How Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper Turned "Shallow" Into an Iconic Duet No One Saw Coming

A deep-dive into how Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's duet became the unexpected hit song of 2018 heading into the 2019 Billboard Awards

By Tierney Bricker Apr 30, 2019 4:41 PMTags


Ask any true fan of A Star Is Born what the significance of that time-stamp is and they will most likely be able to immediately tell you that it's the exact moment Lady Gaga sings the movie's first teaser trailer. It was the world's introduction to Gaga as a serious actress, Bradley Cooper as a director and singer (as Jackson Maine), and, of course, to "Shallow," the unexpected hit song of 2018 that no one saw coming—or can stop singing. 

"Shallow" (and the ASIB soundtrack) is up for three awards at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday, May 1—including Top Selling Song, Top Selling Soundtrack and Billboard Chat Achievement Award—and has already taken home major trophies at the Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys.

After the live event, Cooper could very well likely and somewhat unexpectedly add Billboard award winner to his impressive resume, with Gaga set to add a few more golden statues to her already impressive mantle, which holds six Grammys, including the one for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Shallow."

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But how did "Shallow," the sort of country, sort of pop, sort of rock duet you can't get out of your heard, end up rocking both the movie and music industry? 

Let's go back to the beginning of "Shallow"'s journey.

At that 1:46 minute mark of the first trailer, which has been viewed almost 26 million times, a tentative and timid Ally grabs the mic, with an encouraging Jackson looking on after pulling her on stage to sing with him.

"Whoa-oh-oh-oh," she finally wails, satisfying that ever-increasing anticipation that had been building since she first walked on stage. We're right off the deep end with her as she dives in. 

Goosebumps formed. A hit song was born. With anticipation already pretty damn high, the hype for A Star Is Born was officially kicked into overdrive.

Some of the comments on YouTube video include, "Did anyone get chills at Gaga's entry or is it just me?" Another: "I got chills from 1:47." One more for good measure: "Wow, her voice is so powerful you can feel something, gives me chills."

Sensing a theme here? Another popular chorus among the comments went something like, "The movie hasn't even come out yet and I desperately want the song."

But, rather than give the people what they want right away, ASIB decided to wait until the week of the movie's release to make "Shallow" available for download. Cruel? Yes. Worth the wait? Obviously.

Warner Bros

Fans were first able to hear the song in full when Gaga debuted it on Zane Lowe's Beats 1 radio show in September 2018, explaining, "It's such a special song. We made this song about two people talking to each other and the need to dive into the deep end and stay away from the shallow area."

Still, fans had to wait a few more weeks to be able to wail along with Ally in their cars or showers. 

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"Shallow" debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard Digital Songs chart. One week later, the song was at the top of that chart, selling 58,000 copies. Meanwhile, it also debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 28, and after the film was released it jumped to the No. 5 slot. It was eventually certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for selling over a million copies.

The most impressive number, however, is the face that the song was streamed 8.3 million times. And by the end of January, that number is now over 148 million streams.

So what was it about that first trailer's wail that immediately hooked people in…and kept them refreshing their iTunes for months?

Gaga herself isn't quite sure, but she addressed the response in an interview with the L.A. Times following the song's Oscar nomination, saying, "I just was really excited to see it capture people. I almost feel like that thing you call a wail is a cry or a prayer for freedom: Is this gonna happen or is it not? Let's go do this. I'm ready to get out of the shallow. That moment when I sing that way, I think that people felt a very guttural need from me that they related to."

Gaga wrote the song with producer Mark Ronson, who worked with her on 2016's Joanne, as well as Andrew Wyatt and Anthony Rossomondo, and it was one of the first songs written specifically for the film.

Neal Preston/Warner Bros.

For the pop superstar, the writing process for the duet was "different from any other experience I've had writing a song," she told the L.A. Times.

"There was a grave nature to the room. I was at the piano, the guys each had a guitar in their hands and we started coming up with lyrics and talking to each other," she explained. "That's really what the song is. It's a conversation between a man and a woman. But we didn't know that when we started."

