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From the D-Side: A Star is Born is far from shallow

Staff Illustrator Jess Lane

You’re probably well-aware that Lady Gaga made her silver screen debut in Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake of A Star is Born (1937), a classic tale of love, loss and fame. You also likely know that Cooper co-wrote, directed and starred in the film. He spent hours learning to sing and play the guitar. You may be wondering why he went through all this trouble to mimic a love story that has already been told three times… and why no one will shut up about it.

The most powerful piece of “A Star is Born” enters the theater with you and remains intact long after you’ve left: the music. The story is told largely through the soundtrack and takes the listener on the all-too familiar toxic trajectory of fame, which Gaga’s character, Ally, experiences over the course of the plot. After meeting the famous country singer, Jackson Mane, in a drag bar, Ally spends the night bonding with him over music and is invited to his show the following evening. She joins Jackson on stage on a whim for their signature duet-turned-Billboard Top 100 hit, “Shallow,” and the audience is immediately captivated by her raw and undiscovered talent.

The soundtrack weaves other hits like “Always Remember Us this Way” among 33 other tracks, which include everything from the film’s dialogue to Gaga humming “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” during the opening credits. It’s not an album you can listen to on shuffle; each audio clip is there to aid in the retelling of Jackson and Ally’s story. Listening to the soundtrack is like looking through an old photo album; it makes you feel like you’re in the theatre watching the events unfold on screen, and it doesn’t skip over a single feeling conveyed through the visual experience.

You can listen to the soundtrack before watching the film and receive a complex preview of the onscreen story, without any of the plot twists being spoiled. The short audio clips like “Parking Lot (Dialogue)” and “First Stop, Arizona (Dialogue)” serve as unorthodox interludes and transitions between big musical numbers like Gaga’s rendition of “La Vie en Rose” and Cooper’s country-rock hit, “Alibi.” The dialogue excerpts also contextualize Ally’s rise to fame and justify the sharp turn the soundtrack takes at track 27 with “Why Did You Do That?,” a song that serves as an homage to all current overproduced pop hits and illuminates the tribulations of being a singer in 2018.

Whether or not you’ve seen the movie twelve times in theaters or not at all, the soundtrack to A Star is Born presents an opportunity to reflect on familiar phenomena conveyed through musical theatre standards and jazz piano, as well as a chance to learn something new. The juxtaposition of old-timey romance and modern music reflects Cooper’s meticulous attempt to preserve the essence of the original film while inserting applicable contemporary plot-lines and songs. Country-folk meets silky ballads, acoustic duets and hollow pop songs that together present a thorough commentary on the music industry in the digital age, all through a heart-wrenching love story of two captivating main characters. Jackson and Ally prove that despite distractions ranging from auto-tune to social media and plastic surgery, honesty and grit will always resonate most with audiences. This rawness is reflected in the movie’s soundtrack, which includes everything from street sounds to studio recordings in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the film. It does so seamlessly and results in a body of music that is far from shallow.