“A Star is Born” is a throwback to the golden age of movie soundtracks

An instant classic.
An instant classic.
Image: Neal Preston/Warner Bros. Pictures
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

A Star is Born is the kind of dazzling movie that gives you a contact high. Indeed, the only logical way to follow the on-screen seduction of Lady Gaga’s Hollywood turn is to plug in your headphones and allow the soundtrack to lure you in further.

From “Shallow“—which wooed the internet via the film’s viral trailer before the movie even came out—to Ally’s theatrical drag bar rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” the soundtrack is a perfect buttress to the film—but it also stands alone as an album worth listening to.

In this way, it’s reminiscent of the musical soundtracks of yesteryear that managed to transcend trips to the movie theater and become cultural touchstones in their own right. The soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s movie mega-hit The Bodyguard broke records around the world in 1992, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all-time. Twenty-six years later, it still holds the title for the biggest-selling movie soundtrack ever, according to Billboard. About five years later, Titanic‘s soundtrack spent 16 weeks in the number-one spot in the US in 1998, and notably stopping behemoths like Shania Twain Come On Over and Madonna’s Ray of Light from reaching the top spot.

That’s not to say that great movie soundtracks have failed to find appreciation in our current era. In the last two years alone, the soundtracks to La La Land, Black Panther, and The Greatest Showman have become chart hits in their own right. In the UK, The Greatest Showman and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again soundtracks have spent a combined 26 weeks at number one in 2018, and A Star is Born looks set to add to that total.

But streaming has given us an overwhelming amount of choice over the music we listen to, and in the age of Spotify, people are less likely to listen to albums as holistic entities, preferring instead to defer to the algorithm. And so it sometimes seems as if soundtracks don’t have quite the cultural sway they used to possess.

That may change with A Star is Born. Remember 1997-1998, when it was impossible to not hear “My Heart Will Go On” absolutely everywhere you went? Well, “Shallow” packs a similar punch.

The soundtrack—interspersed with dialogue from the film—will certainly please Lady Gaga diehards and those wanting more of Bradley Cooper’s slightly labored, but nevertheless sexy, deep-octave mumble. But even for non-superfans, it’s a stirring listen in its own right. From country and old-school crooners to pop-dance hits and power ballads and back again, the soundtrack feels less like a one-dimensional recap of the film and more like a re-telling of the characters’ evolution and on-screen chemistry.

It may also come as a relief to listen to the soundtrack without the movie’s critical judgments. The movie turns up its nose a bit at the pop-driven hits Ally’s character takes to performing later in the film; Jackson mocks the line “Why do you look so good in those jeans” from the track “Why Did You Do That?” during one of his drunker, meaner moments.

But listening to the soundtrack comes with no such baggage, which means listeners are free to revel in just how enjoyable each song is in its own right. As The Cut‘s Allison P. Davis observes , “if it were early summer and ‘Why Did You Do That?’ dropped, it’d be a strong song-of-the-summer contender.” “Hair Body Face” is a nod to the Gaga we all became obsessed with when she released The Fame in 2008, while fan reaction suggests “Heal Me” could—and should—be the blueprint for her next record.

As Rachel Syme notes in her New York Times Magazine profile of Gaga: “Some viewers may read a rock-versus-pop hierarchy into Ally’s transformations — that she is more ‘real’ when she is harmonizing with Jackson’s twangy melodies or sitting at her piano — but Gaga’s onscreen mastery over both genres is a pre-emptive rebuttal to what is essentially a gendered bias.” Gaga, as Syme explains, “possesses the dexterity to make whatever kind of music she likes.” She’s right. When you’re listening to the soundtrack, you have the joy of listening to Gaga in all her forceful, masterful range—and the movie becomes somewhat irrelevant.