A Star is Born

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, #3 album of 2019 according to Billboard magazine

The A Star is Born soundtrack is a real, integral part of Lady Gaga’s catalog, a true musical turning point. Her commercial success had waned in the preceding six years, starting with 2013’s Artpop. And as of this writing, her newest release Chromatica seems destined for the same middling success as before the soundtrack.

The reinvention on this soundtrack is complete and convincing. While she amps it up toward the climax of the story arc, becoming something like the glam pop star she is in real life, the heart of this soundtrack consists of country-rock gems that are surprisingly effective.

As great as Gaga is, Bradley Cooper provides the biggest jaw drop of all. We already knew she was versatile, but we didn’t (read: I didn’t) know Cooper could hold his own musically with her. Obviously, he’s not the powerhouse she is, but he does a convincing and earnest honky tonk Eddie Vedder impression. His songs aren’t isn’t-that-cute filler; they are every bit as emotionally engaging and pop-smart as hers are. And their duets mirror their on-screen chemistry.

Soundtracks used to be this way. Then they turned into free-for-alls, and then they turned into nothing-sandwich collages, about as thoughtful as an algorithm-generated streaming service playlist (yes, I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy). This soundtrack follows the trajectory of the film, using snippets of dialogue to shadow or summarize the plot points. It’s a little hokey, but it lets you know why the songs exist in the context of the soundtrack. I like that format.

And if any soundtrack and film can get away with hokey, it’s the third (fourth?) iteration of this classic rags-to-riches, good-girl-gone-big story, with all its self-referential fixation on stardom and celebrity.

Although Gaga recasts herself in an almost unrecognizable persona, the idea of fame as a thematic element in her music is entirely consistent. Her first album, after all, was called The Fame. Here, by inhabiting a character who navigates a rise to fame and by chronicling that journey indirectly through the music her character writes and sings, this soundtrack becomes more than just a series of ditties, even if it doesn’t attempt the pretensions of Artpop.

Blah, blah, blah. I know. Bottom line is that this is a solid collection of sturdy pop songs, that enrich the film they support and also stand on their own.

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