Spreading the cult body on YouTube: A case study of "Telephone" derivative videos

Agnese Vellar

Università di Torino, Turin, Italy

[0.1] Abstract—This case study of spreadability analyzes the Lady Gaga music video "Telephone," which has been appropriated and reworked by YouTube users sharing derivative works online. What properties of the music video stimulate user appropriation? What hybrid audiovisual forms are emerging from its reworking by users? In order to answer these questions, between January and August 2010, I conducted participant observation on Lady Gaga's official social network profiles and collected 70 "Telephone" derivative videos on YouTube. I identified three main categories of video creativity: (1) music (which includes covers, "me singing" videos, music mashups, and choreography); (2) parody (in which YouTube users and comedians humorously imitate Gaga, creating spoofs); and (3) fashion (in which makeup artists and amateurs appropriate the star's image to create makeup and hair tutorials). "Telephone" has become spreadable because it integrates dance music and choreography, costume changes, cinematic references, and product placements that work as textual hooks meaningful to different target markets: live music, dance, chick, and postmodern cinematic cultures. In particular, Gaga is a cult body that explicitly incorporates previous cinematic and pop music icons. Users are stimulated to reenact Gaga's cult body online. On YouTube, spreadability is thus strictly related to the appropriation of cult bodies. Fans, comedians, independent musicians, fashionistas, and pop stars construct their own cult bodies by deliberately borrowing characteristics from previous media icons and reenacting them in online videos in order to fulfill their expressive and professional needs.

[0.2] Keywords—Derivative works; Lady Gaga; Spreadable media

Vellar, Agnese. 2012. "Spreading the Cult Body on YouTube: A Case Study of 'Telephone' Derivative Videos." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

1. From viral video to spreadability

[1.1] New participatory forms of audiovisual production are emerging on Web 2.0. Cultural industries design media brands in order to create emotional relationships between brands and consumers. This marketing technique has been termed "affective economics" (Jenkins 2006). With the aim of constructing a loyal audience of emotionally engaged fans who are active in the promotion of the brand, media producers create contents that seek to be both cultural attractors and activators. Cultural attractors stimulate the aggregation of people with similar interests and tastes, while cultural activators prompt audiences to do something related to the brand itself (e.g., produce a video or organize a promotional campaign). In this way, companies give consumers both something to talk about and also the cultural references that enable consumers to talk through their contents. When consumers are emotionally involved, they appropriate and re-create the professionally produced contents; they share the reworked material and comment upon the brand online. They thus become brand evangelists working as grassroots marketers. Hence, whereas the entertainment industries used to react to fan appropriation with prohibitionist strategies, today they exploit work by fans for promotional purposes, their aim being to create "grassroots marketing campaigns" (Russell et al. 2008, 62).

[1.2] The grassroots marketing technique is enhanced by the structure of social network sites (SNSs) (boyd and Ellison 2007) and by the nature of digital information. In digital public spaces, information is persistent, searchable, replicable, and scalable (boyd 2008). Word of mouth can enable multimedia contents such as videos to acquire huge visibility and thus go viral. Viral videos have been exploited by companies as marketing devices because they serve as low-cost promotional campaigns aimed at attracting consumers to a specific branded site. The assumption behind viral marketing is that advertisers and media producers shape a message that will be replicated through online channels. However, "viral" metaphors do not account for how fans appropriate and rework media. For this reason, Jenkins et al. (2009) have proposed a model of spreadability to describe an open-ended participation process that maps the flow of content through SNSs. From this perspective, users are active consumers who produce derivative works specific to their own social and cultural contexts.

[1.3] I describe the spreadability of the Lady Gaga music video "Telephone" (2010). "Telephone" was produced and distributed by Interscope Records in order to promote the second single on The Fame Monster (2009), Gaga's first EP. Gaga is the best example of a music star who exploits opportunities for audiovisual spreadability on Web 2.0 to construct affective economics. New York Entertainment puts it thus: "As Madonna and Michael Jackson were to MTV, Lady Gaga is to YouTube: the killer app" ( In fact, Gaga has an emotionally engaged and active audience because of her strategic production of multimedia content published on SNSs. In order to understand how Gaga works as both a cultural attractor and cultural activator, between January and August 2010, I conducted participant observation on Gaga's official profiles in Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (Vellar 2010). Gaga's digital profile works as a cultural attractor because it aggregates fans around a celebrity persona. However, understanding how media products work as cultural activators requires more detailed analysis of the characteristics of media texts. What properties of a music video stimulate user appropriation? What hybrid audiovisual forms are emerging from reworking by users? In order to answer these questions, I analyzed the "Telephone" primary text and categorized 70 "Telephone" derivative videos posted on YouTube. I chose to conduct a case study of "Telephone" because of its popularity on YouTube and its many derivative videos. In fact, on July 3, 2011, the official "Telephone" video became the 39th most watched video on YouTube, with 113,932,286 viewings ( The analysis of the primary text and the categorization of derivative videos enabled me to identify the textual elements that make a video more likely to spread, which I interpreted by applying the concept of a media cult.

