The only time a star is truly born is when the two come together: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is BornWarner Bros

It dawned on me, late one night while scouring Youtube, that Bradley Cooper may be something of a musical prodigy. Even Jimmy Fallon’s inane background cheers couldn’t deter me from gazing awestruck as Cooper proceeded to air guitar the entirety of Neil Young’s blistering solo from ‘Down by the River’. While played for laughs, the sincere dedication suggested frank attachment to the figure of the rock star - and perhaps even a hint of jealousy.

Fast forward to the opening notes of A Star is Born, and Cooper swaggers out on stage and unleashes a series of distorted blues licks. Young’s current sideman Lukas Nelson has even been recruited by Cooper to accompany his beefily-named Jackson Maine in attempting to satisfy a comically wild crowd.

It appears it is only possible to be 'true' if your song falls within the bounds of intimate country or show-stopping torch song

During these first few seconds, the atmosphere is indeed exhilarating, and the soundtrack doesn’t fully capture the dynamic sweat and energy of Cooper’s American rock fantasy. It is a slight shame then, that when Maine leans in to the mic, he sounds rather like one of those bizarre country entries that the Netherlands persist in enrolling into Eurovision. For the most part, Cooper just about gets away with his voice. He’s thrown a lifebelt by Americana hero Jason Isbell who contributes original material, while aspiring Nashville overlord Dave Cobb sits at the production controls.

But just getting by is not really good enough when it appears that the film’s core musical message relies on the ‘truth’ of Maine’s songs. Whatever his faults as a man (they're numerous), Maine is ultimately saved by the fact that, when the listener tunes into his words, they apparently ‘say something’. According to the music of A Star is Born, it appears this is only possible if your song falls within the bounds of intimate country or show-stopping torch song.

If Maine is the falling star, then Lady Gaga’s Ally is the icon birthed. However, the slick pop songs that transform Ally into a Grammy-winning superstar are overwhelmingly – and sometimes it seems even intentionally – bland. The star’s big break on live television features her purring, “Why do you look so good in those jeans?” As Maine watches his muse from the wings, it’s impossible to blame the poor guy for pouring a stiff one.

So much is repeated nowadays about the diversity and intelligence of modern pop music. It seems to be an ingrained part of the student experience to have someone (perhaps drunkly) elaborate on the various cultural insights and significances of Taylor Swift - more often than not I’m out of my depth. Given this, it’s unexpectedly mundane watching Lady Gaga, of all people, dance around on screen as a distinctly unmemorable caricature of the 21st century pop idol.

The soundtrack has an awkwardly confused perspective on what really makes someone a star.

You can’t help feeling that A Star is Born really hasn’t got its finger on the pulse of things. Mirroring the talent supporting Maine’s country bravado, Ally’s musical character has been created by a patchwork of contemporary industry mainstays which includes Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt among its creed. There is no excuse for the film’s tired suggestion that Ally loses her way due to her inability to ‘say something’ in her neatly choreographed pop songs.

Naturally, Ally’s narrative is meant to demonstrate the toxicity of fame and the corrupting influences that come with the spotlight. Gaga herself has spoken extensively of being overwhelmed in the early stages of her career. Perhaps understandable when she had the confidence to release something as daring and distinctive as ‘Bad Romance’ so early - a truly unique record complete with curiously overt Hitchcock references and plenty of ‘rah rahs’. In contrast, A Star is Born’s soundtrack gives so much time to Ally’s generic songs while simultaneously telling us that they’re untrue to her real lyrical voice, contributing to an awkwardly confused perspective on what really makes someone a star.

If at one end we find Jackson Maine’s leaden heartland ramblings, and at the other Ally’s vapid warbles, then it appears the only time a star is truly born is when the two come together. In the film’s centrepiece, ‘Shallow’, Cooper and Gaga find a middle ground that works astonishingly well. Yes, this song may well do the Oscar rounds, but it is the conflicted emotion Gaga conjures when Ally discovers her willingness to set her talent loose upon the world that is truly spine-tingling. As Maine fades into a supporting role, the song swells into a thrilling climax.


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With this potential entrenched at the heart of the music of A Star is Born, it is baffling that it treats pop music as if it were incapable of reaching these highs. Perhaps Cooper can be forgiven for the unremarkable vocal talent which weighs down his solo numbers - after all, he turns in a quite gut-wrenching performance as the troubled aging rock star. But for Lady Gaga to come across as uncustomarily plain when given free rein in her field enough to compel me to start skipping large chunks of the soundtrack whenever I hear those insipid beats start to emerge? Well, that's a crime.

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