Maybe It's Time We Let The Old Ways Die // A Star Is Born, Authenticity and Flexibility
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that utterly nonsense story about Bradley Cooper showing his ass and proving that he doesn’t know anything about skincare. During her A Star Is Born screentest, he apparently went up to her, makeup wipe in hand, and removed her makeup. He wanted her “Completely open. No artifice”.Let’s ignore the fact that a superstar like Lady Gaga would never remove her makeup with a makeup wipe, she surely uses some sort of micellar water or cleanser, then probably uses a toner followed by eye cream and moisturiser at the very least. Probably. And let’s ignore the fact that there’s no way in hell one makeup wipe would remove an entire face of makeup (wake up sheeple, makeup wipes are trash). We’re also going to ignore the massive invasion of personal space and how Bradley Cooper couldn’t come off more creepy if he tried, and that this little vignette is practically straight up lifted from the 1954 version of the film. Instead, let’s talk about authenticity.
The film is genuinely lovely; it’s an old Hollywood style melodrama centred by an excellent performance by Lady Gaga and surprisingly good direction by Bradley Cooper. Even though they’re playing the award circuit way too early, I’d be genuinely happy for Grammy Award Winner Lady Gaga to become Grammy & Academy Award and Winner Lady Gaga. Even if she doesn’t win for acting, she’s a shoe-in for Best Original Song.
The song in question is, of course, Hair Body Face.*
Or Shallow. I feel like Shallow is the right answer, but Hair Body Face is just a bop I can’t ignore.
[*Boshemia columnist Alex thinks the true bop is Why Did You Do That, but that’s a fight for another article]
Lady Gaga plays Ally, alongside Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine; Jackson, international rock/country/blues star discovered Ally in a drag bar and turns her into a star. The two start singing together, and eventually, Ally gets picked up by a record label and turned into, much to Jackson’s dismay, a popstar. Ally starts the movie singing blues/country alongside her partner and then moves into electro-pop. They’re both good! I still get chills listening to Shallow, but Hair Body Face might just be Gaga’s best pop song since ArtPop.
During her pop stardom, she insists to her record producer that she doesn’t want to lose her talent. She refuses to dye her hair blonde (though she does dye it red), and initially objects to choreography and backup dancers. While we don’t see much more of her struggles with fame, Ally eventually slides into the pop world quite well. She seems happy with her career – there’s no “what have I become” moment; when Jackson berates her song about butts, instead of sheepishly replying that it may not be her best music, she replies that it’s “her song.” It makes sense that Ally would be at least a little attracted to glitz and glamour and pop music and artifice; her career literally started in a drag bar. Her fellow performers were lip-synching and adjusting their fake tits. Despite initial misgivings, she takes full ownership of her career. Furthermore, even though she’s singing shallow pop songs, she’s belting the hell out of them. There’s no doubt that her talent is still there. Also, her songs aren’t all shallow! Of course the lead single is going to be a bop, but if Heal Me was a piano ballad, I’ve no doubt Jackson would love it. It’s only through the lens of Jackson, that we’re supposed to be disappointed.
“Maybe it’s time we let the old ways die” sings Jackson, and yet throughout the movie, he appears to be clinging to them even tighter. He refuses to accept his own mortality regarding his tinnitus, he refuses to let go of the heroic image of his father (despite the films eye candy Sam Elliot’s protestations), and he refuses to let Ally go and explore her career by herself. In his refusal to let go of the past, he succumbs to alcoholism and drug use.
Ally’s career, much like Gaga’s, is flexible. She can do pop, country, blues, rock and Whitney Houston style ballads. Jackson however, is trapped and appears shaken that Ally is not trapped right there with him. This isn’t necessarily a film about hating pop music and preferring the paternalistic nature of Jackson's old-school blues; it’s a cautionary tale about needing to “let the old ways die.” If the old ways are old school rock and roll hedonism and excess, and the new ways are pop songs about butts, so be it.
[16-year-old me would be shaking at this upright defence of pop music right now. Go listen to The Who and have no friends you loser]