Video 1. Lady Gaga—Telephone ft. Beyoncé (2010).

[1.4] Spreadable videos are multimedia productions that fulfill their viewers' communicative and creative needs and stimulate those viewers to redistribute and re-create the primary text. Although marketers believe that they are able to encode a message that will spread by word of mouth with no modification, texts are culturally adapted in different contexts to satisfy different needs. The members of a social group appropriate and share elements that are meaningful for their culture. Successful videos have textual hooks that users select for repetition and that become part of the cultural repertoire of YouTube (Burgess 2008). As Burgess states, textual hooks cannot be identified in advance. However, I suggest that the concept of a media cult can aid analysis of spreadable video because it enables us to focus on the characteristics that stimulate a text's appropriation by users.

[1.5] The notion of a media cult was first proposed by Eco (1986) in order to describe cult movies like Casablanca (1942, dir. Michael Curtiz). Eco argues that a cultural product becomes a cult object if it provides a "completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan's private sectarian world" (198). Casablanca became a cult object because it was full of "intertextual frames," stereotyped situations derived from previous textual traditions that were easily recognizable to cinema fans. Intertextuality is a characteristic of postmodern movies such as Bananas (1971, dir. Woody Allen) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, dir. Steven Spielberg). Fans of postmodern movies gain pleasure from exercising their intercinematic (i.e., related to other movies), intermedia (i.e., related to other media, such as books and advertisements), and extracinematic (i.e., related to movie production and gossip) expertise. The concept of the media cult has been thoroughly explored by Hills (2002), who identifies two kinds of media cults, cult texts and cult bodies, both of which depend on characteristics of the text and on the value that derives from its appropriation by fans. Hills stresses that although it is not possible to classify the qualities and attributes of media cults, it is possible to describe some family resemblances, which are characteristics of the texts and bodies that predispose fans to cult devotion. In the case of cult texts, which are fictional products, the family resemblances are auteurism (which establishes authors and stars as quality brands), endlessly deferred narrative (which enhances speculation and re-creation), and hyperdiegesis (a vast and detailed narrative space). Cult bodies are media figures who embody previously subcultural codes well suited to being reenacted. A star is thus a cult body that consciously borrows characteristics from previous media icons and stimulates appropriation by fans, working as a focal point for the organization of consumption-based identities. This means that cult bodies simultaneously empower the identity that they represent and construct it as a target market.

[1.6] The notions of cult texts and cult bodies must be adapted to the contemporary context, where the relationship between fans and cultural products is evolving in the Web 2.0 environment. In pre-Internet fandom, but also during the early days of the Internet, when nearly all online material was text based, fan groups were located at specific sites such as conventions and, online, on newsgroups and mailing lists, and fans constructed closed communities with strong identities. Web 2.0 offers new, networked spaces for social interaction and content sharing. Owing to the adoption of SNSs by fans, online groups are evolving from closed communities to a networked collectivism (Baym 2007). Although fans still build communities in closed environments, they also interact in SNSs like YouTube. In SNSs the search function connects disconnected groups, and contexts collapse as a consequence (boyd 2008). In the case of media consumers, this means that many different fan cultures interact in the same digital environment. The networked nature of SNSs thus promotes spreadability. However, to be spreadable, videos must incorporate textual hooks that are meaningful for different social groups. To gain attention on Web 2.0, media brands must produce cult objects that appeal to different media cultures simultaneously.

