I was #blessed to see an advance screening of A Star Is Born this week.
Yes, I wore my The Monster Ball Tour tee out of respect. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve had an occasionally…complicated relationship with Lady Gaga, and I’ve occasionally been more of a Little Shit than a Little Monster with my opinions, resulting in getting myself dragged to Hell in the Gaga forums and receiving copious amounts of death threats on Twitter. (I gave ARTPOP a positive review, though. Not everyone has that to their credit.)
I’m not going to say a thing about the plot of A Star Is Born, because I don’t want to spoil anything, and every detail feels like a spoiler. The movie is truly great: I laughed, I teared up at least twice, I walked away thinking Gaga really might win – or at least, be nominated for – an Oscar. The trailers did a wonderful job of not giving it all away, which is quite rare. (I’m also dying to talk about a specific moment involving another pop star in one surreal moment on stage, but I’ll wait.)
Gaga’s fantastic in the movie. That’s no surprise. She’s a theater nerd, AND AN ITALIAN GIRL FROM NEW YORK CITY, DID YOU KNOW? She was born for this/born this way. It’s literally in her DNA. And Bradley Cooper‘s performance is truly astounding. I assume he’ll be nominated for his performance and probably his directing, and likely win in at least one of those categories. (But also, awards are literally whatever – let’s not get too focused on that shit, okay?) Regardless of awards season, the acting throughout the whole cast is believable and natural and compelling – far better and more impressive than what I saw in limited amounts from her American Horror Story character(s). (Sorry, Ryan Murphy.) The cinematography is impressive too, especially given that it’s Bradley’s directorial debut: the artistic shots, the intensely focused scenes – especially the way all the performances are filmed.
But enough of the technical film stuff: I’ll get to what I do (sort of) know something about, which is the music. All I could think while I was watching her perform the new songs is: Gaga sounds so free.
She sounds rejuvenated and inspired and open, as though liberated from label demands and the self-imposed pressure to be better, or different, or edgier, or More Personal, or more pop star-ier than before. The music’s not quite Joanne Round 2, although she does do a fair share of the all-American rocker thing, nor is it at all a return to The Fame Monster or Born This Way, although she does provide (cheeky) nods to a time in her career of tightly choreographed, radio-friendly electro-pop. She’s kind of just, like, doing it all, and I suspect doing this movie has led her somewhere good in the studio.
There are a few standout songs throughout the film. Most of them are, really. “Shallow” – the song you’ve heard a million times watching the trailer on repeat – is certainly one of them. The performance of the song in this movie is so nerve-wracking and intense and intimate, made even better by the narrative leading up to the moment.
That is to say: I’m not sure if you should watch the music video, or even listen to the song, before you see the film. I think it could do a disservice to that initial moment. But also, I totally get it if you can’t wait any longer and just want to listen and/or watch. It’s just better in context, especially since this final “studio version” features the live audience.
As for the song itself: the soaring, us-against-the-(shallow)-world anthem was co-written by Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt. It’s the perfect compliment to (one of) Gaga’s greatest strengths: that howl.
Like the Mother Monster she is, Gaga knows how to belt with a primal fury. Her voice is beyond well-suited for stadium rock anthems, and this urgent mega-earworm of a chorus – “I’m off the deep end / Watch as I dive in / I’ll never meet the ground!” – feels like an instant classic as it echoes miles deep into the festival crowd. (Bradley sounds great as well. Shout out to Bradley. Great name, too.)
“Shallow” isn’t the only excellent song from the soundtrack, but it might be the movie’s most defining track. There’s another candidate, though. We’ll see in time.
On a personal level, as someone who’s mostly, mercifully grown up and out of Internet Stan Culture and the insane amount of unfounded anger that it breeds – the charts and sales battles, the endless nitpicking of pop star personalities (the shallow, if you will) – I’m very excited to enjoy Gaga in 2018 without feeling as though I’m betraying pop queen allegiances, and without feeling the need to exhaustingly overanalyze her “authenticity.” (If you can relate to that at all, you, like myself, also need to log out and go outside more often.)
I’m excited for the movie, the music, everything. She’s certainly gone through it in the past decade: the rise to fame, the superstardom, the backlash, the comparisons, the criticism, the social media meltdowns, the fall from grace, the triumphant return – as all prophesied in the “Paparazzi” video – and now, it feels like she’s stronger in her conviction and more confident in her craft than ever. The music may not always be “my thing,” and that’s fine. The talent is undeniably there, as always. But in this moment, at this point in her career, the stars have aligned just right – and Gaga is truly shining. (I mean, have you seen her on the red carpet lately?)
Oh. And hey, reader? Nothing. I just wanted to take another look at you.
“Shallow” was released on September 27. (iTunes)
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Photo credit: Peter Lindbergh