How should we look at Lady Gaga’s Oscar success?


Lady Gaga may not have walked away with a Best Actress Oscar last night, but her run has shown us how much women’s likeability still plays a part in media.

Full disclosure: the Academy Awards couldn’t have come quicker for me. Spending the last several months discussing movies whose qualities ranged from great to mediocre to “why do we keep giving Bryan Singer movies awards” was a lesson in patience. And social media didn’t get any more heated than when it came to discussing Lady Gaga and her feature film debut in A Star is Born.

The Bradley Cooper-directed remake went home with just one award at last night’s ceremony, for the Lady Gaga-written song “Shallow” after months of speculation stating Gaga would be walking away with an award for Best Actress. What happened?

A Star is Born, and audience reception to it, has been fascinating. The film itself is the fourth remake of the 1932 drama What Price Hollywood? and the third remake of the actual 1937 feature A Star is Born (though the 2018 version more accurately credits itself as a remake of both the 1954 and 1976 iterations of the movie). Almost immediately younger audiences, many of who grew up with Gaga’s music, were shocked to discover this was a remake, and that allowed for many to buy into the hype of its amazing qualities.

When the film received its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August of 2018, early word was Cooper had crafted the definitive Star is Born, with Gaga easily winning the Best Actress award. The hype train  was high, especially as most critics weren’t able to see the film for over a month after its Venice debut. Once mainstream critics finally saw it, the response was still enthusiastic, but tempered with valid critiques regarding Cooper’s structuring of the screenplay and the cinematography; Lady Gaga’s performance, in spite of the criticisms, remained central to the movie’s success and enjoyment.

Once the awards season actually went into effect, the tide started to turn against Gaga, mainly for her response to things off-screen. At this year’s Golden Globes, hosts Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg made a joke regarding Gaga’s penchant for repeating a story about finding one person out of a hundred to believe in you. The actress started to take flak on social media for coming off as choreographed and overly effusive in her surprised reactions to winning awards. She was said to be acting, and it showed. Even at last night’s Academy Awards, the media narrative she and Cooper keep pushing regarding their chemistry and love for each other was perceived as creepy and off-putting. What it came down to her was her ability (or lack of) to be genuine and likable.

Did Academy voters go against Gaga because of this? No. The race was always between Glenn Close and Olivia Colman, particularly after the Golden Globes, with Gaga’s name being absent in most Oscar discussions by December. A Star is Born, by that point, wasn’t fresh and magical; critics were well aware of its flaws, and audiences were too. But it shows the narrow margin actresses walk between when it comes to getting respect and admiration. Colman’s off-the-cuff speeches and Close’s confident messages of feminism all connected with the audiences watching, whereas Gaga’s speeches felt canned and hokey. How was this determined? By individual feelings of those examining the performers themselves.

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Gaga won what she deserved, and having co-written “Shallow” was certainly a huge boon for her. Considering that Gaga has been to the Oscars twice now with music — the other being as the performer of the 2015 Oscar-nominated song “When It Happens to You” in The Hunting Ground — we should expect to see her more frequently. Maybe she’ll take a cue from collaborator Diane Warren and become a songwriter for stage and screen, moving her ever closer to an EGOT.

Losing the Oscar wasn’t a step back, but a step forward. If anything, it reminds us to look closer at women in Hollywood and demand that we abolish questions of “likeability” from our thoughts.