‘Mild spoilers for A Star Is Born follow below.
Not only is everyone talking about A Star Is Born, but the soundtrack for Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut landed at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The film is full of great, diverse songs, but films as buzzworthy as A Star Is Born tend to take on a life of their own, and so the Great A Star Is Born Soundtrack War of 2018 has begun. Is “Always Remember Us This Way” better than “Shallows”? Is “I’ll Never Love Again” too shameless a ripoff of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”? And, of course, is “Why Did You Do That?” a genuinely good song?
It’s the latter track that’s drumming up the heaviest discourse at this point in time, as Ally’s (Lady Gaga) song she performs on SNL marks a major turning point in her relationship with Jackson (Cooper). “Why Did You Do That?” is unabashedly a pop song, but it also lacks the lyrical depth of Ally’s other original songs. Is it meant to be so glib? Is the film saying “Why Did You Do That?” is bad, or are we meant to consider the source re: Jackson’s unhappiness with his own inauthenticity when he goes after Ally?
For some clarity on the matter, the New York Times went straight to the source: nine-time Oscar nominated songwriter Diane Warren, who co-wrote “Why Did You Do That?’ with Gaga, Mark Nilan Jr., Nick Monson, and Paul “DJWS” Blair. Warren confirmed that the intention is not for “Why Did You Do That?” to be a purposefully bad song:
“No, it’s not the intention. I would never purposefully sit down to write a bad song, although I guess I’ve done some without trying that turned out that way. This was a fun song, and I love fun pop songs. Not everything has to be serious all the time… The directive was just to write a fun song, something that shows she’s becoming this pop artist.”
Warren said that as someone who’s been in the music industry for a while, Ally’s arc in the film rang true—while also acknowledging there’s nothing wrong with Ally wanting to be a pop star:
“I’ve seen stuff like that, where they try to push an artist — especially a female artist — into something they’re not, and then they rebel against it and try to discover what their true voice is. But by the way, maybe her true voice is being a pop star, you know? And that’s O.K., if that’s who you are.”
Indeed, Warren rightly came to the defense of pop music when discussing the scene in which Jackson confronts Ally in the bathtub about her song:
“It surprised me when I saw it! I was sitting next to my friend and I jabbed her in the arm and went, ‘That’s my line he’s quoting!’ I love that her character defended her music. It doesn’t have to be what he thinks music should be — music can be everything. It can be a serious song, it can be a pop song, it can be a song about an ass.”
There are a lot of different ways to read how the relationship between Jackson and Ally plays out in the film, which is just one of the movie’s many virtues. My personal read on it is that authenticity is a major theme of the story, and while the film takes a bit of a leap in terms of the evolution of Ally’s music from “Shallow” all the way to “Why Did You Do That?”, Jackson’s not really one to talk. There’s some hypocrisy going on there because Jackson frequently mentions how unhappy he is with his own career path and artistic integrity, but he plays a paid gig at a pharmaceutical conference. Granted, he has to get high just to make it through, but he still does it even though he knows it’s not being true to his artistic ideals.
One could intuit that Jackson has already given up on himself, which is why he puts so much stock into Ally’s career. That would explain why he gets so upset when she decides to sing about butts on SNL, but again he comes off hypocritical.
Beyond all that, I think we can all agree that “Why Did You Do That?” is at the very least catchy as hell.