After exhausting the memetic value of Lady Gaga’s wily war cry in A Star Is Born’s signature track “Shallow,” the second most talked about song from the film’s soundtrack, “Why Did You Do That?” was instantly dismissed as frivolous pop on screen. That’s a natural response given the infamous butt lyric in the first stanza (“Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?”) and its repetitive chorus: “Why did you do that, do that, do that, do that, do that to me?” Music fans and critics, however, realized this song was perfect precisely because it’s so close to absurd. There’s the woozy, bass-heavy, dance-pop beat that practically forces your body to find the rhythm, the infectious hook that burrows itself deep into the furthest recesses of your brain, and lyrics that are easy to memorize. “Why Did You Do That?” hits its maximum appeal if you’re riding in the car with friends or jamming out in your bedroom alone while slightly tipsy. Its usefulness has no boundaries. Its pulsing enthusiasm is tailor-made to dominate the charts and achieve total cultural ubiquity. Jackson Maine’s music in the movie is (arguably) good, but it’s not that good.
We first hear “Why Did You Do that?” at the movie’s midpoint, when Ally, Lady Gaga’s aspiring pop star character, performs the track as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, and again later when she wins a Grammy. Contributing songwriter Diane Warren confirmed that the song was not intended to be bad. There’s no accounting for taste, but is it really wise to dispute the Oscar nominee who gave us gems that run the gamut from “I Decide,” off the Princess Diaries 2 soundtrack, to the iconic Whitney Houston/Enrique Iglesias duet “Could I Have This Kiss Forever”?
The problem is not with “Why Did You Do That?” but with the fact that A Star Is Born is largely framed through the eyes of Jackson, played by Bradley Cooper. His resentment of Ally’s rising success as his own star declines colors the way he perceives her music, and by extension, the way the film frames the music’s quality. The movie thinks “Why Did You Do That?” is a bad song because Jackson thinks it’s a bad record, and the movie is by and large a reflection of his experiences of their relationship.
What some of the various ongoing debates about the song miss is that Jackson’s contempt for it is largely driven by his own jealousy. In his mind, “Why Did You Do That?” is so bad it drives him to drink, but Ally’s skill at moving between the catchy pop singles that she sings on her own and the rock/country ballads they write together is a testament to her versatility as a songwriter. She can move freely between both worlds, while Jackson is stranded by his illness and the limits of his own talents. Of course he hates the song. Never in his life could he write something so genuinely and sincerely rhapsodic!
The fun thing about the public’s obsession with “Why Did You Do That?” is that over the course of A Star Is Born, Ally’s career arc moves almost in direct opposition to what Lady Gaga has experienced. Is the song really much different quality-wise than Gaga’s triple platinum, early career, Fame-era bop “LoveGame?” If we can appreciate one in all its trashy, grungy bejeweled glory, then why not the other? Gaga rode her electro-pop tracks to global dominance, after all.
Women have historically been at the forefront of discovery in pop music. Teen girls buoyed Elvis Presley and The Beatles to fame (a fact that is often conveniently forgotten now that both acts have earned the serious consideration of men), and it was girls who guided the boy band explosion and resurgence and kept the boys’ careers afloat as they split up and pursued solo projects. Both within and without the world of A Star Is Born, the furious quest to determine the objective “goodness” of “Why Did You Do That?” is a reincarnation of the same debate.
Despite turning its nose up at “Why Did You Do That?” by way of Jackson’s reaction, A Star Is Born still acknowledges that Ally is very famous and well-liked, and her music has been well-received. In the movie’s universe, there’s no shortage of fans who appreciate her pop stylings, yet the film primes us to discount the artistry of the song. Jackson’s music doesn’t hold more moral weight because it stems from his own debilitating addictions or because his voice is abnormally deep. Sometimes the object of your affection is distractingly hot! Sometimes their ass is so pert and perfect you have to sing about it! Why should we dismiss that experience simply because there are xylophones involved?
The reason this debate even exists is because taboos still exist around the concept of the “guilty pleasure.” Purely by coincidence, many of the most recognizable guilty pleasures are things women consume en masse: soap operas, romance novels, reality television, pop music. Do we have to ironically detach ourselves just to enjoy something as dizzyingly joyful as “Why Did You Do That?” No! Listen to the butt song however many times you want, and let its fizzy pop perfection do that, do that, do that to you, too.
Cate Young (@battymamzelle): smugsexual, thundercunt hagbeast.