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A Meme Is Born

Why the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper remake of a Hollywood classic is inspiring the internet.

Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.
Warner Bros./YouTube
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The long-lasting appeal of A Star Is Born, which receives its fifth-ish telling with the new Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper remake arriving this weekend, may be baffling to anyone unfamiliar with its storied legacy of troubled productions and the litany of creative divas (of all genders) who’ve had contentious relationships to the subject matter while working on it.

The basic storyline — a troubled entertainer whose star is fading discovers a magnetic new ingenue whose career he helps launch — has remained essentially the same across five different film versions of the story, ranging from 1932’s What Price Hollywood?, generally considered to be the first “star is born” template, through the four subsequent films we have today. But there’s one thing the 2018 production has given us that sets it apart from the fabled histories of its predecessors: memes.

Perhaps because of its built-in grandiosity, or perhaps because people really love to hear Lady Gaga sing, the first trailer for A Star Is Born has become a thing on the internet.

Here’s the trailer. You’ve probably already seen it, but here it is again.

The trailer presents us with Cooper’s roguish charm, his attraction to the shy but talented Gaga, and the dramatic moment when he pushes her to step forward and unleash her powerful vocal chops on the world. That results in what’s probably the biggest moment of any trailer this year, when Gaga opens her mouth and vocalizes a mighty series of “Ahhhhs” — the climax of the song “Shallow,” which she wrote for the film and performs on the soundtrack with Cooper.

There’s something about this moment that people either love or hate. Either you find the whole concept magnetic and thrilling, or you find it a little eye-rolly and pompous. And that ambivalence has found its way into the Star Is Born memes, many of which either celebrate this musical drama or mock it.

A number of the memes do this by focusing on that giant "AHHH" moment from the trailer.

But that's not the only meme-able moment from the trailer. The scene where Bradley Cooper asks Gaga to turn around so he can take another look at her has been memed relentlessly, probably because Gaga’s reaction is pretty memorable. As you can see from this Tumblr post, it’s part of a moment that’s been captured in each of A Star Is Born’s previous variants:

Again, not all of the memes are worshipful:

Because of the odd opening weekend rivalry between A Star Is Born and the superhero movie Venom, there are also a few memes putting the two of them together (and playing up the weird romantic appeal of the Venom alien symbiote):

It’s arguably rare for movies to generate lasting memes like this based entirely on their trailers. When we look at famous trailer-born memes like “we need to go deeper” from Inception, the ingredients that lead to instant virality seem to be about the immediate impact of the trailer combined with something specific about that moment — in this case, Leo’s expression, much like Gaga’s expression in the memes above.

But looking back at the most successful and widely hyped trailers of recent memory — for example, Black Panther, Blade Runner, and Mad Max: Fury Road — none of them really generated memes that proliferated in the same way or seemed to carry the same amount of cultural weight.

The trailer for A Star Is Born, however, has been everywhere. Critics have buzzed about it relentlessly. And regardless of whether it’s born of anticipation or animosity, the pre-release meme-ification of A Star is Born has made it one of the most talked-about movies of the year:

And that’s not even taking into consideration all the new memes that will explode after this weekend, when audiences finally see the whole movie:

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