[1.7] The Gaga media brand incorporates the cultural codes of different cultures to fulfill the needs of different target markets (as an attractor) and stimulate appropriation by fans (as an activator). In what follows I illustrate how Gaga constructs her celebrity persona as a cult body and how "Telephone" has been designed as a cult text. I then describe how YouTube users appropriate Gaga's cult body to create another level of performativity in the form of derivative videos, and how the derivative videos contribute to the emergence of audiovisual genres with roots in different media cultures.

2. Gaga's cult body as a cultural attractor and activator

[2.1] Celebrities are a means of advancing transnational branding (Turner 2006). Since the 20th century, cultural industries have constructed cinematic and TV stars with the aim of promoting cultural products and creating a loyal audience for a media genre. Stardom research shows that the construction of a star depends on the dialogue between the public persona and the private person (Austin and Barker 2003). This dialogue is evolving in the contemporary mediascape because of the mass adoption of SNSs by fans. In Web 2.0, celebrities use SNSs to perform their inner selves in a public arena and thus establish an emotional connection with their fans (Nunn and Biressi 2010). TV stars created by national talent shows may achieve international fame because their TV performances are spreadable through SNSs. For example, Susan Boyle's performance on the TV show Britain's Got Talent was discussed on Twitter and Facebook, and the video became the fifth most watched video on YouTube. Enli states that, by means of SNSs, Internet users transformed an ordinary woman into a global music star, and that the rapid spread of the Boyle video demonstrates the power of "collective intelligence" (2009, 489). However, when dealing with the role of users in the spreading process, we must go beyond the notion of collective intelligence. By focusing on the practice of video sharing that gives stars such huge visibility, we miss the process of appropriation and re-creation, thus misconceiving the nature of virality. In order to gain a better understanding of the role of users in spreading, I have analyzed the Gaga media brand as a cult body appropriated and reperformed by different media cultures. In fact, Gaga incorporates previous cult bodies so as to appeal to pop music and gay culture. Moreover, she has produced "Telephone" as a cult text that appeals to a culture related to postfeminism and the postmodern cinema. Finally, she uses SNS profiles as extensions of her own cult body, which seeks to be both a cultural attractor and activator.

[2.2] Gaga is a pop star who exemplifies the recording industry's strategy of constructing music brands around a celebrity persona so as to engage Web 2.0 audiences (Vellar 2010). She takes her name from the Queen hit "Radio Ga Ga" and constructs her visual image and her music production by borrowing from stars such as Madonna and David Bowie. She thus incorporates the subcultural codes of both pop culture and gay culture. Furthermore, in order to become a gay icon, she performed her first concerts in gay bars and has publicized her commitment to LGBT rights.

[2.3] It is possible to identify in Gaga's creative products the family resemblances that characterize cult texts. The House of Gaga, the creative team that helps Gaga create her performances and musical products, generates an aura of auteurism around the Gaga persona. Furthermore, a hyperdiegetic endless deferred narrative has been created with her music and audiovisual texts. In fact, Gaga's creative production is an ongoing metacommentary on stardom itself, as indicated by the title of her debut album, The Fame. Her music videos are parodies of stardom as well. In particular, "Paparazzi" and "Telephone" are short films that incorporate a song and are constructed with a never-ending narrative. In "Paparazzi," Gaga is a rich star who kills her boyfriend because he has sold her to paparazzi. At its end Gaga is arrested, and at the beginning of "Telephone" she is in jail. "Telephone" is the story of her jailbreak with a travel companion, the pop star Beyoncé. The video finishes with the promise that the story is to be continued.

[2.4] "Telephone" incorporates numerous intertextual references taken from Gaga's previous works and cinematic history. It is therefore a postmodern cult text, expressing intertextual and intermedia awareness. In fact, Gaga and Beyoncé are new versions of the female couple in Thelma & Louise (1991, dir. Ridley Scott) (figure 1), and they drive another cult icon of pop cinema: the Pussy Wagon, Uma Thurman's car in the feature film Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003, dir. Quentin Tarantino) (figure 2). Those movies are examples of the chick flick, a movie genre targeting postfeminist women (Ferris and Young 2008). Chick flicks advocate girl power and blend hyperfemininity and hypermasculinity, thus appealing to a new generation of women who view femininity, sexuality, and girly goods such as designer clothes and trendy accessories as empowering. By integrating cinematic references and mimicking the cult body of postfeminism heroines, "Telephone" seeks to attract both members of chick culture and fans of postmodern cinema, who gain pleasure from decoding cinematic references.

