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Writing music for yourself is a hard enough endeavor.
Putting an album together of a dozen or so tracks that represent who you are as an artist at that moment in your life, something that listeners everywhere might respond and relate to? There’s only so many people on this planet who have the ability to pull of that Herculean task—and pull it off well.
But to do it when you’re writing from the point of view of a fictional character, a person who’s never existed on the mortal plane? The thought of it sounds damn near impossible.
And yet, that’s exactly the sort of job Lady Gaga was handed, in addition to her starring role as Ally, when she was cast in Bradley Cooper‘s 2018 adaptation of A Star Is Born. The soundtrack, which Gaga and Cooper worked on in tandem, already won two Grammys and an Oscar last year for “Shallow,” the film’s iconic duet between the burgeoning pop star and her mentor/lover Jackson Maine, a grizzled singer-songwriter drowning himself in booze. And now, thanks to the full soundtrack being released four days after the eligibility period for this year’s ceremony began, it’s earned itself three more nominations at the 2020 Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year and Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
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“When you’re writing a song for a person, for an album, whatever, you have different emotions and thoughts and feelings, and those tend to be conditional on the moment or what you’re trying to say with the record,” he continued. “And that wasn’t up to anybody, kinda, who was writing.” Rather, they were writing songs that could fit to certain beats in Ally’s narrative as her career began its upward trajectory. And while challenging, Blair admitted it was “also kind of like a relief.”
“It’s like, okay, here’s where she is,” he explained. “And we’ve all been to that spot before, you know what I mean? And Gaga obviously has been through a scenario where you’re on an upswing and you’re starting to get famous. And your first time playing Saturday Night Live. And the first time you go into an award show. So we’ve all had that kind of experience to draw on. But, yeah, you’re not writing for a real human being. It’s like you’re writing for a set of circumstances that a human being encountered.”
While the content of the tracks, the emotion behind them, had to hit certain beats that matched the film’s narrative, Blair told us there was never any specific mandate from Cooper, as the film’s director, on how those songs ought to sound. “Basically, you know, we did it in a way that like Jackson Maine was making his own album and Ally was making her own album,” he explained. “So I think, in my mind, while we were doing it, it wasn’t like Jackson’s gonna be all up in the mix, trying to tell her how to do everything all the time. She’s off on her own. She’s got a new group of creatives, there’s the record executive guy. So what would that person be telling her to do and how to sound. You see what I’m saying? So it’s like you’re writing music based on what you think a record executive would be telling a new artist she had to do to sound like a superstar.”
And in the actual writing process, life imitated art.
“Bradley never came in and said, ‘Hey, we need to make this, this and this happen for your records,'” Blair said. “Honest to God, he didn’t really have a ton of input when we were in there creating. Like, barely any at all. He really trusted her to choose who she wanted to make the stuff with and let her do it.”
As Blair sees it, it provided for a moment that everyone could relate to. “I think that that’s the beauty and the magic of the movie,” he continued. “Not everybody has had a boyfriend who’s a country star, or you know, pissed themselves at the Grammys. I mean, I don’t know anybody that’s had a boyfriend who’s a country star who’s pissed themselves at the Grammys [laughs] but at the end of the day, that’s a thing. Everybody’s been embarrassed by their boyfriend when they’ve been drunk or their girlfriend when they’ve been drunk, you know what I mean?”
“All of those things that are in that movie resonate in some way, shape or form. Brad did such a good job of—that’s a hard thing to do, man. That’s a really hard thing to do to get people to see themselves through an alcoholic dickhead, you know what I mean? It was it was easier for me than other people. [Laughs] Or whatever. That’s a whole other interview.”
Blair added, “I’m just so grateful to all those people [for] what they had to do because without—when you stand back at…the forest and you step out of the forest and look at how many people work so hard to get this thing done, you start to be super thankful that everybody involved was so passionate about the project. Because f–k, man, I wrote a couple songs, you know? It’s a whole bunch of people that were madly in love with doing something that made it work, you know? And I guess I was one of those people, but there’s hundreds.”
In the end, it’s all about gratitude for Blair. “Music is such an important part of my life that I’m incredibly grateful every day that I get to wake up and that’s my job. And like I get to hang out with cool people all the time and talk to people like you, so even when there’s bad days, everything’s great, you know what I mean?” he told us. “To get to do something with your friends that people consume and appreciate and love is just so far over the top of a blessing. It’s amazing. I don’t even know what to say about it.”
And with any luck, come Sunday, that blessing will come to include a shiny piece of hardware, too.
Watch E!’s Live From the Red Carpet 2020 Grammy Awards coverage Sunday, Jan. 26 starting at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT followed by the Grammys telecast at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS. And for a recap of music’s biggest night immediately following the show, don’t miss the E! After Party special at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT, only on E!
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