“We’re far from the shallow now…”
There was nothing shallow about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of their Oscar-winning, Grammy-winning, and everything-else-winning hit from A Star Is Born. In fact, in an Oscar telecast filled with a surprising number of high points (Olivia Colman! Melissa McCarthy covered in rabbits! Women winning so many things! Spike Lee climbing Samuel L. Jackson like a tree!) their breathtaking take on the instant-classic “Shallow” might have been the moment with the most depth—or at least the moment people rewound the most to make sure they caught every last detail.
And there were some magical details to catch. From the way Gaga seemed to hold her breath as he sang and their ridiculously intense eye contact to his smile as she sang and that final intimate chorus that launched a thousand tweets, it seems people can’t get enough of them and their performance (myself included).
So what made this moment so special? Why can’t we stop talking and tweeting about it?
It felt real. Even if these are two actors who are both talented enough to be nominated for Oscars. Even if they’re just good friends (who like to look into each other’s eyes for so long it seems they’re trying to break some kind of record). The intimacy they created on that stage felt real, and sometimes what we feel matters more to us than the facts.
What I felt—more than anything else—was the best kind of vulnerability from both of them, and that’s where real intimacy comes from. Cooper has talked often about being unable to hide when you sing, and that was certainly true in this performance. From the minimal staging to the soft lighting and even the lack of introduction and stripped down arrangement, the moment was all about the two people sharing it and nothing else. Which isn’t an easy thing for an actor who didn’t sing before doing this movie and for a singer who’s used to hiding behind a persona when she takes the stage. All they had was each other and a piano, and that proved to be more than enough.
Cooper could have easily bowed out of performing this live. Gaga could have sung it solo like she did at the Grammys, with her sequined jumpsuit and rockstar edge in full effect. But he chose to get up there with her—not as Jackson Maine but as Bradley Cooper—and she chose to do the same—not as a rockstar but as herself. She’s mentioned throughout this award season that Cooper calls her by her real name—Stefani—and that’s who it felt like he was singing with. The equal parts softness and strength, the light makeup, the simple black dress, the way she seemed overwhelmed by emotion more than once—this was Gaga at her most “Stefani,” and it was a revelation far beyond her otherworldly vocals.
It takes trust to be vulnerable, to show your true self to someone. That’s what creates intimacy. And that’s what I think we all saw at the end of that performance, when Gaga opened her eyes to Cooper’s smiling face and a look of pure joy lit up her features. That was Stefani sharing something with Bradley—not Gaga sharing something with her costar or Ally sharing something with Jackson. It was a moment of sincere happiness, and even on a telecast with plenty of genuinely joyful moments, it somehow felt the most real of them all—maybe because it felt like we weren’t meant to see it.
I don’t pretend to know anything about their lives. I don’t pretend to know how much of their friendship—and whatever that was they displayed on stage last night—is a kind of performance. All I know is what watching them in interviews, in their movie, and on stage has made me feel since I first read about their close relationship in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie issue this past summer. Something about their dynamic clicked with me, and it’s taken me until today to figure out exactly what it is. They make each other feel safe, loved, and valued enough to be sincere, to be vulnerable—not just with each other but with all of us, too. It’s what made A Star Is Born so special, and it’s what made their duet last night basically break the internet.
I have a feeling this won’t be the last we see of them together. (Hey Bradley, I’ll be in Las Vegas in June if you feel like dropping by Gaga’s residency for another impromptu duet.) But if it is, I can’t think of a better way to encapsulate the magic they created in their music and in their movie. It takes guts to wear your heart on your sleeve—whether it’s in front of one person or one million people—and I’ll always remember them this way.