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DJ White Shadow Speaks About Working With Lady Gaga To Bring The ‘A Star is Born’ Music To Life

Gaga’s longtime collaborator reflects on writing “Hair Body Face,” ”Why Did You Do That?,” & more.

The music in Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born is just one of the many reasons why it’s on the fast track to an Academy Award nomination. Another reason, of course, is Gaga’s performance, which has won over critics. But it’s not just writers who are raving about the movie; it’s earned nearly $150 million dollars at the US box office, while the soundtrack just spent its second week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

A Star is Born follows Gaga’s character Ally as her music career takes off alongside her romance with the troubled musician Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper). Along the way, Ally morphs from a young waitress into a global pop star, with her career taking off as Jackson’s begins to crumble beneath him. Gaga co-wrote the film’s music alongside a team of collaborators, including her longtime friend DJ White Shadow. Genius caught up with the songwriter and producer in a recent phone interview to learn more about how the critically acclaimed soundtrack came together.

DJ White Shadow has been collaborating with Lady Gaga since the Born This Way sessions, and has since worked on her albums ARTPOP and Joanne. Although the A Star is Born music is still performed by Lady Gaga, he explained that writing for Ally as a character was different than writing for a Gaga album.

“As a metaphor, you’re both riding in the same car, just one day you’re riding in the mountains and one day you’re riding in the forest,” he said about the songwriting process. “You’re both doing the same thing, but for a different purpose.”

Writing for Ally meant paying attention more to a predetermined plot, which led White Shadow to study the previous iterations of A Star is Born as they started working on the music. “It’s like we always had Ally in the back of our minds,” he said.

Still, they tried not to overthink it too much. “When you start trying to micromanage stuff, like if you say, ‘Oh, Ally was having a bad day this day, what kind of song would she write?’ We didn’t go that far in-depth in the beginning,” he said. “But as time went on, some of the thoughts that were coming through in the script, we were like, ‘Well, we wrote this, this, and this for this part of her life. Which one makes the most sense to move forward with now that we’ve honed this far in?’”

It’s like we always had Ally in the back of our minds.
— DJ White Shadow

Although the film follows a narrative arc of Ally evolving from a rock-inspired singer-songwriter into a pop star, the songwriting actually started from her first big break and worked outwards. DJ White Shadow revealed that “Why Did You Do That?,” the song Ally performs during her debut Saturday Night Live appearance, came first.

“We started with that motif and then worked our way around that, like, ‘What’s the song that sounds the most like when she’s gonna break?’ And then we worked outward from there,” he said, noting that this kind of dance-pop music is firmly in Lady Gaga’s wheelhouse anyway. “I just think that seemed like a natural place to start for a girl that we knew was going to be famous.”

“Shallow” is the moment that jumpstarts Ally’s stardom after an impromptu performance with Jackson in Arizona goes viral, but it’s “Look What I Found” that DJ White Shadow views as the real beginning of her career.

“Where she’s like, ‘Oh I wrote this song and here it is on my notebook,‘ I consider that to be the first Ally song, because it’s the one that she goes into the booth by herself,” he said. “She’s scared to be in the booth, she’s got an engineer for the first time, she’s singing. So 'Look What I Found’ is the first one. It’s got more of a rock and roll, country vibe to it.”

Capturing Ally in the early stages of her career was another moment they tried not to overanalyze. “How do you write a song that sounds like the first song that somebody would bring to the table?” he asked. “You just do it. Whatever comes out first. You try to ignore all the rules of songwriting…It was more of sitting around a piano. Let’s just play some shit out and see what comes out of our heads.”

It doesn’t hurt that the song foreshadows Ally’s romance with Jackson, either:

Look what I found
Somebody who’ll carry ‘round a piece of my heart
Just layin’ on the ground

Ally expresses insecurities about her looks throughout the film, with her image becoming a frequent point of contention between herself and her manager Rez Gavron. By the time we hear “Hair Body Face,” however, Ally is a full-blown star with her face on billboards. DJ White Shadow explained how the song served as a critical moment for Ally to overcome her apprehensions and own her self-image.

“To me, ‘Hair Body Face’ is about being the baddest bitch around,” he said with a laugh. “I think she’s come to the point where her insecurities are like, ‘Yo, I wasn’t cool, but look now. I’m the coolest. I have everything that you’re looking at now.’ It was like writing a song that was coming into her own.”

For White Shadow, the recording process for A Star is Born was both familiar and new. “I think what’s different than a lot of the records that Gaga and I have done before [is] there were a lot more people on both ends,” he said. “So bringing in Diane Warren, bringing in Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels and Lukas Nelson… we would be at the studio and there would be six studios running.” Much of this came from the diversity of genres portrayed in the film. “I don’t write country songs, and a lot of the country people don’t write pop songs, and some people do both,” he said.

To me, ‘Hair Body Face’ is about being the baddest bitch around.
— DJ White Shadow

While White Shadow explained that the soundtrack has been in the works for several years, he views his recent work with Gaga as an evolution of what they’ve been doing for a decade.

“We know each other better,” he said. “Now we understand each other’s framework and understand each other’s intent and purpose. It’s just a lot quicker and easier, and I think the product is better.”

Catch up on all the lyrics to the A Star is Born soundtrack on Genius now.