I feel like I have to correct the record on something. Ever since A Star Is Born came out, there’s been a lot of analysis about the soundtrack, especially one song on it in particular: “Why Did You Do That?”
“Why Did You Do That?” is the song that a post-fame, pop-repackaged Ally performs on Saturday Night Live. A sampling of its lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? You’re makin’ all my thoughts obscene.” Later, Jack derides her for these words.
The analysis I’ve seen around the song usually takes the form of two questions: 1) Is “Why Did You Do That” a bad song outside of the universe of the movie? 2) Within the world of the movie, does the movie believe it’s a bad song, or is it just Jack who doesn’t like it? The first question can’t have one definitive response. Either that type of music works for you, or it doesn’t and that’s fine.
But the second question has a concrete answer, and yet the conclusion I arrived at isn’t really the one drawn unanimously, much to my confusion. But A Star Is Born really, truly thinks that “Why Did You Do That?” is bad. My proof:
It’s So Different From Ally’s Other Songs
Ally is so talented that Jackson can’t help but be taken in by her. He falls in love with her through her songwriting. But “Why Did You Do That?” sounds nothing like the tunes that kick-started their romance. Before her big pop-career launch, even the catchier songs she wrote, like “Look What I Found” (which I personally like a lot better than “Why Did You Do That?”), come rooted in a much more singer/songwritery place. If we’re supposed to believe in the transformative power of Ally and Jack’s love, and they express that feeling through music, how are we supposed to see the change in her sound as anything but a betrayal of that love?
She Refuses the Dancers
Okay, artists evolve. Things change. If you believe A Star Is Born is about Jackson’s desire to manage Ally’s artistic work and stifle her creativity, I think that’s a truly cynical reading of the movie, but you can read his dismissal of “Why Did You Do That?” through that lens. But my big question to you: Why did she refuse to have backup dancers at her first performance?
The answer is she turned the dancers away because that’s not how she sees herself as an artist. This, to me, is the biggest clue into what Ally thinks of her pop image. If those songs truly came from her developing sense of self, she would’ve embraced the dancers at her debut and in her SNL performance. Instead, she said she didn’t think she needed them.
And Jack had nothing to do with that. She doesn’t get rid of them because she’s afraid Jack won’t like it. It’s because, in her heart, she knows she’s a songwriter and not a pop product.
Diane Warren Co-Wrote It
Actually, this probably runs counter to my point. Warren has written some of the most successful songs ever.
Jackson Hates It
This is where we veer into a bit of subjectivity: If the hero of our romantic story says mean things about the song, does that look bad for him, or for the song? This time, I think it’s both. His criticisms come at a point in the movie where it’s clear he’s on a downslide, and could potentially take Ally down with him. But he’s also heralded by the movie as a musical genius, and he knows what he’s talking about.
For what it’s worth, I think this is a departure from the other versions of A Star Is Born. (The biggest departure after changing her name from Esther Blodgett, which I’m gutted they did. Esther 4-Eva!) You’re supposed to think Judy Garland is an acting tour de force. You’re supposed to think Barbra Streisand is a consummate performer. I don’t think you’re supposed to think Janet Gaynor is untalented. James Mason, Kris Kristofferson, and Fredric March never impugn Esther’s talent. I kind of like that Bradley Cooper does.
You Only Get a Sideways Glance at It
When Ally does perform “Why Did You Do That?” on Saturday Night Live — with dancers — the performance isn’t really the focus of the scene. It’s something happening in the background. If A Star Is Born was really behind this evolution in Ally’s career, and really thought the audience should consider it an unambiguously good song, it would’ve had a moment as powerful as “The Shallow.”
There is no moment for “Why Did You Do That?” The movie doesn’t want you to consider it a triumph. Whether you do or not is up to you, but the movie’s thoughts on it are pretty clear to me.
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