‘A Star is Born’ and the Enduring Appeal of “I Just Wanted to Take Another Look At You”

Four iterations later, the classic exchange has found its place in meme culture.

Star Is Born Gaga Smile

This article is part of Movie Memes Week.


From the moment news broke that Bradley Cooper was directing and starring in the umpteenth version of A Star is Born alongside Lady Gaga, anticipation was high. The basic story — a troubled artist discovers and falls in love with a talented ingenue whose stardom eclipses his — first appeared in the 1932 “star is born” template What Price Hollywood? Three other star-studded remakes followed over the decades featuring the likes of Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbara Streisand. But there’s one thing that sets the 2018 A Star is Born apart from its classic predecessors: memes.

The film’s first trailer introduced audiences to Cooper’s Jackson Maine, a fading country rocker who clings to his booze after playing music festival gigs. He soon stumbles upon Gaga’s unknown Ally Campana performing in a nearby drag bar and takes a shine to her. The trailer cuts from the pair’s meet-cute to the next day, as Jackson’s limo drops Ally off at her family home. “Hey,” he growls in his gravelly Sam Elliott-esque drawl. When she turns around to ask, “What?” He says, “I just wanted to take another look at you.” Ally smiles at him sheepishly, and in that moment, a meme was born.

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Versions of this infatuated exchange between rising star and weathered entertainer are a staple of each A Star is Born, but this time — much like the trailer itself — the moment spread online like wildfire. Photos of Lady Gaga’s surprise and subsequent charmed grin were quickly replaced with a host of new characters as the object of Jackson Maine’s affection. Other internet users gave him a different set of lines to draw out Ally’s smile, or replaced him with someone else entirely. These meme templates are simple but, when paired with the instant recognizability of the two characters, incredibly effective.

The memes surrounding the latest A Star is Born have managed to cling to the cultural zeitgeist almost a year after the film’s release. When Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood hit theaters in July, moviegoers noticed that a scene of affirmation between leads Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) bore a surprising resemblance to A Star is Born’s “I just wanted to take another look at you.” Other memes from the film, such as Gaga’s guttural scream during “Shallow,” have been used for comedic effect in response to Meryl Streep’s scream in Big Little Lies and the viral “salmon cannon.”

So, why have these easy-to-make A Star is Born memes endured past the film’s pleasant critical reception and sparse recognition? Arguably, for the same reason that the melodrama has been retold so many times. Memes were first coined in 1976 by biologist Richard Dawkins. He compared the ideas or information that flows from person to person to how genes are passed on biologically — the weak idea dies while the strong ones survive and change in accordance with contemporary culture.

Since the basic A Star is Born template was established, the franchise has probed what makes and breaks modern celebrities in a constantly changing entertainment industry. What started as a look at the carefully crafted celebrity images of early Hollywood evolved into a tale of authenticity and addiction in the music industry. Given the fact that major actresses playing the ingenue have historically used the role as a comeback vehicle, even the films’ casting is a deliberate wink at the audience.

It also doesn’t hurt that the story’s swooning, ill-fated romance is so familiar. Audiences know what to expect, but given the modernity of each version of A Star is Born, each film’s blend of over-the-top fame and intimate melodrama, they’re bound to engage with it anyway. Funnily enough, social media users’ fixation with breaking down entertainment trends into archetypal memes is a much breezier way of processing the themes that A Star is Born has been grappling with for years. It comes as no surprise then, that, love it or hate it, we all wanted to take another look.

(Intern)

Culture journalist and Vox Magazine writer who hasn't been adopted by Paul Thomas Anderson and Maya Rudolph (yet).