Powered by a selection of carefully curated tunes timed precisely to the action on screen, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver: Music From the Motion Picture” has raced to the front of Grammys’ soundtrack pack, with James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Awesome Mix Vol. 2” trailing by a couple of laps. Both films were written around lead characters that love music, in Wright’s case an earbud-obsessed getaway guy, and for Gunn, a Walkman-toting space cadet whose combat style includes dance moves.
“I loved ‘Baby Driver,’” says Gunn of his competition. “Edgar and I would text each other making sure we weren’t using the same songs.”
“Guardians” features a 14-song selection of ’70s classics, including Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.
Wright opted for wall-to-wall music, telling Variety, “I didn’t shoot any scene with song until I knew we cleared it.” Ultimately, 30 songs made it into the movie with very specific uses — even down to an establishing shot of records strewn across the floor. “You can see all the albums on the soundtrack — Simon and Garfunkel, Queen, Blur,” says the filmmaker.
Well-integrated soundtrack music that helps add depth to the characters is what supervisors are calling “the new musical,” and it makes an impression with audiences — and now hopefully Grammy voting members.
“It’s a powerful tool,” says Jonathan McHugh of Song Stew Entertainment, whose credits include the “Saw” franchise. “One of the few that seems to actually lead to selling soundtracks,” which he calls “an early casualty of the internet,” with fans assembling playlists, sometimes before a film is even released. “It’s very tough to make the economics of soundtracks work these days. Many companies don’t want to be bothered.”
There are four Grammy categories for visual media — compilation soundtrack, score soundtrack, song written for visual media and for film — and while commercial performance is not a reliable indicator of who may win, it does illuminate which projects will be nominated. “Guardians Vol. 2” is one of only three soundtracks to pass the RIAA gold plateau (sales of 500,000) this past year. The others are Republic Records’ “Fifty Shades Darker” and Walt Disney Records’ “Moana.” The animated adventure about Hawaiian demigods and has sold more than 1 million units thanks to an irresistible mix of tunes penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Frozen” duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. It also features the Oscar-winning song “How Far I’ll Go,” performed by Alessia Cara — a lock for a Grammy visual song nomination.
The Zayn Malik-Taylor Swift duet “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” from “Fifty Shades Darker” is another contender for both a Grammy and an Oscar, with consumption of more than 2.3 million units year to date, according to BuzzAngle Music. Sia’s “To Be Human (feat. Labrinth)” from “Wonder Woman” is also believed to have a shot.
“It’s the ‘Titanic’ model,” says SuperMusicVision’s Thomas Golubić, president of the Guild of Music Supervisors. “An overwhelming score with one featured song at the end.”
It’s a well-established precedent that the Grammy score category approximates the Oscar picks. One way it can diverge is television and videogames scores are eligible, though as a practical matter, they rarely make the cut.
When “Stranger Things” received two nominations in the score category for 2017, it was the first time in 30 years that a TV show made an appearance. (An eligibility window of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 means the show won’t compete for 2018.) TV has fared better in the compilation category, with about 10 nominations in as many years.
“TV is such a more powerful medium right now in terms of delivering music,” McHugh says. “It’s more immediate, and gets in front of audiences fast, whereas features can take years.”
Among hybrid projects (those produced for the small screen or with limited theatrical runs), the Netflix production “Gaga: Five Foot Two” could get Grammy love. PBS’ “American Masters: American Epic,” with its mash-up of pop stars including Elton John and Jack White with country icons (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard) and blues legends (David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Robert Lockwood), also checks off several boxes.
Since 2012, when videogames were admitted to the visual media categories, there has been only one nomination, in 2013, for the Sony game “Journey,” with a score by Austin Wintory. This year, however, Microsoft Publishing is pushing the epic “Halo Wars 2,” which combines a 80-piece orchestral score by Gordy Haab (recorded with union players on Fox’s Newman Stage) combined with electronic music written and performed by Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White of Finishing Move. “I would write the themes and they would enhance them,” Haab says of the 150 minutes of music for one of the biggest game franchises of all time.
No doubt, score and song for screens is having a creative moment. Says McHugh: “People are really responding to music as a character.”