Rhythm and Reviews: Revisiting the Importance of the Soundtrack

When I was in London this past summer on the tube, a girl I was staying with asked me if I had seen Hamilton when I was in New York a few weeks prior. Obviously, she was talking about the Tony, Grammy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton; Lin Manuel-Miranda’s funky, modern take on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton that had been sold out for months and drawn rave reviews and celebrities by the numbers. I said no.

Suddenly, she started busting out a rap that turned out to be the opening number from the musical and was soon standing up and belting it out for all the commuters to see. I don’t think she even noticed; she was in her own world. Later that day, I pulled up the album on iTunes that had made critics and fans so excited. Manuel-Miranda’s clever compilation of hip-hop and R&B didn’t just retell history; it was destined to make history.

We all know those certain songs that define a movie and go on to be independent successes. Can you imagine The Breakfast Club without “Don’t You Forget About Me,” Rocky without “The Eye of the Tiger,” or even Frozen without “Let it Go”? No. But iconic songs like these overshadowed the rest of the movie’s soundtrack and had you forgetting the rest of the songs by the time the credits rolled. Very rarely can a movie soundtrack go on to gain such recognition as an album by a well-known artist. But it seems an upset is on the horizon as movie producers fight to differentiate themselves from the dozens of other blockbusters spun out on a weekly basis. And it seems that they are looking to do this by adding more star power and surprise to their soundtracks, rather than their films.

Before Lin Manuel-Miranda, there was Baz Luhrmann and his 2013 take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Juxtaposing the high-society glamour of the roaring ‘20s with his gritty rendition and modern tastes, the album is nothing short of shocking heard alone, but sexes up an otherwise played out love story. The audience obviously took to his vision: on iTunes, the soundtrack is rated higher than the actual movie thanks to the likes of Beyoncé and Kanye West, who lent their vocals to the project.

More recently, the summer blockbuster Suicide Squad drew in more than just the usual die-hard DC Comics fans. Even with a sorry 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s soundtrack currently has three songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 and has held a spot on iTunes list of top 10 albums since it was released on August 5th. Pulling no punches, the edgy track list includes Panic! at the Disco’s bold cover of Queen’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an original song, “Heathens,” by breakout star twenty one pilots, and oldie-but-goodie “Without Me” by Eminem. Only a line-up of this magnitude could satisfy the hype for such a bizarre and anticipated movie.

When I met up with the girl from the tube again, I asked her what made Hamilton so special for her. Her eyes went wide like she had a million answers for my question, but she was quiet for a second before she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It made me realize that some things never change. [Lin Manuel-Miranda] took a 200-year-old story and made me live it.”

It doesn’t matter if you prefer 18th-century politicians, the jazz-age, or villainous vigilantes. Given the right dose of musical accompaniment, any production can hit the right note.

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