The “A Star Is Born” Soundtrack & What It Says About Music Today



Alison Nieto Culture Editor

By this point, you should have seen Bradley Cooper’s directorial (and musical) debut A Star is Born, and if you haven’t, I’m strongly questioning your life choices. One of the central features of the movie is Lady Gaga’s (and, for that matter, Cooper’s) vocals. Music serves as the main motif throughout the movie, and the evolution of Gaga’s character, Ally, from singing in drag bars to playing large arena shows on her own national tour. Other than just providing an amazing soundtrack, the music and the message actually make a larger critique on where music is today and what is and is not considered “authentic.”

Music is an incredibly personal thing. Don’t believe me? Talk to my roommates, who have playlists dedicated to songs they listen to when they’re happy, songs they listen to when it’s raining out and songs they won’t listen to because an ex included them in a playlist. This personal attribute of music is what makes the movie so interesting. While you won’t hear Lady Gaga in all her “Bad Romance-esque” glory until about halfway through the film, the soundtrack has something for everyone while offering critique on what “real” music is (hint: all music is real music).

When the movie begins, the music features heavy guitar chords and raw vocals. This is mostly supported by Cooper’s character, country rock star Jackson Mayne, a talented musician with tinnitus and a drinking problem. When he meets Gaga’s character Ally, she is singing in French in a drag bar. The performance is real and raw, with toned down instrumentals to reveal raw talent and strong vocals. Gaga may be dressed up with fake eyebrows and painted hair, but there is nothing concealing her raw talent. This is different from the Gaga we know, the Gaga who dressed in ensembles including a meat dress, and doused herself in fake blood during a performance of her hit “Paparazzi” at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. This Gaga is stripped down as Ally, and Cooper makes many comments about how rare it is to find real, raw talent like hers. 

The performance aspect is also a large part of the movie and of the critique of music in the 21st century. When Ally first performs, she is barefaced, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. Her hair is down and there is nothing hiding her from the audience. However, once she is picked up by sleazy record producer Rez Gavron (played by Rafi Gavron), her entire look and sound changes. Suddenly, her hair isn’t the right color, her clothes aren’t the right style and her voice is better suited for different music. Her brown hair is dyed a bright orange, and she is consistently made up. She is given a certain image that directly contradicts what Cooper has been praising her for. 

In a sense, she becomes commercialized, much like another popstar we all know and love (Lady Gaga herself) . All of her raw talent is covered up with backup dancers, more eccentric outfits and a more rehearsed sound, one that blends in with every other female performer of the decade. This is the point in which Cooper’s character is visibly upset. While watching Ally perform on SNL, Mayne turns around and picks up a drink from the complimentary area and starts drinking. This is significant, because we have already established that he has a drinking problem. Later, he makes a comment that this new sound does not sound like her, leading to a disagreement on the path of her career. 

This commentary on the change in career for Gaga’s character Ally is indicative of how female popstars—and popstars in general for that matter—are treated as less authentic than other musicians, namely country musicians. This divide about what makes a musician a real artist has more to do with authenticity than different types of music. Cooper’s character looks down on Ally as she attends rigorous dance rehearsals, records new songs  and bemoans the shift in presentation from soulful crooner to pop icon. This shift represents how society tends to view artists who create pop music as less serious and is supplemented by the fact that Ally, the singer-songwriter is played by one of the biggest popstars in the world. 

A Star is Born is a great film for many reasons other than its critique on the music industry. It also brings up the dangers of alcoholism, importance of family and proves that, as Lady Gaga must’ve said a million times on their press tour,  “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one” to give you a shot. Plus, its soundtrack is incredible and if you haven’t listened yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.