The hit from the soundtrack to A Star Is Born has captured the zeitgeist – because it speaks to those to whom life has not always been fair
Jenny Stevens The Guardian
Stop 10 people walking down the street with headphones, and at least one of them will be listening to the soundtrack to A Star Is Born. In all likelihood, it will be Shallow, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s No 1 single.
For me, the film brought back the thrill of being a music journalist: the vim, sweat and chaos of being backstage; the extraordinary capacity of live music to lift the self and spirit, build moments of joy, communion and clarity. The simple act of feeling alive.
But it also speaks to thrill’s flipside, despair. The inevitable comedown, the isolation and the untethered moments on the road when addiction can trample over a psyche. “In all the good times, I find myself longing for change,” they both sing in the refrain. “And in the bad times, I fear myself.”
It is all very 2018. Much like the runaway (and inexplicable to me) success of The Greatest Showman’s This Is Me, it is a song about internal reflection and self-realisation. But unlike This Is Me, this is not me-against-the-world empowerment. It is a song that not only speaks for those to whom life has not always been fair or kind, but those who may not be all that good inside either.
Two people come together at a period of intense vulnerability and dive into a fated romance – “we’re far from the shallow now”. One spirals into drug and alcohol abuse, while the other clambers upwards to global fame and credibility. Lady Gaga’s vocal is staggering: raw, guttural, powerful. The male/female dialogue evokes Fleetwood Mac at their most pained. Sara, in particular, comes to mind: “Drowning in the sea of love, where everyone would love to drown.”
Water flows deep through the annals of pop history: whether it is being battered by waves (“There’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck,” Thom Yorke sings on Radiohead’s There There, a nod to Odysseus on his ship trying to find his way home); cleansed (“Take me to the river … cleanse my soul” – Al Green); or quenched (“I could drink a case of you, and still I’ll be on my feet” – Joni Mitchell). Water is simultaneously wild, untamed, dangerous, glorious and serene. Much, I suppose, like love.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and The Greatest Showman soundtracks have dominated album sales this year (thanks, one suspects, to children graduating from the Frozen soundtrack). But A Star Is Born is for grownups. As one life fades, another begins. I’ll be listening until, as one friend put it, “I’d heard it so many times I thought I was going to be sick”.