Part of the reason they didn't know that when they initially set out to write the song was because A Star Is Born's ending was completely different in Cooper's original version. (Spoiler alert!)

Originally, Jackson was set to drown at the end. (In the final version, Jackson hangs himself.) "Shallow," then, was supposed to be the end credits song, not the mid-movie climax. 

So Gaga comes in, sits down at the piano and starts playing a few chords, and it just sounds big, right off the bat. And she comes up with the chorus, 'I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in,'' Ronson recalled. "She's got most of the thing in her head, and I'm just trying to offer some words. 'Crash through the surface, where they can't hurt us.'"

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

He added, "It felt like an end credits song because it was about the suicide. Or maybe that's just me. In my mind, it was the end credits song, and he's drowned."

But as the film's narrative changed, "Shallow" shifted along with it, taking on a more metaphorical meaning. 

"There was a time when he was going to drown in the end, so we thought it might be the ending song," Gaga explained to the publication," then as the script changed we made it a song about the two falling in love. I do feel it was more than the literal drowning element of the original script. It was much more about wanting a deep connection and love than it was about water."

"One of the first things Mark said to me was, 'OK, I know you can write a pop song, but what do you absolutely have to write about?'" Gaga explained in a behind-the-scenes video. "We were writing 'Shallow' from the point of view of Ally."

Before the movie's ending was altered, "Shallow" was conceived as a solo for Ally. Cooper knew as soon as he heard it that it had to be in the movie.

"I really loved that song when she had first played it for me and it was just finding out the best way to utilize in the movie," Cooper told MTV International, "and then the idea of maybe making it a duet instead, having it be the first time he hears her sing a song that she's written on the spot. So it really ended up being an anchor for the whole movie."

In a featurette, Ronson admitted, "I had no idea it was going to become part of the narrative." 

But the song really came together when Lukas NelsonWillie Nelson's son whose band Promise of the Real appeared as Jackson's backing band in the movie, came in taking it to the next level, helping to blend Jackson and Ally's parts to create the duet.

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For Nelson, he told Thrillist, "I think Bradley sang the best on that song for sure. It was his best vocal performance."

When it came to the song's meaning, Gaga explained to the L.A. Times, "It's a conversation between a man and a woman asking: In this modern world, do you need more? She's challenging him when she sings back to him: 'Ain't it hard keeping it so hardcore?' How long can we exist in the shallow?" 

In the movie, Ally spontaneously sings the song during her first meeting with Jackson, rendering him near-speechless as she belts the chorus in a grocery store parking lot. 

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"It becomes part of the reason that they fall in love," Gaga explained

But what really made "Shallow" become an instant sensation from the moment the teaser trailer dropped was that Cooper and Gaga performed the song live, adding to that palpable tension and excitement you can feel pouring through the screen as you watch the performance, which is highlighted as most as the film's best scene.

For "Shallow," Cooper assembled thousands of Gaga's fans at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, with Anthony Ramos, who portrays Ally's best friend in the movie, telling Thrillist the atmosphere was "electric." 

"In short, was amazing," he gushed. "It was electric in there. People just wanted to see Stefani sing. It was wild to see. You see this group of people who want to see this woman win. They are like, 'Oh Gaga, Gaga,' but it's also as Ally, her character. She's getting up there and she's being this person. And they get to see her do this. It was dope to be in the wings and watch that and be a part of that."

Warner Bros. Pictures

If fans could feel Ally's fear, it was because it was authentic, with Gaga admitting, "When I went out there and put my hands over my face, that was real. That was exactly how I felt. It was that fear. It was that insecurity. It was that 'I'm not good enough, but I'm doing this anyway because he inspired me.'" 

That real sense of fear mixed with the electricity buzzing in the live audience led to an iconic Ronson knew should be used on the soundtrack. 

"It's melancholy and sad, but it's incredibly uplifting because of the performance in the film. And the way he brings her on stage helps the song too. Lukas Nelson did a great arrangement for that performance," he told the L.A. Times. "Gaga being nice and deferential told me, 'You know, if you want to do another version of the song for the soundtrack, we can.' But the minute I saw the trailer, I was, like, 'If that's what the song sounds like, I'm not touching it. It's perfect.'"


