Have you listened to “Shallow” from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born yet? If not, take stock of this moment: There will never be another time when you haven’t heard what’s sure to be one of the iconic songs of 2018.
Actually, there’s a good chance you already have heard “Shallow,” or at least part of it. This is one of the songs featured in the film’s trailer, the one that took your breath away and immediately established Lady Gaga’s credibility vis a vis the movie’s title. But you haven’t heard all of “Shallow” yet and you soon will, like it or not, because “Shallow” is about to be the most ubiquitous pop ballad since Adele’s “Hello.”
In the 30-minutes between my first listen on YouTube and the time I’m typing this sentence, the video has earned almost 200,000 additional views. By the time it beats Eminem for the Oscar for Best Original Song next March, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Shallow” has cruised past “See You Again” as top three all-time YouTube hit.
A star is born, indeed.
Here’s the thing: You can’t NOT like “Shallow.” “Tell me something girl,” Bradley Cooper asks over an evocative acoustic riff, “Are you happy in this modern world?” His verse is probing and revealing, ending with the confession “In the bad times, I fear myself.” As sales pitch that Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson Maine is an established star with the clout to play Coachella, it’s convincing.
Then Gaga steps to the mic and the song turns a corner. She riffs on his lyrics, the song builds, and we hit that pre-chorus from the trailer (“I’m off the DEEP END/ Watch as I DIVE IN”) and it’s one of those vocal runs of such conviction and purity that it explodes on impact (see also: “Hello From the Other Side…” and “And IIIIIII….”).
At last, over two minutes into the song, the proper hook arrives as a duet, Cooper and Gaga stretching “Shallows” into “Sha-la-la-lows.” It’s perfect in its ridiculousness (a pinch of ridiculousness is a key ingredient to many pop smashes).
This is probably a good time to bring up the songwriters behind “Shallow.” A Star Is Born has a story arc baked into its title and as such, the soundtrack features a number of different collaborators, from Lukas Nelson (whose group Promise of the Real plays Cooper’s backing band) to Gaga’s longtime producer DJ White Shadow. However, somewhat surprisingly, “Shallow” was written by Gaga and her “Joanne” collaborator Mark Ronson, along with Andrew Wyatt and Anthony Rossomando. Given those artist’s dance-pop credentials, “Shallow” is clearly outside of their lane, but as “Uptown Funk” proved (No. 5 all-time most viewed video on YouTube), Ronson knows how to pull off a catchy homage.
And that’s what “Shallow” really is: An homage to the epic movie ballad. The last minute of the song is absolutely tremendous; Gaga finding her voice and returning to the pre-chorus; majestic drum fills; and an abrupt ending that leaves you wanting more.
Maybe I’m wrong. “Shallow” could end up losing the Academy Award to another song on the soundtrack that we haven’t heard or even something from a different movie. And maybe the song’s slow-burn structure requires too much patience to become a hit. But to me, “Shallow” delivers on the undeniable promise of trailer and seems to herald an autumn that, on the heels of Hamilton, La La Land and The Greatest Showman, could be dominated by yet another musical.