Figure 1. Gaga and Beyoncé during the jailbreak as Thelma and Louise. [View larger image.]

Figure 2. The Pussy Wagon. [View larger image.]

[2.5] "Telephone" incorporates numerous dance numbers with multiple costumes. Costumes have always played an important role in constructing a star's image: they become the supreme marker of the star's identity and at the same time allow audiences to connect with the star by appropriating the costume (Moseley 2005). Gaga's identity is marked by rapid costume changes. For example, in "Telephone" she reinterprets, through clothing, not only cinematic characters but also American icons such as the flag (figure 3) and stereotypical figures such as the waitress (figure 4). Costume changes enable Gaga to incorporate previous cultural codes drawn from powerful female figures and merge them with music culture during her public appearances and dance numbers.

Figure 3. American flag costuming. [View larger image.]

Figure 4. Waitress costuming. [View larger image.]

[2.6] "Telephone" can thus be located within a postfeminist discourse where the gendered body and consumerism converge. Like chick flicks, "Telephone" incorporates product placement in order to capitalize on the fashion industry. Numerous brands (e.g., Diet Coke, Polaroid, LG) are part of the video's narrative. Moreover, the Pussy Wagon key ring is for sale as "Telephone" merchandise (figure 5). Product placement and merchandising are ways to create additional revenue streams. In "Telephone," however, product placement is taken to a grotesque extreme (Christian 2010) because the boundaries between gendered identity, pop art, and commodity culture are blurred. In fact, consumer goods like Diet Coke cans (figure 6) are not employed in a directly promotional way but are "odd extensions" of Gaga's body (Nasilowski 2010). By objectifying herself, therefore, Gaga enacts gender through excess and irony, merging pop music with a postfeminist discourse.

Figure 5. The Pussy Wagon key ring—merchandise. [View larger image.]

Figure 6. Diet Coke product placement. [View larger image.]

[2.7] The self-objectification process is extended in SNSs. In fact, celebrity profiles become "the commodity of Web 2.0" (Beer 2008, 235) because a celebrity's online persona is exploited to simulate a bidirectional relationship with fans. In the case of Gaga, a blood relationship is metaphorically established: on Twitter, she calls herself a "mother monster" and refers to her fans as "little monsters." The perceived immediacy of Twitter, which fulfills users' voyeuristic desires, enables it to generate a real star (Muntean and Petersen 2009). Via Twitter, Gaga performs herself as a whole online persona (private and public, celebrity and fan) and gives fans backstage access to her production. Lady Gaga tweets about her family, her celebrity colleagues (whom she presents both as friends and as idols), and her work as a musician, commenting upon her creative process:

[2.8] so happy, my family suprised me in montreal. In bed with my gorgeous sister. With our matching haircuts! :)

[2.9] Saw beyonce live, from the stage. She's an amazing performer, and a beautiful person, inside and out…love a strong ass woman.xx;

[2.10] just woke up, headache and the stink of jameson. ahh but the lyrics on the bedside. it was all worth it

[2.11] Gaga also uses Twitter to directly and indirectly publicize her work and to thank her fans for their support:

[2.12] "Telephone" is coming I promise! Still editing. I want it to be perfect. The Haus has dubbed her a "masterpiece."

[2.13] "Telephone" made history today little monsters! Thank you for all your support of the video, you are the future, you are the kings and queens

[2.14] Since Twitter doesn't allow users to directly share pictures, Gaga uses the related service TwitPic. She shares pictures that depict her in private situations to give fans access to the backstage of her life and to her body. In particular, she posted a photo of a tattoo on her arm celebrating her fans. The terms "little monsters" and "mother monster" and the exposure of her body to fans have helped her maintain a strong relationship with SNSs users, as demonstrated by the 5,728 comments that the tattoo picture received:

[2.15] youre the best mother alive <3 i am so proud to be a little monster <3;

[2.16] OMG GaGa mumma monster! You are so fucking commited to us, you give us soo…much love and we xan't help but give it back!

[2.17] Finally, Gaga uses audiovisual communication to engage with her fans on YouTube. She uploads secondary content to her ladygagaofficial channel ( In the BN video series "Transmission Gaga-vision," she introduces herself to fans and publishes private moments in her life. She also records messages for her fans in a video log, a distinctive communicative form on YouTube. For example, when she became the most followed celebrity on Twitter, she posted to YouTube a video in which she portrayed herself as the queen of Twitter.

