Reel talk: analyzing soundtracks in film

In the wake of the success of Zootopia, Disney’s latest animated hit, many young children has Shakira’s soundtrack single “Try Everything” constantly echoing in their heads. An upbeat pop song rhythmically encouraging children to take risks and not be afraid of failure, “Try Everything” is just the most recent addition to film’s beloved tradition of producing marketable singles.

Anyone alive during the era of Frozen, which hopefully everyone reading this is, because if not, you are a very intelligent toddler, remembers the “Let It Go” takeover. Everyone from the child down the street to Channing Tatum on Lip Sync Battle belted the song with everything they had. Back in 2010, Avril Lavigne contributed to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie with a song entitled “Alice.” The mid-tempo ballad features a positive message of survival amid the very Alice references.

It’s not just films affiliated with Disney; Lorde proved her critical acclaim valid when she took over the job of curating The Hunger Games soundtrack. Her single, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” echoed many of the same messages film singles often do, but with the queen of dark teen pop’s touch.

Whether it’s a tune penned by a famous artist, an underground anthem or a Disney-style organized musical number, the past 10 years of mainstream soundtrack singles tend to have one thing in common: hope. From dystopian battle cries about overcoming life-or-death struggles to child-friendly tales teaching confidence or strength, film singles often encapsulate a movie’s entire message in three minutes. Listeners can go from walking to class to marching against a tyrannical government with the press of the play button. When you’re down about finals or social drama, a click of the mouse puts on a dance beat that reminds you to keep on keepin’ on.

Stepping away from the kids/teen films, soundtracks still feature that one song that brings to mind a montage of scenes whenever played. The James Bond franchise is a perfect example of how a single can be just as big of a deal as the movie itself. From Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” to Adele’s “Skyfall,” even those who never saw the movie can still hum a few bars. John Legend and Common’s “Glory” from Selma was an emotional piece that spoke to an entire era of struggle and pain. Separate from the movie, the film’s messages and themes were told in three minutes and nine seconds.

The soundtrack has been recognized as a key component in a film’s success for a long time. Swelling symphonies or grunged out rock ‘n’ roll can give poignant scenes that much more power. But the individual single, sometimes not even incorporated into the movie, acts as a trailer for what’s to come or a reminder of what you experienced. Music is a powerful tool for expanding the boundaries of film — a combination of media that strikes home the intended ideas. And the truth is, yes, I’ve rocked out to “Try Everything”  multiple times in the car since seeing the movie. I don’t care that I’m not the 12-year-old kid Disney probably had in mind, because the fact of the matter is, we all need to be reminded to try everything despite the risk of failure. Even more so, we all need that little portable piece to carry around with us that reminds us of the way we felt in the theater. It’s not just a song; it’s a connection to an entire cinematic experience.

Recommended Playlist:

“I Need To Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth

– Melissa Etheridge

“Falling Slowly” from Once

– Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

“Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire

– A. R. Rahman and Gulzar

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart

– Ryan Bingham and T. Bone Burnett

“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3

– Randy Newman

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

– Brett McKenzie

“Skyfall” from Skyfall

– Adele

“Let It Go” from Frozen

– Idina Menzel

“Glory” from Selma

– John Legend and Common

Malorie McCall is a junior majoring in philosophy.  Her column, “Mal’s Mix,” typically runs on Fridays.