How 1995 Became A Blockbuster Year For Movie Soundtracks

Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in 'Clueless' (1995)

Courtesy Photo: CBS via Getty Images


How 1995 Became A Blockbuster Year For Movie Soundtracks

From 'Clueless' to 'Dangerous Minds,' soundtracks were big business in 1995, but the year's hits offered no clear formula for success

GRAMMYs/Aug 9, 2020 - 03:00 pm

Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, 2Pac and The Smashing Pumpkins all had No. 1 albums in 1995. Despite such hallowed competition, four movie soundtracks also topped the Billboard 200 chart that year. Two were family-friendly Disney behemoths: Pocahontas and The Lion King, the latter still powering from the previous year. The other chart-topping soundtracks, for the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Dangerous Minds and the stoner comedy Friday, were no one's idea of kids' entertainment. 

Beyond those No. 1 spots, 1995 marked a fascinating midpoint in a soundtrack-heavy decade. According to a New York Times report, a new release CD that year typically cost anywhere between $13-$19. At that price, a soundtrack needed major star power or an undeniable concept. 

For movie studios and musicians alike, the format was rich with opportunity. However, there was no certain formula for success. Some soundtracks were guided by a single producer, while others drew on a grab bag of then-current songs. Several featured one clear hit that eclipsed the soundtrack, or occasionally the movie itself. For all their differing approaches, the soundtracks of 1995 epitomized the energy and audacity of the decade, while also establishing tropes for the next 25 years. 

The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album (1992) set the bar high for the decade. With a 20-week reign at No. 1, it remains the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time. Whitney Houston performed six songs on the album, including the titanic power ballad, "I Will Always Love You." (At the 1994 GRAMMYs, the track won the GRAMMY for Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, while the soundtrack itself earned the Album Of The Year award.)

While The Bodyguard magnified their commercial potential, movie soundtracks like Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) framed the medium as an artistic showpiece. Throughout the '90s, Tarantino and fellow indie auteurs Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater and Spike Lee made music a key character in their films. (The latter continues the trend on his latest movie, Da 5 Bloods, alongside six-time GRAMMY-winning composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.) Both instincts, for commercial returns and artistic validation, were well-represented in 1995. 

Read: 'The Bodyguard' Soundtrack: 25 Years After Whitney Houston's Masterpiece

Batman Forever (1995) epitomized the big-budget, mass-appeal mid-'90s soundtrack. Spanning PJ Harvey to Method Man, the 14-track set employed some tried-and-true tactics. First, only five songs on the track list appear in the movie itself, ushering in a rash of "Music From And Inspired By" soundtracks. Second, its featured artists largely contributed songs you couldn't find on other albums: According to Entertainment Weekly in 1995, U2 landed a reported $500,000 advance for "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," an offcut from the band's Zooropa album sessions. 

Most significantly, Batman Forever backed a surprise smash in Seal's "Kiss From A Rose." Originally released as a single in 1994, the ballad blew up as the movie's "love theme." In its music video, Seal croons in the light of the Bat-Signal, intercut with not-very-romantic scenes from the film. Outshining U2, "Kiss From A Rose" reached No. 1 in 1995; one year later, the song won for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 38th GRAMMY Awards.

Both Bad Boys and Dangerous Minds had their "Kiss From A Rose" equivalent in 1995. Diana King's reggae-fusion jam "Shy Guy" proved the breakout star of Bad Boys, transcending an R&B- and hip-hop-heavy soundtrack. Meanwhile, Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," featuring singer L.V., the key track on Dangerous Minds, became the top-selling single of 1995; it won the rapper his first, and only, GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance the next year. 

Other soundtracks from 1995 endure as perfect documents of their time and place. Clueless compiled a cast from '90s rock radio to accompany the adventures of Alicia Silverstone's Cher Horowitz and her high school clique: Counting Crows, Smoking Popes, Cracker and The Muffs. Coolio, the everywhere man of 1995, contributed "Rollin' With My Homies." 

From the same city, but a world outside Cher's Beverly Hills bubble, came the Ice Cube- and Chris Tucker-starring Friday. Its soundtrack took a whistle-stop tour of West Coast hip-hop and G-funk via Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Tha Alkaholiks and Mack 10. True to the era, the music video for Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" is half stoner comedy, half cheesy action movie. 