Video 2. An Inaugural Message from Tween Gaga (2010).

[2.18] Gaga's cult body thus functions as a cultural attractor because it is the focal point for the organization of consumption-based identities such as music, gay, postmodern, and postfeminist cultures. However, Gaga's SNS profiles are also intended to be cultural activators. For example, she invited fans to submit their own videos to be reedited and played during her world tour, "The Monster Ball." Internet users also appropriate her videos when they have not been explicitly requested to, creating derivative works. Those grassroots and spontaneous visual productions are appropriated by Gaga, who publishes them in her official profiles, thus giving fans positive feedback and stimulating them to work as grassroots marketers. For example, Gaga used Twitter to thank two fans who had created the derivative video "Soda-do, How to," calling them "GENIUS little fashion monsters."

Video 3. Lady GaGa "Telephone" make-up inspired look (2010).

3. Spreadability on YouTube: A typology of "Telephone" derivative videos

[3.1] Gaga's cult body works as a cultural attractor for music and gay culture, while her music videos create a parodic metacommentary on stardom with the aim of appealing to fans of both postmodern cinema and chick culture. Furthermore, she extends her cult body in digital space by using SNSs to maintain an ongoing relationship with her fans and stimulate them to re-create her cult body so that it becomes spreadable. However, by analyzing "Telephone" derivative videos, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of spreadability that surround Gaga's audiovisual productions. To this end, I used snowball sampling to collect 70 YouTube videos derivative of "Telephone." Starting with a search on YouTube using the keyword "telephone," I identified unofficial productions, and I followed "related videos" links until I had constructed a sufficiently large data set, stopping when I realized that further sampling would not add more genres. On inspecting the 70 videos, I identified three main categories of video creativity: (1) music, (2) parody, and (3) fashion. In each of these categories it was possible to classify videos along a continuum from amateur to professional. I thus identified audiovisual genres specific to four different media cultures that are related to different characteristics of the primary text (figure 7). "Telephone" is a music video of a dance song, and for this reason it prompts both music covers and mashups tied to live music and dance cultures. The dance numbers performed by Gaga and Beyoncé, wearing a variety of costumes, stimulate users to mimic the cult body in the form of both choreography and fashion tutorials (on makeup and hair), merging dance and chick cultures. Finally, cinematic references and product placements are appropriated by YouTube users, who gain pleasure not just from identifying intermedia references but also from creating parodies of pop cult objects. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss the three categories of video creativity and the five genres that are related to them. I will start with the music category, in which I've identified three different genres: (1) covers, (2) video and music mashups, and (3) choreography. Then I will describe the categories of fashion and parody and their related genres, (4) fashion tutorial and (5) spoof.

Figure 7. A typology of "Telephone" derivative videos.

[3.2] Music is the first major category of video creativity that I will discuss. A common genre in the music category is the cover (which may be a cappella, acoustic, instrumental, or a live medley), which is labeled "me singing" if it is created by a fan. Like the "girl talk" YouTube genre (Burns 2009), "me singing" videos feature a young woman singing directly to the camera in the intimacy of her home. As Burgess (2008) states, personal music performances are occasions for play and peer learning. Through them, users demonstrate their skills, gain attention, and receive tips and tricks. Professional musicians cover the songs because they hope to create fame on Web 2.0 and then sell their songs on iTunes. Independent musicians, such as The Pomplamoose ( and The Shures (, produce both original albums and covers of pop hits. By covering a hit like "Telephone," they exploit the searchable property of SNSs: when fans search for the Gaga video, they also find the cover version, thus discovering the work of independent musicians. YouTube is therefore a space in which amateurs can play and learn, but at the same time, it is a promotional channel for musicians.

Video 4. Lady Gaga ft Beyonce—Telephone—COVER (2009).

Video 5. Lady Gaga Telephone (2010).

