chapter  4
15 Pages

Who’s Calling? Telephone Songs, Female Vocal Empowerment and Signifi cation


Among technologies of the past century, the telephone is surely one of the most ubiquitous, even within its constantly developing packaging.1 It has functioned as a transporter of voice for over a hundred years, and has also featured prominently in popular song. Songs featuring women on the telephone provide paradoxical, performative examples of female vocal empowerment and entrapment: their voices contained within the technology, their bodies primed to pick up the call, their utterances and inner desires amplifi ed and directed through the mouthpiece. Other songs present male singers but use the telephone as a gateway to women and their bodies. This chapter examines the corpus of telephone songs, looking especially at the ways in which fi ctional romantic relationships are governed by, or heightened by, telephone technology. Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ (2009, The Fame Monster) serves as a stimulus to explore the history of telephone songs and their relationship with the discourse of female empowerment within popular music. Going beyond the words spoken, I will demonstrate how the presentation of women’s telephone voices, in song and in music, a ects the signifi cance of the singer’s gestures through the musical presentation of these words.