It’s a debate that has divided the Internet: Is the pop music in “A Star Is Born” good or bad?
In the film, troubled alt-country singer Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper, the film’s director) takes issue with the pop-heavy offerings on the debut album of his wife, Ally (Lady Gaga), who has skyrocketed to fame after singing several of her thoughtful, original songs on his tour. Jack is particularly bothered by “Why Did You Do That?” The candy-coated earworm begins with Ally asking, “Why do you look so good in those jeans?”
“Why Did You Do That?” is at the center of the debate around pop music in the film. The song is ridiculously catchy, but there is a sense of guilty pleasure to it — mostly because Jack seems to hate it so much. There is an assortment of memes and GIFs devoted to people grappling with this tension, but the most effective one may be this one, using the “American Chopper” meme:
Paul Blair, who goes by the moniker DJ White Shadow, helped write and produce six of the 19 songs featured on the film’s chart-topping soundtrack, including the schismatic “Why Did You Do That?”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Blair said the song, which also counts pop hitmaker Diane Warren and Gaga herself among its writers, was not — as some have suggested — intended to be bad. (Full disclosure: We’re firmly in the “it’s a bop” camp). But “Why Did You Do That?” was written to occupy a specific place in the film. Ally performs it on “Saturday Night Live” as her career is taking off. As a result, it had to be “more bubbly and mainstream,” Blair said.
Blair thinks Jackson’s reaction to “Why Did You Do That?” is really about his resentment of Ally’s fame. “It doesn’t matter what the song was. It doesn’t matter what she wrote — it would have sucked to him,” Blair said. “He’s upset that she’s killing it and he’s not killing it anymore."
Regardless of which side of the argument you’re on, it helps to understand how the music in the film came together. Blair is one of Gaga’s frequent collaborators — they teamed up on her 2011 album “Born This Way” and her 2013 effort “ArtPop.” He described the soundtrack as “a moving target” and likened its evolution to planting a tree and continually picking fruit off of it. For every song that made it onto the album, Blair estimates that they wrote at least four others, in various iterations.
That meant options when it came to picking, for example, the song that Ally would perform on SNL, or the one she’d write on the heels of her marriage to Jack. The latter became “Is That Alright?”: the heartfelt ballad that plays during the film’s credits and is one of five songs from “A Star Is Born” currently on the Billboard 100 chart. (It also happens to be Blair’s favorite song on the soundtrack.) It’s easy to imagine the bass-thumping “Hair Body Face,” which Blair says is “next door to the ‘Why Would You Do That?' house,” having SNL potential.
Gaga was deeply involved in the process, which Blair said has been typical of the singer-songwriter on the songs they have collaborated on together. “She’s the architect, she’s the conductor,” he said. And while Cooper co-wrote many of the songs performed by Jack, Blair said the first-time director stayed true to his character, distancing himself from the process when it came to Ally’s songs.
“For her songs as Ally, we kind of wrote them in a bubble,” Blair said, “just to keep the ideas genuine to the way it played out on screen.”
Blair saw “A Star Is Born” at a number of screenings, including the film’s Los Angeles premiere, but he still slipped into a theater to see it after its box-office release. He saw people crying as they watched.
“I’m just really happy to have been a part of it," Blair said. “I’m really happy that everyone’s enjoying it so much.”