[3.3] The second genre in the music category is mashups: music videos created by combining the song with video clips or static images. Mashups have a long tradition in the history of participatory cultures. Since the 1970s, fans have appropriated footage from TV broadcasts and reedited it to music. While professionally produced music videos are created to promote songs, fan music videos such as vids (or "songvids") (Jenkins 1992; Coppa 2008; Stein 2010) and anime music videos (AMVs) (Ito 2010; Roberts 2012) are noncommercial derivative works created by amateurs to analyze the primary text, tell new stories, or celebrate popular culture. Vidding is a form of resistant and underground narrative art with a dramatic structure that emerged in media fandom (Jenkins 1992, 223–49). During the 1970s, female fans appropriated Star Trek footage to create vids that engage with gender representation (Coppa 2008). With the emergence of Web 2.0, fans still participate in niche peer groups that share a subcultural identity and resist the mainstream. At the same time, however, vids have become more visible, thanks to video sharing platforms like YouTube (Ito 2010). Hence, on Web 2.0, subcultural communities such as Vidders ( and AnimeMusicVideos (, where amateur producers share fan music videos, coexist with platforms like YouTube, on which other genres of mashup, such as political remixes and created trailers, are posted (Horwatt 2009). Political remixing originated even before the culture jamming of the 1990s. Activists create remixes to address numerous issues, including identity, power, and consumerism (McIntosh 2012). Conversely, trailer remixes are edited to transform the genre of a movie. By merging cultural elements from diverse sources, they create surprising juxtapositions with humorous results. Mashups derived from "Telephone" can be interpreted as a further genre: that of the music mashup.

[3.4] "Telephone" mashups have been created by sampling music and mashing up images, but without the intent to construct a narrative structure. The origin of music mashing can be located in the dance, techno, and hip-hop cultures characterized by the practice of quoting music. In dance culture, DJs are conceived of as music stars because even if they are not authentic and original creators of music, they create a live experience by reproducing earlier musical works (Thornton 1996). The practice of quoting music developed in the mid-1980s, when personal computers made it possible to record remix performances and to create techno albums using audio samples (Marontate 2005). The advent of the Internet enabled the emergence of a techno chain (Hayward 1995): musicians producing techno music distributed their albums online, inviting fans to download, remix, and rework their music with the aim of including the reworkings in the next release. Mashup emerged as a legitimate genre around 2000, when the practice first took hold in European clubs and then received mainstream attention in the United States. It thus migrated from underground subculture to popular culture, both online and off (Burns 2009). Finally, with YouTube, the techno chain and the practice of DJing have combined with audiovisual culture. Professional DJs create video mashups merging music and video from different sources. For example, "Telephone" has been appropriated by TheMarsAttax ( and merged with Metallica's song "Enter Sandman" to create a video mashup.

Video 6. Gaga ft. Beyoncé Vs. Metallica—"Telephone Vs. Enter Sandman" (2010).

[3.5] There are also amateur mashups on YouTube that fulfill expressive or pragmatic needs. Fans create videos that combine the original soundtrack with static images and post them on their profiles in order to express their passion for a music star or genre. Some mashups have subtitles in languages other than English, making them more accessible to transnational audiences. Finally, there are street team mashups. Street teams are a guerrilla marketing technique that emerged during the 1990s as a grassroots promotional activity. Fans take pictures of themselves while they distribute flyers in city streets to promote artists (Vellar 2010). They then mash up these pictures with the "Telephone" soundtrack to demonstrate their commitment to the artists.

Video 7. Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce—Telephone Italian Translation (2010).

Video 8. Lady Gaga Street Team Day (2010).

[3.6] The third genre in the music category is choreography. Web 2.0 has redefined the practice of dance culture not just in relation to DJ auteur performances but also in relation to the dancing crowd. In dance culture, dance music is consumed collectively within the public space of the club (Thornton 1996). The dance space on Web 2.0 is multisited. In fact, fans and dance professionals reenact "Telephone" choreography both in the digital environment of YouTube and in multiple offline spaces such as private houses, gyms, and public squares. Professional choreographers like Camillo* Lauricella ( and Dejan Tubic ( use "Telephone" choreography to teach gym classes or to exhibit their dancing abilities. Gaga fans organize music flash mobs in public squares. Flash mobbing is a grassroots practice that has been popular since 2003. A flash mob is a gathering of strangers who perform a collective action in a public space and then disperse into the crowd (Nicholson 2005; Schepers 2009). Gaga fans video record flash mobs so that they can share the events on SNSs and document their participation. One example is the "Official Gaga Flash Mob Madrid Telephone & Bad Romance" (video 9), which was organized by Spanish fans as a way of asking Lady Gaga to add a tour date in Madrid. In the music category, therefore, I include genres related to live music (covers) and dance culture (music and video mashups and choreography).

