Is A Star is Born's breakout song 'Shallow' unbeatable this awards season?
Come Feb. 24, Lady Gaga could be holding an Oscar, if not several, in her hands.
The pop star and the film she starred in last year, Bradley Cooper's directorial debut A Star is Born, are the talk of this upcoming awards season and, to some, the film itself is a heavy contender in many of the biggest, most prestigious categories at this year's Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and, ultimately, the Oscars. Already, A Star is Born had five Golden Globe nominations and is leading the film nominations at the SAG Awards with the same number, with surefire Oscar nominations on the way when they're announced on Jan. 23.
While Gaga, Cooper and the film have some stiff competition in the acting, directing and feature film categories, one category appears to be unbeatable at this point: best original song. That, in fact, was the only award the film secured at Sunday night's Golden Globes.
A Star is Born boasts one of 2018's strongest soundtracks, featuring songs co-written by Gaga, Cooper, Mark Ronson, Jason Isbell, Lukas Nelson, Julia Michaels and Diane Warren. The songs span a range of genres: opening number "Black Eyes" shows off the low, gravelly voice Cooper worked hard to achieve; "Look What I Found" is a soulful piano ballad that tangentially could've found a home on Gaga's 2016 album, Joanne; and "Why Did You do That?" is one of the most brilliantly underrated pop gems — no matter what Cooper's Jackson Maine tells you. But none of those cuts can stand up to the behemoth track that is "Shallow," a track that first appeared in the film's trailer and featured the howl heard around the world. When the film finally dropped months later, in October 2018, it lived up to the anticipation.
Originally planned as an end-credit song — its aquatic-themed lyrics are apparently a reference to an alternative ending — Cooper decided to rearrange it into the centerpiece of the film instead. The first hour of the film devotes itself to building a connection between Cooper's Maine and Gaga's Ally. They first meet at a drag bar, where a drunk Maine sees Ally perform for the first time. As the night progresses, the two end up sitting in an empty grocery store parking lot and Ally sings a snippet of a song she's working on: "Shallow." Cue to the next day and Ally's being whisked away to Maine's next gig. There, he surprises her with a fully arranged version of her song and pulls her onstage to perform the big number, in all its howling glory.
On the musical side of award shows, "Shallow" is also up for four Grammy Awards: record of the year, song of the year, best pop duo/group performance and best song written for visual media. Though the rules and dynamics of the Grammys are different than the big acting prizes, thus making its chances of winning strong but not guaranteed, these nominations do speak to the strength of A Star is Born's music. Separated from its visual component, "Shallow" is now recieving regular airplay on radio stations and, much like Barbra Streisand's own A Star is Born breakout hit "Evergreen" in 1977, it has taken on a life of its own.
For the Oscars though, "Shallow" feels like a safe bet in many ways. It captures the movie magic of instant chemistry, love at first song note, much like 2007's best original song winner, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's duet "Falling Slowly" from Once. And though the Oscars don't necessarily reward star power, Gaga and Cooper's A-list number — the song's songwriters include Gaga, Ronson, Miike Snow singer Andrew Wyatt and Dirty Pretty Things cofounder Anthony Rossomando — wouldn't look out of place next to previous big-named winners like Adele and Sam Smith, both of whom won for their respective James Bond themes.
This isn't to say that "Shallow" doesn't have any competition. Prior to A Star is Born's release, Black Panther's end-credit number, "All the Stars" performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA, was considered a top contender, and still is. But given awards history and its penchant to side with more emotional or traditionally theatrical songs (e.g. La La Land's "City of Stars," Selma's "Glory," or Frozen's "Let it Go"), not to mention the fact that only two hip-hop songs have taken home the best original song Oscar (Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp"), the Black Panther cut feels like its got a steeper — and unfair — hill to climb than "Shallow."
Outside of that, many were looking to Mary Poppins Returns to provide more year-end competition but so far, not many standout songs have surfaced, with some critics even noting that its songs aren't terribly memorable at all. (The film's star, and noted award-winning performer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, didn't write any songs for the film, which some have also noted as a missed opportunity.) Nevertheless, two Mary Poppins Returns tracks are on the Oscars short list for best original song: "The Place Where Lost Things Go" and "Trip a Little Light Fantastic."
If we look to the Golden Globes (the SAG Awards don't have a song category), there are outliers like pop star Troye Sivan's Boy Erased song, "Revelation," and Dolly Parton's Dumplin' original, "Girl in the Movies." While both are good songs that fans of either artist should check out, neither have made much of a splash on a wider scale. Underdogs who are currently shortlisted for the best original song Oscar include Thom Yorke's Suspiria cut, "Suspirium," Sorry to Bother You director Boots Riley doing double duty and contributing "OYAHYTT" to his film's sountrack, and the rather delightful ditty "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" from the Coen Brothers' Netflix feature, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
But really, A Star is Born's box office success and the internet's loving embrace of it says it all: it's Gaga and Cooper's festival-ready anthem that we want to hear on Oscar night, and it's that well-rehearsed (but not any less meaningful) speech of Gaga's that already feels fully crystalized in our minds. If the Oscar at-large feels a little more uncertain this year, you can feel confident in one thing: we will soon spend the rest of 2019 saying the words "Oscar winner, Lady Gaga."