Can we talk about that scene? Lady Gaga giving a real performance that only a real singer could give
'Can we talk about that scene?' is a periodic instalment where memorable scenes are discussed. Given the nature of these pieces, we will be entering major spoiler territory and the film(s) in question will be stated upfront. For additional entries, please click here.
SPOILER ALERT for A Star is Born (2018).
In about a week or so, A Star is Born will finally make its official public debut and the surplus of YouTube covers following its release is all but an inevitable certainty. In fact, with Warner Brothers releasing the film's biggest track in its entirety one week before the full soundtrack comes out, those covers might come even earlier. And personally, I'm actually a pretty big fan of said covers so will be waiting in anticipation as the wave of Gaga/Cooper swooners come crashing onto my suggested YouTube playlists. But like any musical or film with musical performances, it's not always fair to applaud its musical sensibilities in isolation. Cinema is an audiovisual medium, and no matter how good a song may be, it's only half of the story.
This concept has never been clearer than Lady Gaga's spectacular performance in A Star is Born (which I caught during TIFF 2018). Come awards season, this film is sure to have no shortage of coverage in the mainstream media. And the flood of attention will all be well deserved - A Star is Born works so well on so many levels. It's not a perfect film, but a lot of things about it are near perfection, and that includes a flawless performance by Lady Gaga (and even more flawless performance by Bradley Cooper, I would argue, but I'll save that thought for another post).
There's so much depth to Gaga's performance, and not surprisingly, I actually thought her singing scenes were particularly notable. Sure, we knew that Lady Gaga could sing and would've expected those scenes to be spot on both in terms of its vocal and theatrical qualities. This is the Lady Gaga, and she knows how to put on a show. But in every single scene where she sings, she doesn't just perform a song with the emotional notes marked on a script. Instead, she gives a performance of pure emotion that just happens to be in the form of a song.
The one scene that most people will remember coming out of A Star is Born, and illustrates my point most clearly, is her first performance of the song Shallow with Cooper. It's a killer song, but the scene is a killer cinematic moment mainly because of Gaga's capabilities as an actress. The way her body moves toward the mic initially, followed by her fearful hand gestures concealing her face, to the powerhouse comfort she develops by the end of the scene - this is far from something you would ever see in a music video or live performance. It's even far from anything you would expect to see in any other musical performance within a film. It's something that I think only a superstar singer in real life could do, and with Gaga, audiences get a lighting in a bottle performance that just keeps on striking from beginning to end. This scene in particular was just breathtaking, and is something that feels magical in a way that only cinema is able to create.
I'll end by saying that it's not hard to forget that you're seeing Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, because she is just that damn good. From the very start, it's clear that you're watching an actress portray someone else entirely. But when the singing started, particularly when Shallow was about to happen, I expected that to at least briefly change. This is Lady Gaga singing on a big stage, after all, so it will probably feel like Lady Gaga singing on a big stage. It did not feel that way at all, which is an impossible feat given that Lady Gaga has built such a strong and mesmerizing image of herself, to the point where she almost feels like an institution or brand. All that goes out the window, especially in this scene, where she is singing and performing a song. How is that even possible? I am truly beyond words.