Waiting To Exhale, the 1995 drama directed by Forest Whitaker, boasted a soundtrack with a clear author. Babyface, the R&B superproducer with 11 GRAMMY wins for his work with the likes of Boyz II Men and Toni Braxton, produced the set in full. Following Babyface's co-producer role on The Bodyguard soundtrack three years prior, Waiting To Exhale featured two new songs from the movie's star, Whitney Houston. 

Read: 'Score': Soundtracks take us on an emotional ride

Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and "Why Does It Hurt So Bad" led a track list that also featured Aretha Franklin, TLC, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige and then-newcomer Brandy. A powerful showcase of Black women across generations, the soundtrack has prevailed as a standalone work, going on to receive multiple nominations, including Album Of The Year, at the 1997 GRAMMYs. In a crowded year for soundtracks, which also included Dinosaur Jr. founder Lou Barlow's work on Larry Clark's contentious KidsWaiting To Exhale demonstrated the power of a singular vision. 

For the most part, the soundtracks of 1995 tried a bit of everything. The previous year, The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack went all-in on covers, including Nine Inch Nails overhauling Joy Division's "Dead Souls." That trend continued into 1995, from Tori Amos covering R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" for Higher Learning to Evan Dando's update of Big Star's "The Ballad Of El Goodo" in Empire Records to Tom Jones gamely taking on Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way"' for The Jerky Boys movie. (Is there a more '90s sentence than that?) 

Elsewhere, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack blended metal and industrial rock (Fear Factory, Gravity) with dance music (Utah Saints, Orbital). For every Dead Presidents, which zeroed in on '70s funk and soul, there was a Tank Girl, which threw together Bush, Björk, Veruca Salt and Ice-T to match the movie's manic tone. 

Continuing from their '90s winning streak, grown-up soundtracks have proven surprisingly resilient. In an echo of Babyface's role on Waiting To Exhale, Kendrick Lamar oversaw production on 2018's chart-topping, multi-GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: The Album, uniting an A-list cast under his creative direction. On the same front, Beyonce executive-produced and curated The Lion King: The Gift, the soundtrack album for the 2019 remake of the Disney classic, which spotlighted African and Afrobeats artists. In 2016, Taylor Swift and One Direction's Zayn recorded "I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)," pitching for the movie tie-in bump enjoyed in 1995 by Seal and Coolio. (The millennial stars stopped short of including scenes from the movie in their music video.) 

Like Batman Forever back in the day, the DC Universe continues to put stock in soundtracks. Both Suicide Squad (2016) and its follow-up, Birds Of Prey (2020), are packed tight with to-the-minute pop, R&B and hip-hop. Each soundtrack reads like a who's who of the musical zeitgeist. In 1995, Mazzy Star, Brandy and U2 grouped up behind Batman. In 2016, Twenty One Pilots, Skrillex and Rick Ross powered the Suicide Squad. In 2020, everyone from Doja Cat to Halsey to YouTube star Maisie Peters form Team Harley Quinn. 

As 1995 taught us time and time again, nothing traps a year in amber quite like a movie soundtrack. 

How 1995 Became The Year Dance Music Albums Came Of Age

5 Takeaways From 'TLC Forever': Left-Eye's Misunderstood Reputation, Chilli's Motherhood Revelation, T-Boz's Health Struggles & More
TLC (L-R: T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili) in 1999.

Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images


5 Takeaways From 'TLC Forever': Left-Eye's Misunderstood Reputation, Chilli's Motherhood Revelation, T-Boz's Health Struggles & More

A&E/Lifetime's latest documentary, 'TLC Forever,' features never-before-seen footage and untold stories of the group's iconic legacy, from their tribulations to their triumphs.

GRAMMYs/Jun 2, 2023 - 07:49 pm

When Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes, and Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas joined forces as TLC, the landscape of girl groups changed forever.

During their exhilarating run, TLC smashed records, set new style trends, and shined a light on important issues like HIV/AIDS and body image. Their unique sound and willingness to take risks helped solidify their status as one of the best-selling female groups of all time. And now, their legacy is immortalized on film.