Video 9. Official Gaga Flash Mob Madrid Telephone & Bad Romance (2010).

[3.7] Parody is the second major category of video creativity. Parody is an extremely popular expressive form in YouTube and Web 2.0 cultures (Burgess and Green 2009). Lamerichs (2008) claims that parody is a metafictional device that incorporates familiar elements of a media text and then shows its construction, surprising the reader with ironic effects. By imitating certain conventions, parody reaffirms them. Indeed, because it creates awareness of a cultural repertoire, it guarantees cultural continuity. Furthermore, as Jenkins et al. (2009) state, humor allows the members of a group to affirm their taste and to define insiders and outsiders. The cinematic references and product placements in "Telephone" are metafictional devices that incorporate familiar elements of pop culture. They are easily recognizable by YouTube users, who appropriate them to produce spoofs, humorous parodies of pop culture objects such as music stars, movies, and TV programs. Comedians like Barely Political ( have become YouTube stars thanks to the success of their spoofs. YouTube users demonstrate their membership in YouTube culture by identifying pop cults and spoofing them. "Telephone" stimulates the creation of spoofs because of its many intermedia references, which function as textual hooks. Also, the telephone, which appears in different forms in "Telephone," works as a textual hook because it is easily appropriatable. In fact, it has been repeated in many videos, becoming part of the cultural repertoire of YouTube—as exemplified by Peter Coffin's ( music parody "Bananaphone (Telephone Spoof/Parody)." This video is interesting because it hybridizes a cover with a parody, and because it has become a spreadable video itself. In fact, it has generated derivative videos such as the Dq231 ( "Club Penguin Music Video," which is a mix of Peter Coffin's soundtrack and a self-produced video.

[3.8] Fashion is the last category of my taxonomy. The costume changes that characterize "Telephone" stimulate female YouTube users to create makeup and hair tutorials that can be related to chick culture. The fashion tutorial genre is emerging on YouTube for two reasons: the number of women on the Internet is growing, and YouTube's audiovisual format enables the self to be dynamically performed, as makeup tutorials require. Amateurs create tutorials as places to demonstrate and learn a practice that is typically female. Professional makeup artists, however, demonstrate the use of beauty products in order to promote them and become sponsors of beauty brands. Makeup tutorials thus include product placement—a business model typical of chick flicks and music videos like "Telephone."

[3.9] Fashion is therefore an emergent online culture that integrates the traditional dynamics of online participatory culture. First, as in hacker culture (Castells 2001) and fan music culture (Baym and Robert 2009), the digital platform is a space in which to play, learn, and grow professionally. The YouTube makeup artist Michelle Phan ( underlines the ongoing learning process and the interconnected relationship between YouTube stars and users thus: "A good Guru is not just a teacher, but also a student…I don't know everything, but I am willing to learn." Second, makeup artists apply the same strategy as cover groups: they re-create popular products in order to connect with users on a common ground, which in this case is the Gaga cult body. Finally, it is possible to identify in this category a hybridization of cultures and genres. For example, the makeup artist Elessa ( has created the "Telephone Makeup Tutorial" in partnership with another makeup artist, Koren, by mimicking the structure and humorous style of "Telephone." In fact, the makeup tutorial is integrated into a broader narrative video in which Elessa and Koren reenact Gaga and Beyoncé mimicking, in turn, Thelma and Louise.

Video 11. Gaga Telephone Makeup Tutorial Featuring Beyonce (2010).

[3.10] A broad range of hybrid forms of audiovisual production is emerging on YouTube. This is because if a video is to become spreadable, it must attract different cultures and stimulate different kinds of appropriation. I have separated the categories of music, parody, and fashion for analytical reasons. However, just as "Telephone" merges narrative forms with music video and integrates references to different media cultures, so its derivative videos hybridize different genres with the aim of engaging different social groups, as exemplified by Elessa's parodic makeup tutorial.

4. Spreading cult bodies on YouTube

[4.1] "Telephone" is a spreadable text that passed through different social groups because it was designed as a cult text intended to perform multiple functions and incorporate the aesthetics of multiple target markets. "Telephone" is a dance song that stimulates users to dance and to create covers and mashups. The costume changes and choreographed dance numbers in the video stimulate both reperformance of the choreography and re-creation of Gaga fashion. Cinematic references and product placements are appropriated by comedians to mock the consumerism and pop culture that Gaga embodies. The properties of "Telephone" that make it more likely to spread are thus dance music, choreographic numbers, costume changes, and cinematic references. These textual hooks are meaningful to different social groups: live music, dance, chick, and postmodern cinematic cultures.

