Is ‘Shallow’ Lady Gaga’s Best Song?

Lady Gaga is inarguably one of the defining pop stars of the late 2000s and 2010s. She’s cultivated a fiercely loyal fanbase of “Little Monsters”  and garnered much more critical acclaim than the Katy Perry’s and Rihanna’s of the world. As such, choosing Gaga’s best song is a Herculean task. Although she has produced many great pop songs that will undoubtedly stand the test of time, her most recent number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100, “Shallow,”  might just be the best song she’s ever written. 

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 10: Lady Gaga poses in the press room during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

More mature lyrics

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga | Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

As fine as many of the dance-pop tracks from Gaga’s earlier albums like The Fame and Artpop were, they tended to lack lyrical depth. While numerous people have enjoyed dancing at the club while listening to Gaga sing “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin” or “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick,” those lyrics aren’t exactly something that you’d hear in a Shakespearean sonnet or a Leonard Cohen song. They are silly and fun lyrics that are designed for the dance floor, and they succeed on those terms.

However, more thoughtful listeners certainly couldn’t be faulted for desiring a touch more substance from Gaga. “Shallow,” on the other hand, uses some pretty clever metaphors to describe opening oneself up to another person for the sake of a greater level of emotional intimacy. It’s no small wonder that this song helped A Star is Born to become the most iconic romance film since Titanic was released two decades earlier. It’s an incredibly romantic song that is more emotionally compelling than most of the other songs in the Gaga canon.

Beautiful instrumentation

Lady Gaga playing the piano

Lady Gaga | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

“Shallow” isn’t the first song of substance that Gaga has released. Gaga’s albums often featured at least one song like “Speechless” or “Dope” where she slows the tempo down to highlight a more meaningful set of lyrics. But none of Gaga’s other ballads have instrumentation as beautiful as that of “Shallow.” The song’s sweeping production builds artfully, and sounds more grand and powerful than just about any other pop song from this decade.

Gaga’s voice

THE OSCARS® – The 91st Oscars® broadcasts live on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood and will be televised live on The ABC Television Network at 8:00 p.m. EST/5:00 p.m. PST. (Ed Herrera via Getty Images)LADY GAGA, BRADLEY COOPER

Though Gaga has been praised for her vocals, she’s still a touch underrated in that regard. There’s a good argument to be made that Gaga deserves to be seen as one of the greatest vocalists of all time, up there with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Aretha Franklin. Perhaps the reason why Gaga is not so highly rated is that she chooses not to display the power of her voice on every song she releases. As fun as a song like “Paparazzi” or “Applause” is, neither of them are particularly difficult to sing.

In “Shallow,” Gaga proudly shows off her vocal prowess without going over the top or coming across as camp, the way that her idol and collaborator Christina Aguilera sometimes does. Her diva turn on the track is actually nicely complemented by the Americana vocal stylings of Bradley Cooper. In a way, the differences between the way that they sang encapsulate the personalities of the characters that they play in the movie. Gaga’s character, Ally, is a diva who longs for the spotlight. Meanwhile, Cooper’s character is an old school country singer à la Johnny Cash.