The From ‘a Star Is Born,’ Ranked
Considering the breakneck pace at which we digest pop culture, it’s astonishing how much of 2018 was dedicated to the anticipation and celebration of A Star Is Born.Since its first trailer debuted in June, the film has conjured a universe so compelling that people are draping themselves in Jackson Maine merch and listening to the soundtrack on repeat. When it comes time for everyone to share their Spotify “year in review” stats, I’m certain I won’t be the only one who has spent the better part of the year listening to the sweet, sweet harmonies of Stefani Germanotta and Bradley “director-slash-actor” Cooper. I know these songs like Maine knows the contours of Ally’s nose. And for that reason it is my duty to rank them.
18. “Out of Time”
Full disclosure: Though I have sought to evaluate each song on its musical merit, certain tracks are ranked higher than others because they correspond with the film’s pinnacle scenes. This is simply an acknowledgement that the appeal of the ASIB soundtrack is inextricably linked with our emotional attachment to its story. (No one listened to Moulin Rouge!songs on repeat because they thought Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor were impressive singers!) In essence, this list is also a ranking of the best ASIB moments.
So, yeah, “Out of Time” is just the instrumental lead-up to “Alibi,” which is basically just the lead-up to “Shallow.” That makes it very forgettable, but I’m still glad Bradley Cooper learned to shred.
17. “Too Far Gone”
An unremarkable pop-country soliloquy from Jackson that alludes to one of the most upsetting events in the film. Spoiler alert: He is indeed too far gone.
16. “Before I Cry”
This somber, hopeful ballad is meant to capture Ally’s limitless dedication to Jackson, even as her ascendant career throws him into a tailspin, but it isn’t actually in the movie? Maybe I’ll have to revise my ranking when we get that rumored director’s cut.
15. “Black Eyes”
Time to reveal my true poptimist leanings. I appreciate that Cooper (a) wrote this bluesy rock song himself, (b) made a point to tell us he wrote it himself in a behind-the-scenes promo, and (c) generally enjoyed cosplaying as Neil Young while doing it. But I feel no particular allegiance to the end product.
14. “Music to My Eyes”
As my colleague Rob Harvilla wrote in October, “the worse the song, the more glaring the disparity between Cooper’s voice and, uh, Lady Gaga’s.” No matter how many elaborate headset singing lessons he took to prepare for the film, Bradley Cooper’s range will never match that of his resplendent costar. But, ugh, remember when they rode a motorcycle to Arizona and Jackson caressed Ally’s leg??
I like to imagine this song playing in Cooper’s head whenever he’s being difficult in an interview.
12. “I Don’t Know What Love Is”
The same rules of lopsided ranges apply to this one, even if Gaga gives us her best Joanne-voice-on-a–Tony Bennett–style-duet impression.
11. “Diggin’ My Grave”
A far less sappy collaboration than many of the album’s other duets, and one that captures the energy of their early tour days, also known as the fun half of the movie.
10. “Is That Alright?”
I love the structural conceit of this song: a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of tender sentiment, followed by a forceful chorus full of demands for eye contact and eternal matrimony, capped off with a sweet, searching question. An accurate depiction of the Maine marriage!
9. “Hair Body Face”
Does A Star Is Born loathe or love pop music? “Hair Body Face” has been cited as evidence for arguments on both sides of this debate. On one hand, its lyrics are largely nonsensical. (E.g.: “Did the party room just see that?”). On the other, it’s a bop that I am no means above twisting my hips to on an elliptical.
8. “La Vie en Rose”
Points for the meaningful role this song plays in both Jackson and Ally’s and Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s love story. Its appearance in the movie is also preceded by dialogue featuring a very charismatic drag queen MC.
Speaking of dialogue! Many of the ASIB interludes are, in and of themselves, mini hooks. Or, at least they are in my mind, where they bounce around all day, occupying space that should maybe be reserved for original thoughts. In any case, I interrupt this ranking of songs to present a sub-ranking of aforementioned dialogues:
- “Parking Lot”
- “Trust Me”
- “First Stop, Arizona”—Ally: “I don’t feel this way about everybody.” Jackson: “Well, good.”
- “How Do You Hear It?”
- “Scene 98”—Jackson: ”That’s over the fuck-in’ line.”
- “Fabulous French”
- “SNL Dialogue”
- “I Love You”
- “I’ll Wait for You”
- “Twelve Notes”
- “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
- “Unbelievable”—I say this from the bottom of my heart: Fuck Rez.
7. “Why Did You Do That?”
Perhaps you have, on occasion, glanced at your romantic partner and wondered, fleetingly, “Why’d you come around here with an ass like that?” But Jackson Maine cannot relate. The plot of ASIB tells us that we’re supposed to hate “the ass song”—as it’s lovingly referred to online—because it indicates that Ally has strayed too far from her original voice and message. Yet, despite all that, its carries a certain Eiffel 65-esque je ne sais quoi that makes me want to listen to it over and over and over again. Leave it to Gaga to make an intentionally bad song good.
6. “Heal Me”
It makes sense that we get one of Ally’s best pure-pop entries just before Rez fully sinks his teeth in. Nothing like a tasteful hand clap.
5. “I’ll Never Love Again”
This song’s role in ASIB ultimately pushes it into my top five. As you may recall, Jackson wrote this song for Ally before he died. She performs it in front of a giant audience, and just as she reaches its emotional crescendo, we cut to an intimate scene of him softly serenading the tune to her in their home, as tears stream down her face. If you didn’t get weepy thinking about that moment, you’re a monster.
4. “Look What I Found”
Jackson Maine literally has a piano shipped to the studio so Ally can record this song, an upbeat memento of their first encounter. Forgive me for being so sentimental about their early days, but the song also slaps.
3. “Maybe It’s Time”
I experience a Pavlovian response every time I hear the first couple of guitar notes from “Maybe It’s Time.” Hearing them makes me feel like I’m watching the ASIB trailer, which makes me happy, because I love the ASIB trailer. And I am also reminded of the charming scene in which Maine drunkenly stumbles onto the stage, mumbles a bit, then manages a surprisingly coherent performance for a drag queen. But the real reason the song shines is because both Maine and Cooper are at their best on it. For Maine, it’s a rare moment of vulnerability in which he searches for a way out of his tortured existence. For Cooper, it’s a chance to display that husky baritone he trained so hard to reach.
OK, OK, OK, to be clear, the primal Lady Gaga howl heard ’round the world transcends any list. It will live on as an iconic moment in music, film, and frankly, the human existence, far longer than my mortal soul, or any online ranking. But if we take a moment to distance ourselves from the electrifying context in which Ally delivers that moan—her friend’s blissful laugh, Maine’s alluring “all you gotta do is trust me”—and consider the song as a whole, it has a few slight musical shortcomings. It’s designed for a hit trailer and a blockbuster movie scene, and for that reason, it loses just the slightest bit of steam after our protagonist belts her heart out.
1. “Always Remember Us This Way”
If “Maybe It’s Time” is Jackson Cooper at his best, then “Always Remember Us This Way” is the clear-eyed ballad of Ally Gaga. The poetic piano-driven country tune runs through a vivid supercut of the couple’s journey, alluding to the romantic and creative heights of their bond. Ally’s performance of the song appears during a blissful moment in the film, but little accompanying buildup is required for us to understand its significance. Instead, the emotion of the moment is conveyed, quite gorgeously, in Lady Gaga’s fearless, unwavering voice and raucous piano jamming. One wonders where a song like this was on Joanne. Whatever inspiration Gaga was searching for then, she quite clearly found it in her character.