Spoiler alert: everything about A Star Is Born is discussed at length here!
Of the many questions and conversations that A Star Is Born has engendered online, only one concerns the butt-centric bop, “Why Did You Do That?” The first time we hear the Diane Warren-penned song, Lady Gaga’s character Ally performs it on an Alec Baldwin-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live.
The song prompts much of the action of the film’s second half: Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine goes back to the beer bottle while she’s singing, both confused and put off by her newfound success. And her subsequent Grammy nominations lead the two to have a gin-soaked argument.
But the song’s most important role is the one it’s taken on in our internet discourse. Defenses and discussions of the song have shown up in Vulture and other sites, while a few critics have used the song to argue that A Star Is Born hates pop music. I’m here to add to that discourse: the song is good and A Star Is Born does not hate pop music!
Most of the arguments against “Why Did You Do That?” hinge upon the fact that either the song is bad or that it’s good but was intended to be bad.
The first indication that the song was not intended to be bad came when the song’s writer, Diane Freaking Warren, tweeted out that the song was not intended to be bad in response to a Gaga Daily tweet about bopping to the song shamefully.
That was not the intention actually!!
— Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) October 10, 2018
“That was not the intention actually!!” Warren tweeted with conviction.
Here’s the deal. “Why Did You Do That?” is not bad, it’s actually a bop and not one I’d only listen to ironically. It’s deceptively simple and it mentions “ass” in the first two lines, which is enough to toss it in the wastebin for people who claim to be music aficionados. I don’t think it was intended to be bad — as Warren tweeted — but I do think it was intended to feel simple and therefore assume a “guilty pleasure” status. There’s a distinct bias against things that are deceptively simple, like episodes of Friends or “Call Me Maybe.” But, as they used to say in J School, easy reading is damn hard writing. And easy consuming is damn hard crafting.
A lot rides on “Why Did You Do That?” It has to work both as a plausible radio hit and as something mainstream and simple enough to piss off Jackson Maine. And it does both pretty seamlessly. The song’s minimal beat sounds at home alongside things like Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” or “Let Me Love You” or even Dua Lipa, while also sounding like a thing too easily discarded by any cowboy-hat wearing, guitar-strumming somebody.
The second reason that people suspect A Star Is Born hates pop has less to do with the song and more to do with the film’s repeated attempts to lionize Jackson and everything he does. But, as I previously wrote, though Jackson is the film’s emotional center, he nevertheless DOES die like the relic he is by the time the film’s runtime is over. So, while it is concerned with what Jackson has to say about Ally’s career, it also shows him returning to dust. And the idea that pop music can’t be complex, meaningful or layered should go with him.
Now, shed your guilt and go spin “Why Did You Do That?” once more, sans guilt.