There’s a line from Wes Anderson’s debut film Bottle Rocket in which Luke and Owen Wilson’s characters are fighting with their friend Bob in Bob’s house. They take a moment to step into the kitchen to have a sidebar away from Bob. Though they leave the shot, you can hear their conversation, and midway through their heated conversation, you hear Owen Wilson’s Dignan stop and say, “Look at this kitchen. How did an asshole like Bob get such a great kitchen?” (Around 1:40. Listen carefully.)
I feel the same way about most young adult films and their soundtracks. How did they get such great artists to participate on them? Respectable artists. In the 80’s and 90’s, the good soundtracks (the ones that weren’t painfully pop, anyway) were attached to films to audiences for films like the Big Chill, New Jack City, Reality Bites, Dazed and Confused, and other, more grown-up films.
So how did an intermediate installment of Twilight score what’s arguably the biggest indie rock compilation album of…ever? That’s what this installment of Soundtrack Studies will address. Before we go down that road, here’s a look at the listing:
We’re missing unlicensed tracks by Thom Yorke, The Killers, and Muse, but you get the idea. Not only were these artists willing to lend or license their songs to the film, but they wrote new, original, and exclusive material for the album. That’s a lot of work to be a part of one of the most reprehensible aspects of pop culture of the past decade. So…why did Death Cab for Cutie, Band of Skulls, Lykke Li, Bon Iver, St. Vincent, Grizzly Bear, and others all sign up for this chore?
Because they’re not stupid.
Call it selling out or don’t, but any band that says they don’t want to reach the widest possible audience is lying, and since there are remarkably few ways to get your music heard by the masses, acts of the indie rock ilk have gone the way of commercial and media use. Rap, pop, and modern rock still have the radio, and while indie rockers still have their medium, there aren’t a ton of ways for Lykke Li to get her stuff heard by the coveted tween deomgraphic in 2009. Being on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack was the fast track to just that.
Despite the fact that these artists are fairly well-reputed, and crafted music exclusively for the film, and those songs are largely good (with Death Cab’s “Meet Me at the Equinox” being excellent), the soundtrack doesn’t work at all. It feels shoehorned and juxtaposed. And the reason it feels that way is that the consideration here didn’t seem to be meshing the video with the audio. Rather, it was each party using the brand of the other. Twilight was grasping for credibility with an “edgy” soundtrack, and those “edgy artists” wanted to make a big impression for those little kids in the theater seats. Getting the attention of ADD-riddled kids doesn’t happen with a restrained ballad. It requires a little more bombast. So these artists put together anthems that would swell when Bella and Edward kissed, even if it sounded heavy-handed and disparate.
Which is to be expected, because this is Twilight we are talking about here. It’s, by most account, a bad franchise that finds its currency in melodrama. We’ve seen similar a similar though slightly poppier approach from Hunger Games, with, no doubt, the same ends sought by both film producers and contributing artists. However, Hunger Games has shifted its focus to the indier side of pop with artists like Ellie Goulding and Lorde.
Twilight, to its somewhat dubious credit, stayed entrenched in the world of indie rock, and for its many, many, many, many faults (Taylor Lautner, etc), any film that strives to introduce (not literally) Thom Yorke to 12 year-old girls can’t be all bad.
Well, it can. But it can have a pretty terrific soundtrack that we’re still sort of ashamed to listen to.