TLC Forever, a new documentary premiering on A&E/Lifetime on June 3, dives into the drastic highs and lows of the trio's 30-year career. Amid their many incredible achievements, there was also a lot of struggle, including bankruptcy, headline-making brawls, and tragedy. As Watkins jokingly declared at the 1996 GRAMMYs, "TLC will leave this business being remembered for a lot of things."

The nearly 120-minute film follows the iconic musical trio from their first meeting to Lopes' untimely death in 2002, and follows Watkins and Thomas as they prepare to perform at the 2022 Glastonbury Festival. It will be particularly special to fans, as the doc sees Watkins and Thomas watch the rare footage with longtime manager Bill Diggins in real time. 

Whether you're familiar with TLC's story or are eager to learn more, TLC Forever is worth the watch. Below, take a look at five key takeaways from the documentary.

Left-Eye's Infamous Mansion Torching Was Misconstrued By The Media

In the spring of 1994 — a mere five months before TLC's best-selling CrazySexyCool dropped — Lopes sought revenge on her then-boyfriend, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. After she allegedly caught him cheating, Lopes set a pair of his sneakers on fire in a bathtub in his two-story mansion, which subsequently spread to the rest of the home. 

Charged with felony arson, placed on a five-year probation, and sentenced to a $10,000 fine, the then 23-year-old rapper was never quite able to shake her "crazy" reputation brought on by the incident. However, TLC Forever uncovers details that give her actions more context. 

In the doc, Thomas describes Lopes and Rison's relationship as "toxic," before adding that "it was always something going on." Months after they started dating, Lopes and Rison got into a heated argument in a grocery parking lot, where Rison allegedly assaulted her and fired a warning shot to stop bystanders from getting involved. 

"I felt so bad for her, because when I walked in the room, I just remember the look on her face," Watkins says in the film, referring to the house fire. "Her nails were popped off, she was scratched up, bruised up and bleeding, and the whole world was looking at her like, 'What did you do?' And everybody didn't respond like they should've."

As many fans know, Lopes had protested CrazySexyCool's lead single "Creep," due to its lyrics promoting infidelity (especially amid the ongoing AIDS epidemic, which claimed nearly 42,000 lives in the U.S. alone that same year). Plus, the chart-topper went against what TLC had been known for: wearing condoms on baggy clothes as a way of advocating for safe sex. 

Though the song was actually inspired by Watkins' own relationship woes, Lopes feared that Rison would think she was cheating on him, possibly triggering more alleged abuse within their tumultuous relationship. So, for the remix, she wrote a verse warning listeners of the consequences of creeping: "Creepin' may cause hysterical behavior in the mind/ Put your life into a bind and in time/ Make you victim to a passionate crime," she raps.

Chilli Re-Evaluated Her Relationship With Dallas Austin After Becoming A Mom

Early in Thomas' longtime romance with LaFace producer Dallas Austin, she became pregnant ahead of the trio's debut album, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, which jeopardized her future with the group. Not receiving much support from Austin and fearing then-manager Perri "Pebbles" Reid would find out, Thomas reluctantly had an abortion at the age of 20, calling it a "horrible experience" in the documentary. 

"After that, I probably experienced some kind of breakdown. I couldn't forgive myself," she says. "I just felt this tremendous guilt for what I had done, and that guilt not being properly dealt with is what made me latch on more to Dallas."

In 1997, Thomas and Austin had a son named Tron, which acted in many ways as closure for the singer. "Once I had Tron, it really put the relationship I had with Dallas into perspective. It was clear that wasn't a functioning, healthy, loving relationship," she admits. They went their separate ways a couple years later, still working together creatively and co-parenting their son, who is now 26.

Read More: The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression

Left-Eye's Absence On FanMail Was Partly Due To Her Beginning A Spiritual Journey

Despite CrazySexyCool selling 15 million copies worldwide, spawning two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and winning two GRAMMYs, TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995 before going on a five-year hiatus that was prolonged by tension within the group. In the months leading up to TLC's third studio effort, FanMail — whose title was coined by Lopes and dedicated to the fans — Lopes expressed her dissatisfaction with the project after a handful of her songs were rejected by Dallas Austin. 

"I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me," Lopes famously said in a 1999 interview with Vibe, which fueled rumors of a breakup. "This will be my last interview until I can speak freely about the truth and present myself on my solo project."

