When pop stars play pop stars…

As Lady Gaga’s silver-screen version of (almost) herself in a Star Is Born reaches cinemas, we look back at other reinventions, from Whitney as Rachel to Beyoncé as Deena

‘Having something to say is one thing; having a way to make people listen is a whole other bag.” This is what an awestruck Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) tells fledgling singer-songwriter Ally, played by Lady Gaga, in the newest and shiniest remake of A Star Is Born. Premiering last month at Venice film festival to rave reviews – and early Oscars buzz for both Cooper and Gaga – it is, as Variety’s Owen Gleiberman put it, “a transcendent Hollywood movie”. As far as pop music is concerned, the messenger matters.

Like the traditional Hollywood musical, pop star movies follow the familiar arc of an artist finding their voice – and, best of all, feature real pop stars. As a pop music superfan who struggles with musicals and the tiresome way they crowbar narrative into song and dance numbers, I’m obsessed with this movie subgenre. They’re fascinating as vehicles for stardom – and revealing about the kind of icons the pop stars turned actors want to be associated with, as well as the legacies they wish to leave themselves (consider Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues, and Beyoncé as a version of Diana Ross in Dreamgirls). In an age of hyperdocumentation, pop stars are more precious than ever about how their star personas are perceived. Yet in the reflection of another’s star image, we can often see them more clearly.

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