[4.2] By appropriating and re-creating "Telephone," YouTube users fulfill their expressive and professional needs. At the same time, they work as grassroots marketers promoting the Gaga brand. Thus professional producers, independent stars, and YouTube amateurs benefit from spreadability. "Telephone" has become part of the YouTube cultural repertoire because users re-create a professionally produced text. Even a YouTube user who is not a fan of Gaga or pop music cannot ignore Gaga's existence, because amateur and professional productions constantly cite her celebrity persona. However, independent artists also benefit from spreadability. By repeating textual hooks from "Telephone," independent musicians, comedians, and makeup artists create derivative works that enable them to reach broader audiences.

[4.3] However, users do not simply replicate "Telephone"; they adapt it by creating new audiovisual genres. By merging codes and aesthetics from the cultural repertoires of different social groups, YouTube users innovate audiovisual languages and canons and, at the same time, construct their own fame. In this way, makeup artists and independent musicians become YouTube celebrities and monetize their work through product placements or YouTube partnerships set up to share advertising revenues (Burns 2009). Finally, amateur producers have opportunities to communicate with like-minded people, learn, and gain visibility. By sharing amateur derivative videos, YouTube users express their passion for "Telephone," receive feedback, and learn by doing. Such users emerge on YouTube through the same process of peer education and professionalization that has always characterized the participatory culture of the Internet, and that has been exemplified by male-dominated social groups such as free software programmers (Castells 2001) and members of Wikipedia (Glott, Schmidt, and Ghosh 2010). The features of YouTube culture that differ from the previous digital culture are users' relationships with the body and with gendered identities. As Nakamura states (2008), a male-oriented cyberculture emerged on the text-based Internet that interpreted the online identity as disembodied. In the new millennium, video sharing platforms enable a broader and no longer male-dominated population to share multimedia material. New genres, such as covers, dance videos, and fashion tutorials, are emerging. These genres express the embodied nature of digital identities and make postfeminism, live music, and dance cultures visible online.

[4.4] On YouTube, therefore, spreadability is strictly related to the appropriation of cult bodies embedded in digital video. Amateur, independent producers and pop music stars construct their own cult bodies by deliberately borrowing characteristics from previous media icons and reenacting them in audiovisual productions distributed online. Gaga has become the killer application of YouTube because she performs her celebrity persona as a postfeminist and gay-friendly cult body that can be easily appropriated by different social groups active on YouTube. However, this is always a contradictory dynamic, for two main reasons. First, Gaga's cult body has been designed to both empower postfeminist and gay identities and construct them as target markets. Second, the Gaga persona stimulates appropriation by fans, while her Interscope Records label—like all other major labels—punishes YouTube users who appropriate copyrighted materials by demanding that YouTube delete their productions or their profiles.

[4.5] Spreadability is thus an open-ended but also highly contradictory quality. The spreadability of "Telephone" exemplifies this contradiction: Gaga constructs her body by borrowing from previous celebrities, and YouTube users mimic her cult body with both expressive and commercial intent. Gaga redistributes fans' performances in her own digital profiles, thus exploiting her fans' own bodies. But the digital profiles—and thus the identities—of her fans are in danger because YouTube has the right to remove them for copyright infringement if fans share soundtracks without the permission of the rightful owners. From this dynamic arises the following question: who are the rightful owners of digital cult bodies? I have not set out to answer this complex question. Instead, I would argue that the aim of spreadability studies is to highlight the contradictions that both the general public and entertainment professionals face in the contemporary environment. The public should be aware of the media industry's strategies; at the same time, the entertainment industry should be shown the benefits of fan appropriation, so that it will stop creating barriers to it. From a marketing point of view, deleting a derivative video constitutes deciding not to spread a brand. From a sociocultural point of view, however, it stunts the expressivity of different social groups and denies the existence of consumption-based identities that embody the derivative nature of Web 2.0 media cultures.

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] I would like to thank Luciano Paccagnella and Nancy Baym for introducing me to the pleasure and challenge of Internet research.

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