ABC spent the past several weeks encouraging us to watch the Academy Awards so we could see Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform “Shallow.” Without a host to promote, the commercials focused largely on the Best Song front-runner, a top ten hit from one of the biggest movies of the year.
The performance lived up to the hype. It was, like the movie from which it came, both epic and intimate. It made the entire audience have feelings that perhaps they hadn’t known since last summer, when the trailer for A Star Is Born first dropped and launched roughly 8,385,075 “I just wanted to take another look at you” memes. For everyone who thought A Star Is Born had been ripped off this awards season by thunder-stealers like Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book, which somehow won Best Picture, this moment was the highlight of the 2019 Academy Awards. (Well, that and Olivia Colman blowing a raspberry in the middle of her acceptance speech.)
After all that promotion, though, the Oscar producers snuck the “Shallow” performance on us. No one introduced Cooper and Gaga. A piano, some mics, and a guitarist playing those signature opening chords just appeared all of a sudden, like the A Star Is Born version of Janet from The Good Place. Then Gaga and Cooper walked onstage from their front-row seats, casually while in formal wear, like they’d been called up to do fancy Oscars karaoke.
They sat across from one another, a smart move given that, during their recent duet in Vegas, a standing Cooper resorted to the ultimate move of the onstage desperate: playing air guitar. This time they were on the same level, staring into each other’s eyes — nay, each other’s souls? — while Cooper sang the first verse in his own voice rather than Jackson Maine’s.
The camera moved gently in the space between them and the stage was lit so that everyone in the audience seemed to fade into darkness, while Cooper and Gaga remained luminous and very much in the foreground. It was as though Cooper had directed the whole thing himself, and given his Bugs-Bunny-playing-all-the-bases level of effort in A Star Is Born, it’s quite possible he did. During the first verse, Gaga placed her hand on her abdomen as though she felt the kicking of the baby she and Cooper’s intimate gaze had just conceived. (I can’t speak for any other women in the audience, but I’m pretty sure this performance also got me pregnant?)
Then Gaga moved to the piano, sing-asking Cooper if it’s hard keeping it so hardcore (it is, Lady Gaga, it so is!) while wearing what appeared to be the Heart of the Ocean around her neck. Actually, it was a necklace once worn by Audrey Hepburn. Still: Everything about this song and their chemistry screamed, “I’ll never let go, Jack,” so I’ll just pretend it’s the same jewelry Gloria Stuart chucked into the sea at the end of Titanic.
When they got to the “In the sha-ha-ha-la-low” part, Cooper lowered his voice an octave or two so it sounded a little more Jackson Maine-y, which was very welcome. (Fun fact: Did you know that the sound of Jackson Maine’s voice is so resonant in a movie theater that it functions as the equivalent of a sonic vibrator? It’s true! That’s why Cooper was so adamant that everyone should see it in Dolby Surround Sound. This movie was moving and entertaining and gave women multiple orgasms, and it still lost to Reverse Driving Miss Daisy.)
Anyway, then Gaga did her famous “Awww-whoaaa” business and nailed every climactic note. While she was doing the “I’m off the deep end” bit, Cooper got up from his seat and set his mic aside, which was distracting at first, until you realized there would be a payoff: He was going to sit next to Gaga at the piano! If this had been an episode of Full House, the entire audience would have gone “Oooooh” at this point.
Then two of them — Ally and Jackson, or Gaga and Cooper, really, there was no longer a separation — sang into the mic together, their faces practically morphing into one and the camera in so tight that it practically invited everyone at home to reach into their TV screens and trace the outlines of both those beautiful noses.
“We’re far from the shallow now,” they sang, concluding this lovely performance. And then, they looked in each other’s eyes and smiled, and even though medical science will tell you it’s impossible for a variety of reasons, we all got pregnant again.
That wasn’t just a performance. That was a journey, a modern adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, and a rock opera, all played out in roughly three minutes. And unlike the film, it led to a happy ending: “Shallow” winning the Oscar for Best Song and Gaga telling Bradley Cooper in front of everyone in the Dolby Theatre, “There is not a single person on the planet who could have sung this with me except you.” Which: obviously. We were all there a few minutes ago. We could see how true that was.
While this Oscars ceremony may go down in history for having no host (which it totally didn’t need), and for giving the top award of the night to a white-savior narrative when it could have gone to Black Panther or BlacKkKlansman or A Star Is freakin’ Born (or, really, any other movie), I will choose to remember this year’s Oscars as the time when the whole world had Best Song Sex with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. In fact, I’ll always remember it this way.