Browse all

In 2023, a movie's soundtrack is as important as its cast

From Travis Scott for Oppenheimer to Aqua's Barbie remix

In 2023, a movie's soundtrack is as important as its cast From Travis Scott for Oppenheimer to Aqua's Barbie remix

No one would have expected Travis Scott to be the chosen one for the soundtrack of Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan's film that hits cinemas on 21 July. On the surface, the film starring the eponymous physicist and inventor of the atomic bomb, played by Cilian Murphy, has little in common with the sounds of the Texan rapper. Still, this is not the first time dedicated cinema has flirted with mainstream music, even if the mix seems forced, strange or even unnatural. From independent productions to blockbusters, music has over the years established itself as an ingredient not to be underestimated when it comes to making a film a success, especially at the box office. Rihanna for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Lady Gaga for Top Gun Maverick, Florence + The Machine for the Yellojackets series, Lana del Rey for Euphoria, Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice in Aqua's remix of Barbie Girl in Greta Gerwig's new film, while Erykah Badu will make a musical cameo appearance in Malcolm Washington's The Piano Lesson: the big Hollywood production companies know that pop stars have the power to lift the fortunes of half-empty cinema halls.

In Oppenheimer's case, the credit goes to Christopher Nolan himself, who already wanted Scott in 2020 with Tenet for the official soundtrack of the film starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson. The track is titled The Plan and tells the story of a protagonist burdened with the difficulties of everyday life and searching for ways to survive. A text that fits the plot of the film, in which an agent from CIA tries to prevent the outbreak of World War III by exploiting the passage of time. «His voice was the final piece of a years-long puzzle. His insights into the musical and narrative system that composer Ludwig Goeransson and I were building were immediate, insightful and profound» commented the Oscar-winning director, who probably wished that Scott would find the same musical understanding in the upcoming film. In Barbie's case, however, many other artists have already been confirmed to appear on the film's soundtracks alongside Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice, including Ava Max, Charli XCX, Dominic Fike, Dua Lipa, Khalid, The Kid Laroi, Lizzo, PinkPantheress and Tame Impala. Fans who now have to settle for a remix had expressed disappointment that Aqua's iconic hit does not feature in the film's full trailer. However, Ulrich Møller-Jørgensen, the manager of Danish frontwoman Lene Nystrøm, had already confirmed to Variety last year that the track would not be heard. Instead, Metro Boomin revealed other names that will appear as guest features on his upcoming soundtrack for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: A$AP Rocky, Wiz Kid, Offset, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Offset, Ei8ht and Beam, alongside with Lil Uzi Vert, Toian, Swae Lee, JID, Coi Leray, Nav, Future, James Blake and Don Toliver.

The days when mainstream cinema used its soundtracks to give itself an underground tone seem long gone. Such is the case with Daredevil, the 2003 film written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson and based on the Marvel Comics comic book of the same name, which featured songs like Evening Rain by Moby and Bring Me to life by Evanescence. Names like Tame Impala and James Blake still appear in blockbuster soundtracks today, but only in connection with billionaire pop stars. This is nothing compared to the freedom that independent films afford themselves far from the expectations of Hollywood or some directors. Sofia Coppola, for example, chose The Strokes, Aphex Twin, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, Radio Dept and other indie rock musicians as headliners for her French court in Marie Antoinette, while 70s sounds with Albert Hammond Jr. and French electronica by Air predominate in The Virgin Suicides. Music in films today is more another marketing strategy than an instrument of artistic expression, and especially for Hollywood the pressure to succeed is so great that nothing can be left to chance.