The uber-earnest, swooning ballad has capped off her reign as a chanteuse of traditional pop, a reign designed to make those who might have written her off as a weirdo pop star — one who blended wild gyrations with the aesthetic of a performing arts high school student given an unlimited budget — realize just how much talent she possessed. It even helped her get nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. (Yeah, she’s great throughout A Star Is Born, but the moment when she first sings “Shallow” cements her performance as one to watch.)
But “Shallow” has always had one foot firmly in Gaga’s weirdo pop life, too. It’s a love song, sure, but it’s animated by a harrowing howl of desperation. Slap some electronic instrumentation on it and add a few dance moves and it wouldn’t be that far off of “Bad Romance” or “Poker Face.”
So Gaga’s performance of “Shallow” at the Grammys seemed intent on reminding audiences that she was both Gagas at once, that her artistic ambitions encompass all versions of herself and then some.
It was recognizably the tune that has taken the world by storm, first on movie screens and then on the radio. But it was also a song written as a duet that she was performing all by herself (though it’s not like this is a new idea — she even does it in the movie). She performed it while wearing a gorgeous glittering jumpsuit, and she aggressively lunged at the camera throughout. Plus, she opened the number by performing several dance moves that made her resemble nothing more than a monstrous spider.
It was a pop performance of a pop song, but also a pop performance that honored the song’s status as one of 2018’s great love songs. What’s more, it proved that “Shallow” is going to handily outlive the movie that gave birth to it. Depending on the context, it can be just about anything it needs to be, especially if Gaga is performing it.
And even if that weren’t true, the performance would suggest that Gaga’s career still has many, many more chapters in it, all bound up in a public persona that keeps purposefully shifting, like an ongoing symposium on what it means to be a star who is born and reborn, over and over again.