As a movie, “Promising Young Woman,” the debut feature from “Killing Eve” writer/director Emerald Fennell out April 17 via Focus Features, defies easy categorization. Anchored by a star turn from Carey Mulligan, the film blends equal parts thriller and pitch-black comedy with occasional dashes of traditional rom-com and ‘90s noir drama structures. It’s all told through the unique, stylized lens of Fennell, who navigates the viewer through a unique take on post-#MeToo society.
The film’s eclectic mix of genres with a strong female perspective will also be at the forefront of its official soundtrack, due April 3 via Capitol Records. The album will feature eight all-new songs created for the film, including four covers and four original songs. Two of the album’s originals are written and performed by Cyn, whose first single and video from the project, “Drinks,” was released Friday (March 6.) The “Drinks” video, directed by Taylor Fauntleroy (John Legend, The Chainsmokers), premieres here exclusively.
Fennell, who also serves as the soundtrack’s executive producer, said in a statement, “I spent my childhood growing up on incredible soundtracks – ‘Romeo + Juliet,’ ‘Clueless,’ ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ and ‘Empire Records’ saw me through every crush, heartbreak and schoolyard humiliation. I never dreamed one day I’d be holding the soundtrack to my own film. Getting to work with Capitol on this record has truly been the most exciting process of all time and collaborating with so many unbelievably talented female artists has been magical. I’m so, so grateful to everyone involved.”
Other exclusive songs featured on the project are two tracks from Capitol signee DeathbyRomy, who contributes a cover of The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” as well as original song “Come Play With Me”; Fletcher’s “Last Laugh,” also written for the film; and previously unreleased new songs from Muna (“Nihilist”) and Blessus (“Ur Eyes.”) The album’s three additional standout covers feature Donna Missal’s soulful take on Cigarettes After Sex’s “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby.” Carmen DeLeon’s orchestral rendition of The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” and a dramatic violin-drenched instrumental of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” from composer Anthony Willis, who also scores the film.
Cyn, who’s signed to Capitol via Katy Perry’s Unsub imprint, was one of the first artists to get involved with the project. She had already written a rough chorus for “Drinks” before a screening of the film’s rough cut made it clear that her song’s main hook (“He got mad / So I got drinks”) and sinuous beat perfectly with the movie’s unique tone. She then added verses that further spoke to the storyline for Mulligan’s character Cassie (“With it all out in the open / I can be me again”) but still spoke to her own experiences.
“When I go through something that changes my life, you feel like you can never get to be you again. It’s a new version of you,” she says. “I would use some of the lyrics I wrote for Cassie as empowerment that she gave me while watching the movie. I wanted the verses to have strength and confidence.”
Cyn appears on the soundtrack and in the film a second time with another original composition, “Uh Oh,” that was written to a very specific, seemingly impossible-to-beat brief: to replace a scene that was temp-scored to Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party.” Thankfully, Fennell sent the scene to Cyn with a few lyrics already written (“If it happened to you / What would you do?”) that she could incorporate. The result is a finger-snapping, sassy kiss-off anthem that takes on a uniquely unapologetic frankness of its own (“Uh oh / I did it again / I got a bad habit / And I can’t pretend.”)
“With that song, they wrote me on a Thursday night and said, ‘We need it on Friday,’ and I said, ‘OK, it sounds like a challenge but I’ll do it,’” Cyn recalls. “Being able to see the whole movie and the scene with the music muted can be such a gift if you know what you want to do with the music. It’s like coloring in the lines of a coloring book. Just like with ‘Drinks,’ the songs couldn’t have come to life as quickly as they did without seeing the movie. And if you listen to ‘Uh Oh,’ the whole movie is in the second verse.”
In addition to a heavy focus on female artists, the soundtrack also features prominent involvement from female music creatives behind the boards. Jenny Swiatowy, Capitol Music Group’s VP-head of creative sync licensing, helped recruit Grammy-nominated producer Jenn Decilveo (Andra Day, Beth Ditto) for Carmen DeLeon’s cover of “He Hit Me,” while writer/producer Alex Hope (Troye Sivan, Tegan and Sara) produced DeathbyRomy’s “It’s Raining Men” and writer/producer AG (Milck, Rachel Platten) helmed Donna Missal’s “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You.”
“From top to bottom, I wanted this to be as full as women as possible,” says Swiatowy, who co-A&R’d and produced the project with Capitol’s Anton Monsted. “The film speaks to women and our experiences in the world, and the things unfortunately many of us go through. So it was important that it came from that perspective. We had [Grammy winning engineer] Emily Lazar master the soundtrack as well.”
Despite some of the songs’ strong thematic ties to the film itself, CMG’s Monsted, exec VP of soundtracks and A&R, hopes that it finds an audience as an “audio souvenir” from the film experience. “I’m excited by this album because it’s a strong body of work by a very broad spectrum of really strong female voices, and it was an exciting collaboration,” he says. “To be taken on that journey by Emerald, who as a director really set the bar very high, it was very exciting to try and fulfill that ambition.”
“Promising Young Woman Original Soundtrack” Track Listing (Pre-Order link here):
- Charli XCX – Boys (Droeloe Remix)*
- Fletcher – Last Laugh****
- Cyn – Uh Oh****
- Maya B – Selenas*
- Carmen DeLeon – He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)***
- Donna Missal – Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby***
- Muna – Nihilist**
- DeathbyRomy – It’s Raining Men***
- Lily & Madeleine – Can’t Help The Way I Feel*
- Paris Hilton – Stars Are Blind*
- DeathbyRomy – Come And Play With Me****
- Cyn – Drinks****
- Blessus – Ur Eyes**
- Sky Ferreira – Downhill Lullaby*
- Juice Newton – Angel Of The Morning*
- Anthony Willis – Toxic (Score)***
* Existing, and previously unreleased
** Existing, but previously unreleased
*** Cover version of an existing song, but original to this film
**** Original song written for film
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.