By Paulo Camacho
“My name is Ally Maine.”
This is a poignant final line to the effectively stirring remake of “A Star Is Born.” It completes a complicated, beautiful, tragic story arc for the film’s muse, Ally, played by the enigmatic Lady Gaga. It also introduces the movie’s finale — a crowning ballad that encapsulates the journey you see in the film for her and her husband Jackson Maine, played brilliantly by Bradley Cooper (who also directed the film).
It’s a song that makes you experience all of the ups and downs — including the raw emotion of the film’s subsequent, heart-wrenching scenes. And it is a true representation of how a film uses music as a character, in and of itself, to accentuate all of its poignant, affecting beats. Here are just a few more examples from the soundtrack of 2018’s “A Star Is Born”:
SPOILER WARNING: Major Plot Points WILL BE REVEALED — DO NOT read on if you do wish for spoilers!
Bradley Cooper — “Black Eyes”
This country-rock ballad opens the film, introducing one of its main characters, aging rock star Jackson Maine, playing at a festival in California. The song certainly comes roaring out the gate like the powerhouse that it is meant to be, setting the tone for many of the film’s heavy themes.
On first listen, it’s a classic example of the hard-drinking, motorcycle-riding, hard-living anthems that embody a stereotypical rocker’s lifestyle. However, a second or third listen to its lyrics is what it takes to understand the song’s sobering message (and serves as a looming foreshadow to Maine’s ultimate story arc) — how the life of a rock star can be altogether suffocating, lonely, and utterly depressing. Fitting for an increasingly irrelevant artist in the throes of alcoholism.
Cooper’s guttural vocals obviously stand out in this track, but it is the authentic sound that make it special. That’s probably because of the song’s main co-writer, Lukas Nelson — son of rock legend Willie Nelson — who ultimately penned nine songs on the soundtrack.
Lady Gaga — “La Vie En Rose”
Originally penned and performed by Edith Piaf in 1947, “La Vie En Rose” was a popular tune for those who had survived the difficult times of WWII. The title literally translates to “Life in Pink,” but others have found a more traditional meaning — “Life through rose-colored glasses.”
It perfectly fits the narrative to Lady Gaga’s Ally when we are first introduced to her character: searching for another drink after his latest gig, Jackson Maine ends up at a random drag bar in the city. There, he discovers Ally’s vivacious performance of the Piaf classic. While Maine is inspired by Ally’s magnetic presence to meet her backstage, we find that the latter is a struggling waitress who has seemingly given up on her dreams to be a recording artist. Beaten down by society into thinking she’s not pretty or appealing enough to make it in the industry, she resolves to her dull, uneventful life, trying to see it through rose-colored glasses — and using her performances at the drag bar to garner some meaning to it.
Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga — “Shallow”
Serving as the film’s headlining track, the country power ballad is a backdrop to the turning point in “A Star Is Born” — the point in which Ally, and her amazing voice, is introduced to the world. After dropping everything to meet up with Jackson in a concert venue at his request, Ally is coaxed to come onstage, to sing an arrangement of a song she sang on the night they met.
Gaga’s vocals are especially poignant in the scene in which this song is featured, as it is meant as Ally’s career breakthrough moment. But, as Gaga has pointed out in subsequent interviews, it is also a conversation playing out between the two main characters, asking each other the same question: are you content with where you are in life, or “is there something more?” For Jackson, what is it that he needs to break the cycle of excess and addiction that plagues his life? for Ally, can she fight her own insecurities to step into the spotlight, to achieve the dreams she always hoped for?
Lady Gaga — “Why Did You Do That?”
Performed in the film for the first time in her appearance on an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” the song is a traditional pop ballad influenced by the sounds of popular recording artists The Neptunes. It serves as a pivotal plot device in the film: it is Ally’s ultimate transformation from humble singer-songwriter to full-fledged pop star — one garnered by the mutual decision between her and her manager to move into the mainstream. While initially supportive of her decision, Jackson’s feelings on the matter are less than enthusiastic. Reflected by the song’s admittedly-trivial lyrics, Jackson believes Ally “sold out” for fame, and the loss of her artistic authenticity eventually leads him back to the bottle, after months of sobriety.
It should be noted that, according to the song’s writers and producers — including Gaga, herself, and renowned pop songwriter Diane Warren — “Why Did You Do That” was never meant to be a typically “bad” pop song, but a fun, change-of-pace track that represented a change in Ally’s character arc, and a song that could be genuinely defended as a piece of music.
Lady Gaga — “I’ll Never Love Again”
It is the final song featured, in the film’s final scene. As a devastatingly beautiful requiem, Lady Gaga portrays a mourning Ally brilliantly, as the camera focuses solely on her. The audience is only a couple scenes removed from Jackson Maine’s tragic climax — one that sees him, in the depths of his depression, and not wanting to drag Ally down with him (both in terms of her career and as her husband), hang himself in their garage while Ally is performing at a concert.
In the film, the song is not only a heartbreaking homage to Ally’s late husband, but it represents the character’s true star-making moment — one that sees her break away from her pop image, and re-root herself in the image of the brilliant singer-songwriter Jackson first fell in love with.
Amazingly, Gaga’s on-set performance of the song is beset with a story of tragedy. As she prepared to film the key scene, Gaga received word that Sonja Durham, a childhood friend who was suffering from Stage IV Cancer, was in her last moments. Despite dropping everything to be by her side, she arrived a mere 10 minutes too late to say goodbye. It was that emotional devastation that she ultimately took with her when she returned to film the movie’s ultimate scene.