Song of the Day #3,755: ‘Shallow’ – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Writer/director/star Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is one of the most buzzed-about movies of this year’s award season, and now it has a hefty box office take to match. The only thing keeping it from Oscar glory at this point is the risk of peaking too soon.

I liked the film quite a bit, though I didn’t share the rapturous reception of many critics and fans. I loved the languid first half, which depicts Cooper’s Jackson and Lady Gaga’s Ally falling in love. It’s all warm, syrupy hues and hushed conversations.

As the film turns toward melodrama and Jackson’s addiction takes center stage, it loses some of that earthy charm in favor of tear-jerking theatrics. Of course that’s a requirement of the story, now being told for the fourth time under this title, but it’s where I pull back.

That said, my overall opinion: great movie, great performances (shout out to Sam Elliot, who could slip into the Supporting Actor race for his small but important role), great soundtrack.

And speaking of the soundtrack…

The discussion around A Star is Born that has really captured my interest is the question of what the film wants us to think about Ally’s music career. Cooper’s Jackson Maine is a country rocker — the kind that really doesn’t get famous these days. Ally, on the other hand, finds her audience with a combination of soft rock balladry and dance pop. Not unlike the woman playing her.

It’s clear what Jackson thinks of this. Some of his ugliest moments come when he drunkenly dismisses her musical direction. It’s less obvious how Ally herself views it. She eschews backup dancers in an early scene but embraces them later. She refuses to dye her hair blonde but ends up dying it orange. She has a Tapestry album cover on her bedroom wall but writes a pop song with the lyrics “Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?”

Are these examples of her being led astray by her weaselly British manager? Or are these her own artistic choices? Just because Jackson Maine thinks she’s gone to shit, artistically speaking, should we?

Immediately following the film, that was my stance. I thought A Star is Born was part romantic tragedy, part takedown of a shallow music industry. But now I’m not so sure.

Consider that the first performance we see from Ally — before she meets Jackson and before she hopes for any semblance of fame — is a vampy ‘La Vie En Rose,’ sung at a drag bar in full drag queen makeup. Not exactly Carole King territory.

Sure, the staging of a Saturday Night Live performance of the “ass” song suggests that it’s a misstep, but we are seeing it from Jackson’s perspective, beer in hand, as he starts pushing away everybody who loves him.

In the film’s central fight scene, a drunk and jealous Jackson tears into Ally, criticizing both her music and her looks. Ally gives it right back to him, defending her art and calling him out as a hapless drunk. In this scene, our sympathies clearly lie with Ally.

And consider Gaga’s own career, which somewhat parallels Ally’s. Gaga performed in burlesque shows before getting her break, then made her name with electro pop dance tracks (and outrageous costumes) before singing standards with Tony Bennett and releasing a country rock album. Do any of those styles represent the “real” Lady Gaga, or does the woman contain multitudes? I’m going with multitudes.

I suspect Gaga brought those same multitude to Ally, and I’m willing to accept that Ally’s career trajectory is more nuanced than I initially believed.

Plus, as one music critic wrote of the pop songs on the Star is Born soundtrack: they slap, and they slap hard.

[Verse 1: Bradley Cooper]
Tell me somethin’ girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

[Refrain: Bradley Cooper]
I’m fallin’
In all the good times
I find myself longing for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

[Verse 2: Lady Gaga]
Tell me something boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more
Ain’t it hard keepin’ it so hardcore?

[Refrain: Lady Gaga]
I’m fallin’
In all the good times
I find myself longing for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

[Chorus: Lady Gaga]
I’m off the deep end
Watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface
Where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

[Post-Chorus: Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper]
In the sha-ha-sha-ha-low
In the sha-ha-sha-la-la-la-low
In the sha-ha-sha-ha-ha-low
We’re far from the shallow now

[Bridge: Lady Gaga]
Ooooo aahaaa ooou (s)
Ooo ouo oooo haaaa (s)

[Chorus: Lady Gaga]
I’m off the deep end
Watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface
Where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

[Post-Chorus: Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper]
In the sha-ha-sha-ha-low
In the sha-ha-sha-la-la-la-low
In the sha-ha-sha-ha-ha-low
We’re far from the shallow now

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,755: ‘Shallow’ – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

  1. Amy says:

    The SNL scene is where the movie lost me. The fact that Jackson was a rude drunk doesn’t take away from the fact that he’d been looking out for Ally’s Interests from the moment he met her. It’s his validation that she’s a songwriter and his insistence that she perform “Shallows,” which he remembers and arranges despite hearing it once in a parking lot while he’s drunk, that puts her on a trajectory to even capture the interest of the awful British manager. That manager isn’t leading her astray but to stardom (complete with the requisite mammoth billboard announcing that this star has been born), but it’s clear from several scenes that the choices he’s making aren’t ones Ally embraces.

    That said, I agree that the film’s attitude is complex about what it takes in today’s world to become a star. Daniel brought up the example of Adele, who is an artist who made her name by being unapologetically herself. That’s likely more rare than the alternative.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    Daniel brought up Adele after I made the point that this updated version of A Star is Born accurately reflects what it takes now, as opposed to the 1970’s, for a female artist to truly be a star. When Streisand was the “star” in the 70’s, it was long before female singer/songwriters had to change hair color, wear sexy outlandish costumes or perform with dancers. Carol King was a star as a “natural woman” then, while today she would be Sara Barellis-a successful artist to be sure, but not a “star.” Adele is, arguably, a big exception in today’s music scene, though I would argue that she is really a star among the over 35 demographic, not the truly coveted 12 to 35 crowd.

    So, I think the updated story accurately shows what a modern day female singer/songwriter must do in order to truly become a star. And, with Lady Gaga, you have the interesting tension play out between whether she embraces these compromises to her artistry or resents them. I think what we are all negatively responding to is that the movie doesn’t offer a clear viewpoint as to whether these compromises are right or wrong, but I think that is a purposeful decision by Cooper. He wants us to have this debate…and perhaps Lady Gaga does as well.

  3. Clay says:

    Good points all, and I agree that Adele is a major exception in terms of modern-day female superstars who eschew pop packaging. And she has broad appeal across all demographics, which is equally rare. I wonder what it is about Adele that makes her such a unicorn.

  4. Maddie says:

    For me, I think Cooper directed/shaped a character that was ultimately meant to mirror Gaga’s own journey… but by Gaga’s own admission, she had to reach far further back into her middle/high school era to achieve Abby’s vibe and lack of “confidence.” So, for me, the film loses its way by trying to rush Abby into becoming a Gaga in a much shorter and less believable time-span. And we only see any of it through Cooper’s POV, which makes me feel far more disconnected from Ally for the rest of the film. I didn’t even get choked up when she was singing about her husband’s death, and I think there’s a pretty clear reason why: I didn’t know who she was as a character anymore.

  5. Peg says:

    I agree with Maddie. While I like both actors and appreciate Gaga’s talent I didn’t care for the movie.

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