While Gaga said she was fully in Ally's mindset during the performance, the team did manage to get some Gaga into the final product.

"I always love the Gaga-ness of the way she plays with words too. She is the queen of that [stuff], and it makes the song so weirdly interesting," Ronson said. "I remember asking her with 'Shallow': 'Do your Gaga [stuff] and play with the words.' And she came up with 'In the sha-ha, sha-ha-ha-low.'"

And recently, "Shallow" was once again in the headlines when Cooper unexpectedly joined Gaga on stage during one of her Enigma residency concerts in Las Vegas to perform the song live for the first time since they filmed it for A Star Is Born.

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To put it bluntly and mildly, the audience immediately lost their s—t, followed shortly thereafter by the Internet having a full-blown meltdown as footage quickly spread. Twitter couldn't get enough of seeing Jackson and Ally back together on stage…even if Cooper admitted he was scared to take on the role of singer again.

"That was terrifying," Cooper told E! News at the 2019 Directors Guild Awards. "I just had to like, Zen out and just pray that I wouldn't ruin her show. Because, think about it, she just crushed it or two hours..and I thought, 'Please let me just be on pitch.'"

He was, with Gaga even handing him "in-ears," to which Cooper cheekily responded, "Jackson never used these."

Of course, the timing of their impromptu performance was strategically planned to coincide with Oscar voting, and proved to be a potent appetizer for the main course: The duo taking the stage at the Academy Awards on February 24, performing the song live together for the second and (possibly) final time.

"I'm sure I'll be terrified," Cooper admitted to E! News of taking the Oscars stage. (The other four contenders in the Best Original Song category will also be performed.) 


But nothing could prepare people for when Gaga and Cooper actually took the stage on Oscar night, just before winning Best Original Song. 

Directed by Cooper, the intimate duet quickly became the major moment of the night, with viewers and celebs alike gushing over the chemistry between the co-stars. And the rumors have yet to stop about a secret romance between the two, despite Gaga vehemently denying it on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

"Yes, people saw love and—guess what—that's what we wanted you to see," she said of their on-stage chemistry before addressing the romance rumors: "No, I'm an artist, and I guess [Cooper and I] did a good job. And, fooled ya!"

Though Gaga has already won multiple Grammys and had performed at the Oscars before, she was still basking in the attention and love "Shallow," as well as her on-screen performance as Ally, has received, from both critics and fans.  

"I think sometimes people forget that even though this is a big movie, we're all really artists that are like kids playing in a sandbox," she told the L.A. Times. "To be recognized at this level just makes the heart explode, because truly and deeply, I still very much feel like a child with big dreams." 

And of "Shallow"'s big win at the Oscars, Gaga told Kimmel, "I swear, when we won, it was like my whole artistic journey flashed before my eyes. I instantly saw myself sitting on my stoop of my studio apartment in New York City, on the concrete, with my keyboard next to me, trying to figure out how I was going to lug my keyboard, again, up my walk-up. It's incredible. This was hard work. I said it in my speech and I'll say it again: If you work hard and you don't give up, you can do anything."

Heading into the Billboard Awards as a major frontrunner after Cooper and Gaga's big wins at the Grammys and Oscars, it's clear "Shallow" has had a lasting impact on its fans long after they saw A Star Is Born

"It's a song that essentially inspires both of them to be fearless in different ways," Gaga said of the song's resonance. "For him, fearless in love; for her, fearless in not just only love, but her ability to share that part of her that's a songwriter, the part of her that doesn't feel comfortable singing her song. I mean, this girl has completely given up. She's completely depressed. She doesn't think she has what it takes. And then she meets this superstar, and he believes in her, and she's overwhelmed by that belief. That's what drives her out there. And I think that's what people are connecting to when they watch it."

Or, to sum it up in a sentence, she said, "It's a song that gives you wings to fly." 

(Originally published on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, 4:00 a.m. PT)