Cast your minds back to 2008. You might have been wearing Hollister with your hair in a high side-ponytail (or a plait if your mum was terrified of the nit plague). Everyone is happily slow-dancing to Halo and singing along to Taylor’s Love Story. Then a total weirdo with platinum blonde hair and outfits that were only set to get more outrageous catapulted on to the scene. At the time, we all saw Lady Gaga very much as a weirdo that we couldn’t quite understand. A bit like unruly Miley Cyrus of 2013, everyone was just a bit confused. But over the past 10 years, Lady Gaga’s fearless lyrics and audacious personality have proved to be more than an act of attention-seeking and rather a commitment to being her unconventional self.
And this month, yet a different side of her was revealed through her leading role in Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star is Born. (Brief summary – famous country artist Jackson Maine, played by Cooper, meets struggling-artist-with-amazing-voice Ally (Gaga), they fall in love, her career takes off whilst their relationship struggles. Noice). Stripped back to a makeup-free face and meat-free clothing, suddenly Gaga’s voice is all that matters. The power she generates in the songs is rooted in emotion, conviction and passion, particularly shining through in Always Remember Us This Way and Shallow. Her bridge in the latter is phenomenal – how someone can take the sound “har” and extend it over 17 seconds in the most dramatic and soul-shaking way is beyond me. But Gaga’s voice is powerful in a very different way to other female vocalists such as Aretha Franklin and Adele. As her vocal range sits lower, she is not so concerned with hitting the soaring notes but rather building upon her own unique vocal quality within her range. Although perhaps not as soulful, Gaga’s tone commands attention and demands to be heard.
As the story follows Ally’s musical journey, Gaga also proves that she is a vocal polymath. From beautiful depth in her romantic country duets with Cooper, through to ethereal breathy tones that the more commercial pop industry demands, and ending with the big yet incredibly fragile ballad Céline Dion style. Perhaps the only exception is her rendition of La Vie en Rose – a very questionable French accent made that a little uncomfortable to listen to. As well as demonstrating Gaga’s versatility, this change in genre in Ally’s career also speaks volumes about the pressure in the music industry to give up authenticity for the fame and glory. Even just from listening to the soundtrack, one hears the difference between the first few songs and the significantly less impressive (certainly lyrically) electro-pop tracks, Hair Body Face and Why Did You Do That?. Suddenly image, choreography and relevance supersede originality, passion and lyrical value. And even though this has become a cliché in so many biopics and films depicting the music industry, kudos to Bradley Cooper’s directing and some ruddy great character development that keeps the focus on Ally, Jackson and their relationship. Sidenote: I actually don’t know what I’m talking about. I do music not films.
However, if I may be so bold, I shall bring to your attention one musical theme/idea/motif/concept/trope (help) that I believe is worth remembering, especially for artists in such a tempestuous industry. It comes in the first few moments of the film, when Cooper’s character says to Ally, ‘talent is everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other thing. We’re here to say something’. Now this doesn’t mean all artists have a responsibility to condemn Trump in song and rap about being a female. We all saw how that worked out for Eminem’s flop of a political album. But what they do have is the power to stir the soul in a way that is very unique to music; to uplift someone, to motivate someone, to give someone something to cry to, dance to, sing to. And honestly, I don’t think Cooper could have chosen anyone better to represent that than Lady Gaga. As an artist herself who, through her music, has given those who feel different and unwelcome a voice, her role in this movie was all the more convincing and inspiring.
I thoroughly recommend a trip to the local Vue to catch this film and all of Gaga’s vocal extraordinaire in cinema before it goes. It won’t be the same on your laptop I assure you. As for me, I shall be paying a long-overdue revisit to 2008 and every Gaga album since.