when Tristan was rewatching you for the millionth time, I was drunk and high in bed and also consuming these very same pixels. I probably needed the late-night adrenaline boost. The thrill of Gaga stomping through New York City streets, exuding the ethereal aura of a star. Oh my dear, can you just imagine Tristan and I united in our loneliness, soaking in the soft glow of our laptops. Living for this lie. Living for you.

TWO ︎:
Dear Susan Boyle’s Audition (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality),

You showcase Susan Boyle, a middle-aged woman from the English countryside, auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent. Her hair is disheveled. She’s wearing a tacky dress that looks like it was made from old motel wallpaper. She seems worlds away from our understanding of a goddamn superstar. Simon Cowell is on the panel of judges. And he does a cheeky back and forth, asking Boyle about her aspirations — I am 47 and that’s just one side of me…. Okay, what’s the dream? — I am trying to be a professional singer. When he asks who she’d like to be as successful as, she says Elaine Page. The camera cuts to audience members rolling their eyes, mocking her and exchanging glances of disbelief. And then she opens her mouth and sings a pitch-perfect cover of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables. The audience and judges are in shock. This random woman who moments ago seemed like a total joke turned out to be a goddamn superstar, bringing the house down with a transcendent performance.

When watching you, I become Susan Boyle. I am tone-deaf and can only do decent karaoke after a couple bottles of soju, but when watching you (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality), I have operatic range. Sending writing into the world, emailing editors and uploading PDFs to, I am a faceless void. The occasional response reminds me that I am far from Susan Boyle. Simon Cowells at literary magazines scowling at me, copy-and-pasting canned rejections — Thanks for thinking of us, now go back to the English countryside. I have yet to reach that triumphant crescendo.

But you, (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality), you remind me that there’s always the possibility to flip the script. Regardless of how many individuals mock you or doubt you or insult you, there’s always a chance to prove them wrong. The people who flock to you have an array of opinions:

Let me respond.

Lexie Jane Moore: What does this mean?

Brian Mullins: I also share this theory that Susan Boyle knew she
would bean icon. She knew that she was about to fuck up the world.

Darren: Yes, me too.

SilverSoul: Thanks for sharing that factoid.

meg: Part of me fears that I would have been one of the people
doubting and mocking Susan Boyle.

Oh, (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality), I love the lie you tell. That we can all be Susan Boyles. But maybe it’s not much of a lie at all. Our comebacks aren’t as grand. We won’t all make $40,000,000. Not all of our dreams will come true. But watching this video after facing endless rejection, it makes each rejection seem small and insignificant and mundane. Boos can quickly morph into cheers, squints of disgust transform into mouths gaping in admiration. None of that really matters. If Susan Boyle didn’t think of herself as Susan Boyle, she wouldn’t have thrown herself in the lion’s den. The only thing one has control over is their self-confidence. I guess I will be coming back to you for years to come.

Dear the trailer for JOY (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX),

Although you are a riveting trailer, it’s been five years since I have seen you and I have yet to even watch the actual movie you advertise. JOY is a 2015 film by the writer and director of Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy Mangano — the creator of the Miracle Mop. Why was this film even made? Do you even know?

You are an emotional rollercoaster. You start off with Joy as a little girl, listening to her mom recite a speech that’s straight from a Sociology 101 textbook — Listen to me, I will tell you what’s going to come of you. You are going to grow up and be a strong, smart young woman. Go to school. Meet a fine young man. Have beautiful children of your own. And you’re going to build wonderful things and that is what’s going to happen you. A montage begins, scored by the choir portion of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Jennifer Lawrence, working as a receptionist for an airline. A customer angrily throws a stack of files at her. Jennifer Lawrence, crying for some unknown reason. She’s about to give up all hope. Jennifer Lawrence, standing outside in the winter cold with a lover; gazing longingly at one another through falling flakes of snow.  Jennifer Lawrence, crouched on her knees, working on a blue print for the Miracle Mop. And then the music stops; Jennifer Lawrence’s lush voice muses — Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The Rolling Stones’ song comes back in full force, powering through scenes of Jennifer Lawrence hustling, crying, screaming, and creating a mop empire. You made me really want to see the film. But it seems like JOY didn’t live up to your hype:

The truth is (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), I don’t even know how the movie ends. I assume that after the trials and tribulations of runaway success, Jennifer Lawrence has a humbling moment that reminds her that she has to stay grounded and honest. Shackled to puritanical morals. She is glory. I am sure that the story is rendered universal. It’s specific but relatable to a mass audience. Oh, (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), you really convey the stakes. You really make sure that anyone can feel like they are a Jennifer Lawrence, marching towards the American Dream.

I looked at your comments to see if anyone else also frequently returns to you for inspiration. But I can’t really find anything analogous to my own experience:

The world doesn’t owe me anything. It’s indifferent. It’s not kind.  I am not special. I am not a goddamn superstar. All I can do is look at Jennifer Lawrence and long for that bravado.  (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), I find the world you create so riveting. You make me envy her because everything is happening so fast. She cries and she suffers, but also within seconds, she’s ready to conquer.

(JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), you make me think about moments from my childhood where I felt like a total outsider. I ping-ponged between various specialists who came up with highly professionalized ways to explain that I’m peculiar — Growth Hormone Deficiency, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, Minor ADHD. Offices adorned with fancy degrees. My little legs dangling off the armchair. Staring at a new bearded man with a folder filled with charts and recommendations and strategies.

In elementary school, before I got injected by growth hormone, I was much smaller than all of my classmates. I’d look up at these looming children. And though I grew and became perfectly normal and gained all the strategies to navigate a learning difference and succeed academically, I know that those years had made me think of myself as a perpetual underdog. I used to have this recurring nightmare in middle school — I am at some pool party and all my friends are in a Jacuzzi, laughing and smiling with a gaggle of bikini-wearing supermodels, and then as I try to approach them, I float away. The closer I try to get, the farther I drift off into the ether.

I can compile Pinterest boards of #inspo #hustle #workharder messages. Hope and pray that some arbitrary definition of success will cure me of all insecurities. Maybe unlock a new level and finally feel like a goddamn superstar. But there are always words and phrases that echo in the back of my head. Close my eyes and they all bounce back — failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit, failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit. failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit, failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit. failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up.

The world doesn’t owe me anything. It’s not here to fulfil some meta-narrative that I have imposed onto it. And whatever I create probably will never have the tangible impact of the Miracle Mop. (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), you are my little secret. A safe space. You promote this fantasy that though the world might be indifferent, we can all achieve great things.

However, there’s power in insignificance. Waking up and staring at my reflection and not hearing a hurricane of insults and diagnoses. Just washing my face and thinking about what I’m going to eat for breakfast and write about and how whatever I put out to the world is more than enough because it comes from me and only me and no one, regardless of rejection or acceptance, can take that away. And even if I inch towards that small nirvana, I know that there will be times in the future where I will have to return to the three of you. Your lies are too tempting to ignore forever. Your function may change. But until you’re deleted, the impact is forever.


It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loathe reality.

Follow Daniel:

Twitter: @quepaso_daniel

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Daniel Spielberger is a writer based in Los Angeles. He's currently an MFA candidate at CalArts's Creative Writing Program.

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