A Deeper Look at the Meaning Behind “Shallow,” Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The success of the 2018 Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper collaborative song was anything but shallow. In fact, “Shallow” has widely been considered one of the greatest songs to come from a movie soundtrack… ever. The song itself is a guttural, deeply emotional story inside a story brought to life by two established stars. And here, we’ll dive into the context of this song, the meaning of its lyrics, and its legacy. 

A Star Is Born

“Shallow” was written by Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, Anthony Rossomando, and Lady Gaga for the musical romantic drama film A Star Is Born (2018). The cinematic version with Gaga and Cooper is the fourth filmed version of the story after the 1976 version which starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. 

A Star Is Born follows the careers and romantic trajectories of established musician Jackson “Jack” Maine (Cooper) and aspiring singer Ally (Gaga). “Shallow” plays a critical role in documenting the growth and decline of these two characters and can be heard three different times in the movie.

“Originally, it was just an Ally song, it was just for Gaga to sing, and I never realized it was a duet,” Ronson told Billboard about how the song grew in importance. “I certainly never realized it was going to be part of the plot, the narrative in the parking lot, which is really such a beautiful scene. I think taking anything personal out of the film, like my involvement, you really get that first part of falling in love or having a crazy crush on someone in the moment. It does it really well without being cheesy.”

The meaning of the song lyrics

“It’s two people talking to each other about the need and the drive to dive into the deep end and stay away from the shallow area,” Gaga told Zane Lowe on his Beats 1 radio show. (The song also premiered on Lowe’s show.)

At the beginning of the song, Gaga and Cooper trade verses as their characters lovingly challenge each other.

Tell me something, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there something else you’re searchin’ for?

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired trying to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

Their poignant line of questioning digs at what it means to be a star—is it worth it? And if so, what will the cost be? The song also grapples with painful moments of self-realization as the two characters meet their dreams head-on. 

Legacy and notable covers

In simplest terms, people love “Shallow” critics included. It was one of Gaga’s loudest declarations of artistry and further cemented her legacy as one of the most accomplished entertainers of her generation. The song topped the charts in over 20 countries and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and two Grammys. After winning several more awards, Gaga became the first woman to win an Academy Award, Grammy Award, BAFTA Award, and Golden Globe Award in one year.

Due to its tremendous popularity, many artists and musicians have covered “Shallow” and performed the song for various audiences. Lea Michele and Darren Criss played the song on their LM/DC Tour in Las Vegas, Billy Porter sang “Shallow” before the 2019 Gloden Globe Awards, and a cappella group Pentatonix has released a cover of the song. In 2020, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood also released a rendition of the song. 

We’re far from the shallow now.

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