A Star is Born has been made four times over the last century and a half. Although some doubted its ability to win over viewers in 2018, those people are missing the key variable: it tells several classic stories, such as the price of fame and doomed love. These stories are just as powerful as narratives featuring anti-heroes and superheroes, we just see them a whole lot less in 2018 than we did in the Hollywood of yesteryear. That doesn’t make them any less powerful.
The most recent iteration of the movie stars Lady Gaga and it seems designed to disarm the haters.
Lady Gaga’s haters fall into several categories: a) those who object to the meat-dress wearing antics; b) those who feel the meat-dress wearing antics were stolen from Madonna; c) those who hate the pop music that Gaga’s early music represents; d) those who think Gaga is inauthentic. A Star is Born has an answer for all of them.
Objections to Meat-Wearing Antics
Many Gaga critics could simply never get over Gaga’s initial entry onto the pop scene by way of ridiculously over-the-top outfits. None of these is more famous than Gaga’s meat dress and meat shoes, worn to the 2010 Video Music Awards. She also appeared in a frog jacket, inflatable star, white fluffy cloud and all manner of crazy headdresses and bodysuits. If you’re going to throw a red card on Gaga for theatrics, do you also throw a red card on 1970’s Elton John, who famously wore a rubber duck costume? How about indie darling Bjork (swan dress) or Sia (wigs obscuring her face)? This objection to Gaga seems to ignore music history and more importantly, the music. Gaga could’ve worn Halloween costumes 24 hours a day for years and never have hit it big if she didn’t write catchy songs. If you’ve ever heard “Telephone,” I dare you to get it out of your mind.
A Star is Born answers these critics with a pretty simple device: evidence that Lady Gaga can write songs. The crucial element in the Jackson Maine/Ally meet-cute scenes is Jackson’s amazement at the songs Gaga can write. This device would’ve failed if the songs didn’t hook the viewer, but “Shallow,” written by Gaga and Bradley Cooper and produced by Mark Ronson proves yet again that Gaga can write compelling hooks.
Objections That Lady Gaga Stole From Madonna
I always had a bone to pick with Lady Gaga because it seemed to me she owes her early performance artistic antics to Madonna. This is sort of an “old person criticizes young person” rant. It is true that Lady Gaga seemed to use the Madonna template to get famous. But there are fewer similarities there than you would think. Madonna loved to be provocative, but with Lady Gaga it seems more like a means to an end. Listening to the earth-shaking vocal on “Shallow,” it occurred to even the most ardent Madonna fan that Lady Gaga can really, truly sing. It’s not that Madonna can’t sing, but her voice isn’t as good as Gaga’s. And for Madonna, the provocation of videos such as “Like a Prayer” or “Papa Don’t Preach” is just as important as the sound. A Star is Born reveals that Lady Gaga is the opposite: Madonna is a performance artist who sings, whereas Lady Gaga was a singer who pretended to be a performance artist.
Objections to Pop Music
There is probably nothing you can do to convince someone who hates pop music that it’s actually pretty good. Whether these critics like classic rock (and only classic rock) or they like grunge (and lament its passing), they are never going to ruefully acknowledge the genius of a pop song unless it was written by Brian Wilson. A Star is Born does not challenge this kind of music snobbery; instead it validates it. If the Ally of the early movie is a revelation to Jackson, what happens to her at the hands of the music industry insiders is deliberately presented as desecration by Jackson and the audience. Gone is the girl sharing her voice and songwriting with the world; she’s been replaced by a pop diva! This storyline left Gaga’s worst critics saying, “I Told You So!” but with an important corollary – they acknowledgment that she can sing.
Objections to Gaga’s Authenticity
In 2010, Gaga’s ex-business manager and boyfriend Rob Fusari sued Gaga with the claim that he made her by taking her rock-driven songs and adding pop beats, in addition to helping her create a pop persona. A Star is Born tackles this story from the artist’s perspective, as a super producer takes Ally under his wing in order to create a persona that is inauthentic but salable. Gone is the Ally who doesn’t wear makeup; in her place is an artist who suddenly has to learn choreography and accept backup dancers.
There are plenty of parallels between the character and Lady Gaga herself. The movie suggests that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t the exact path Gaga wanted to travel. There is evidence of this over the last few years of her career. Lady Gaga ditched the artifice and featured her amazing voice by recording and performing with Tony Bennett, and then attempted a stripped-down country crossover album that did not catch on. But all of this suggests that Gaga would have preferred to be singing standards, or stripped down rock and roll, all along.