Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” is a song made for karaoke: it’s cathartic, popular enough to capture the attention of even the most impatient audience, and it’s incredibly fun to belt. And, if you’ve been to an karaoke bar since September 27, 2018, you’ve likely witnessed what has become a familiar scene: a person, or perhaps a group, clutching microphones and wailing, HAAA AH AH AH AH, AAAH AAAH, AH AH AH AH HAAA. A few of us here at the Cut have … been those people, or in those groups of people, while others have just observed obscenely, authentically Drunk Jackson Maine–esque performances of the song and felt pangs of sympathy for the people who are forced to humor them night after night: karaoke DJs.
So, driven by my journalistic duty to investigate, I asked them: What is it like to watch us shalalalalalow, over and over?
Shane Fairchild of Backstage Karaoke in Culver City, California, had more than a few stories to share — on average he hears the song twice a night — but one wild performance in particular sticks out to him: when a singer came in with a prop.
“I always ask people if they want to sing the song by themselves or in duet, and it’s usually duet,” he said. “But this woman, who was acting strange, wanted to sing it alone. When the song started, she put a man’s wig on to sing the first Bradley Cooper part, and then she took it off for the Lady Gaga part. It was really weird.”
He also recalled a time when a visiting and very drunk group from Brazil showed up to Backstage and requested “Shallow.” What started out as a one-woman performance then turned into the whole group sloppily singing together around the mic. “Yeah … ” Fairchild trailed off, laughing, as I determined that I would’ve found the second group to be grating. And yet, Fairchild’s recollection seemed to be surprisingly fond.
On karaoke nights at Montero in Brooklyn, Amethyst Valentino said she also watches “Shallow” performances on average twice in an evening, though sometimes she’ll get a third one late at night. Though Valentino said she thoroughly enjoys every performance, the one that she’ll never forget came from a regular who’s been karaoking at the bar on her birthday for the past ten or so years. Valentino said this woman’s rendition of “Shallow” was “amazing, and everyone was floored by her.” The next day she received a text from the singer that’s stayed with her: “I think getting to sing shallow last night was one of the best moment of my life. I love monteros and the supportive singing community you cultivate there. Its so special. Thanks for all you do. I can’t imagine a birthday without a good night at monteros!!” Very touching!
But, as Valentino stressed to the Cut, every “Shallow” performance is fun for her. [Editor’s note: Pardon?]
“Once Lady Gaga’s part comes up, everybody starts screaming and cheering the singers on,” she told the Cut, noting she’s only ever had one person who completely bombed it. “If everyone at the bar is just drab and acts like they don’t want to hear the song, then singer is more apt to be a little nervous, but that’s never happened with this song.”
With each conversation, I became increasingly shocked to hear this level of enthusiasm from the DJs, and also by the restraint, or perhaps creativity, of these karaoke patrons. My assumption was that this was the song everyone wanted to sing so often that it would become unbearable. At times, I was convinced that KJs were withholding their wildest stories because they didn’t want to reflect poorly on their bar or come off as an asshole — which could’ve been the case — but Valentino’s sentiment was echoed again and again by other KJs.
Joey Park, the owner of Baby Grand in New York City, is sure he’s heard it at least twice in one night, and possibly three times; he thinks it’s “heartfelt and sincere.” When pressed on whether he’s ever gotten sick of it, he instead brought up the two songs he finds intolerable: “Bohemian Rhapsody” because “it’s super long and nobody’s actually talented enough to sing it properly,” and “Sweet Caroline,” because “the crowd inserts their own lyric ‘so good, so good,’ which ruins it.” (He has to walk away during the latter.)
And in Chicago, KJ Nicole Cooper at Louie’s Pub proudly admitted her love of the song to the Cut, adding that she thinks it’s “amazing to sing.”
“Everyone in the bar goes crazy once it comes on,” she said. “No one is ever annoyed to hear that song … And even if people who don’t sing well perform it, everyone gets excited to hear it.”
As it turns out, we are the curmudgeons who would be better off reserving our judgement — especially because it sounds like this song will be playing in karaoke bars for a long-ass time.
Valentino likened “Shallow” to other karaoke staples, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” And, in Park’s opinion, the reasons why guests pick the songs they do relates to popularity, nostalgia, and fun, which is why he sees this Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper classic staying in the top requests for quite some time.
“A great karaoke song sends waves of excitement through the audience,” he continued, “and based on the reactions I’ve witnessed, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing ‘Shallow’ for years to come.”