I recently re-visited Shallow from A Star is Born. More specifically, the much discussed live performance at this year’s Academy Awards. When I listen to this song I am instantly reminded of something that every singer needs to be keenly aware of every time they step in front of an audience. BE PRESENT IN THE MUSICAL MOMENT.
Much has been made of their famous duet at the 2019 Oscars, but rather than focusing on the gossip/tabloid fodder that it created, let’s look at what really happened artistically and musically to find the lesson that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper taught us in this remarkable moment.
First of all, the song and this specific performance has many things that work against it in the classic sense. There are some examples of less-than-perfect phrasing, (breaths in the middle of sentences etc.), lyric choices, “In the sha-shala-lala-low.” form and other things. There are things that should never work, but they do... Why?
This song and this particular performance work because of the authenticity, intensity and genuineness of their performances. One can listen to or watch the studio version or watch the Oscar broadcast and you are left with the same thing. These performances shine not just because of the unique melody and songwriting incorporated, but most importantly- because of the performances delivered- most notably by Lady Gaga.
She has demonstrated throughout her career that her voice is an exceptional instrument, capable of genre-shifts unlike nearly anyone else. But, what her performance in this song shows any aspiring singer is that one must BE PRESENT IN THE MOMENT! Her believability is undeniable and that is what carries her through both the studio version and the Oscar performance.
My contention is that people would rather hear a sincere singer who truly feels/believes what they are singing about rather than just a singer who can riff with incredible speed and accuracy. Think about the great musicians of the past. Think about the singers that inspire you. Do they inspire because they can do vocal gymnastics or is it because they move you at a deeper, almost spiritual level? Popular music’s history is full of such examples. (Too many to list in 100 blog posts!)
Although the performance was clearly rehearsed, which it should be, The connection and commitment between them both is clearly genuine. It could have been the sense that Cooper was slightly terrified in such a setting or it might have been Gaga’s constant look of reassurance clearly on display as Cooper worked his way through the first verse. As she takes over, her supreme skill as a performer carries her through some seriously challenging vocal obstacles. Raw and exposed, she moves through her register into her amazing belt-range. And although she would probably say she could have sung parts of it better technically, - WHO CARES?!? She continues to build intensity through the lyric-free bridge (unless you count “oh” as a lyric), until we arrive at the final chorus. Bradley Cooper moves next to her at the piano bench.
Finally, after the last notes have finished, she looks at him in a way that made America take notice. They took notice, in my opinion, because these two performers were undeniably PRESENT and IN THE MOMENT! That is the ultimate in audience engagement.
So what can an aspiring singer take from this deconstruction of an iconic performance?
As a singer, there are many things that are out of one’s direct control on stage. Here’s a quick list:
Your voice is tired.
The inability to hear yourself in the mix.
The quality of the equipment.
The venue you are performing in.
The drummer plays too loud all of the time.
The Guitarist plays too loud all of the time.
The bassist plays too loud all of the time… etc.
It is far more rare that everything is perfect for a singer than one might expect.
So with all of this and perhaps even more working against a singer, the one thing that a singer can control is whether they are sincere in what they are singing about. My contention is that being emotionally present is the single-most important factor. It is much more important than one’s range, vocal dexterity or quality of voice. We have all seen singers that have great talent, but bore us on the stage, because they are not committed to what they are singing about.
I encourage every singer to think about this the next time they are on stage and remember to BE IN THE MUSICAL MOMENT.
Let me know what you think and feel free to share examples that demonstrate artists that are truly present in the moment.
James H. Craft
Big Sky Artist Services, LLC