"Telephone" was appreciated by contemporary critics who frequently noted it as a stand-out track from The Fame Monster. The song charted in a number of countries due to digital sales, namely in the United States, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and Hungary, following the album's release. The song has been particularly successful in Europe, reaching the top of the charts in Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. Lady Gaga performed an acoustic rendition of "Telephone" mixed with "Dance in the Dark" at the 2010 BRIT Awards in memory of Alexander McQueen. It was also added to the 2010 setlist of The Monster Ball Tour.
Gaga explained that the music video is a continuation of the video for "Paparazzi", and is also shot as a short film. The video features Gaga in a prison, from where she gets bailed out by Beyoncé. Soon after, they go to a diner where they kill the guests having breakfast. Gaga and Knowles escape from the diner, and end up in a high speed police chase. Paying homage to Quentin Tarantino and his films Kill Bill (2003–04) and Pulp Fiction (1994) and Callie Khouri's Thelma & Louise, the video was positively received by critics. The song received a Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category.Lady Gaga originally wrote "Telephone", with Rodney Jerkins, for Britney Spears. However, after Spears' label rejected it Gaga recorded the song as a collaboration with Beyoncé Knowles for The Fame Monster.Gaga said, "I wrote it for her a long time ago and she just didn't use it for her album. It's fine because I love the song and I get to perform it now."Additionally, the guest vocalist was originally going to be Spears, but ultimately Gaga made Knowles the featured vocalist instead.
The main inspiration behind the song was Gaga's fear of suffocation as she felt that she seldom found time to just let loose and have fun. She further clarified,
Fear of suffocation—something that I have or fear is never being able to enjoy myself, ... 'Cause I love my work so much, I find it really hard to go out and have a good time. ... I don't go to nightclubs, ... You don't see pictures of me falling out of a club drunk. I don't go—and that's because I usually go and then, you know, a whiskey and a half into it, I got to get back to work.
"Telephone" was written by Lady Gaga, Rodney Jerkins, LaShawn Daniels, Lazonate Franklin and Knowles. Although constructed as a duet, Knowles first appearance is in the middle verse. She sings her lyrics through a brief interlude, and later backs the chorus during the rest of the song. The song starts off unassumingly, with Gaga singing in a solemn voice over a harp melody, which changes immediately to a pounding beat. Essentially, Gaga is in a club and her boyfriend keeps ringing, but she can not talk as she was drinking and dancing to her favourite song. The chorus runs as follows: "Stop calling, stop calling, I don't want to talk anymore."
"Telephone" consists of an expanded bridge, verse-rap and an epilogue where a voice announces that the telephone line is not reachable at that moment.According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the song is set in the time signature of common time, with a tempo of 122 beats per minute. Gaga's vocals range from the low-note of F3 to the high-note of C5. It is set in the key of F minor, specifically, F Dorian mode, and has a basic sequence of Fm–A♭–B♭–Fm as its chord progression."Telephone"'s lyrics relate to the singer preferring the dance floor to answering someone's call. The verses are sung in a rapid-fire way, accompanied by double beats.According to Gaga, the phone addressed in the lyrics of the song is not a physical phone, but a person in her head telling her to keep working harder and harder. Gaga explained, "That's my fear—that the phone's ringing and my head's ringing, ... Whether it's a telephone or it's just the thoughts in your head, that's another fear."