Around the same time, Lopes challenged Watkins and Thomas to record solo albums and offered a $1.5 million prize for whichever member sold the most copies. Lopes' raps can only be heard on three of FanMail's 17 tracks — and while a lot of her absence was certainly due to internal conflict, Watkins and Thomas confirmed that where Lopes was creatively "just didn't match" with what Austin was producing. At the time of Lopes' passing, she was on a 30-day spiritual retreat in Honduras, parts of which were recorded and released as 2007's posthumous documentary The Last Days of Left Eye.

T-Boz Struggled With Depression After Brain Tumor Diagnosis

In 2006, Watkins privately battled an acoustic neuroma, a potentially fatal brain tumor that sat on her facial, hearing and balance nerves. The then 36-year-old underwent surgery to remove the tumor, a risk exacerbated by her ongoing complications from sickle cell anemia since childhood. 

"[The doctor] said in case something goes wrong and I can't save either your hearing or your face or your balance, give me the order that you want to save yourself," she said in the doc. "This industry is about your face, your voice, your dancing — that's my whole job. So, they took my balance, I saved my face for the most part, [and] I only lost three percent [of my hearing] at the time."

Watkins added that she felt depressed and unattractive for many years after the surgery, until her mother changed her perspective. "I remember looking in the mirror one day and I started crying, and my mom said, 'No.' She said, 'Look, this is just your journey back to normal. This is not how you're gonna stay, this is not how you're gonna be. This is only your journey back to how you started,'" she recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, okay, if I look at it that way, then all I gotta do is survive this and get through it and I can be cool. And then the fight kicks in that I'm living, I'm going to survive this, I'm going to beat this."

Now 53, Watkins is still going strong. However, the film gives viewers a deeper look into just how much preparation is required for her to be able to perform without compromising her health. Before and after hitting the stage, Watkins must receive enough fluids and oxygen to keep inflammation at a minimum.

T-Boz & Chilli Were Faced With An Ultimatum Right After Left-Eye's Death

Watkins and Thomas discuss the immense amount of pressure they faced from their label to move forward without Lopes, who tragically passed away at 30 years old in a car accident during her Honduras trip. "After Lisa passed, the record company said they were gonna put out a greatest hits [album] if we didn't finish [3D], so we kinda felt forced to go back into the studio," Watkins said in TLC Forever. "We were given an ultimatum." Thomas added, "We had tunnel vision, let's just finish it."

Despite going platinum, 3D was seen as a commercial failure by TLC's standards, selling fewer than 700,000 copies and its lead single, "Girl Talk," peaking at No. 28 on the Hot 100. Following their first live performance without Lopes at Z100's annual Zootopia concert in 2003, the music industry seemingly wrote them off — but Thomas said she never felt it was truly over. It wasn't until their VH1 Super Bowl Blitz concert in 2014 that promoters started reaching out, which eventually led to the biggest performance of their extraordinary career: taking the stage at Glastonbury last year.

"The greatest reward is when you don't have the No. 1 song anymore and you're able to sell out your tours," Thomas says as the film wraps. "That means you have a great body of work that can stand the test of time, and time has told us that we did good. We did alright."

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5 Key Music Moments From "Succession": From The Viral Theme Song To Kendall's Cringey Rapping
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in season two of HBO's "Succession"

Photo: Graeme Hunter


5 Key Music Moments From "Succession": From The Viral Theme Song To Kendall's Cringey Rapping

As "Succession" comes to a close tonight with the fourth and final season, is taking a look back at the Emmy-winning HBO series' top music moments.

GRAMMYs/May 28, 2023 - 03:46 pm

After four seasons of betrayal, power plays, and intense sibling rivalries, the prestige HBO drama "Succession" will finally make good on its premise when the Waystar board (potentially) crowns the next CEO of the company.

Throughout the show's run, music has played a pivotal role in the story of the Roy family's fight to take over their patriarch's media empire — whether through building tension, foreshadowing or meta-commentary. The rich storytelling, pitch-perfect performances, masterful cinematography, and direction are bound together by emotional, gripping and, at times, haunting music from the show's composer Nicholas Britell, who received his first-ever GRAMMY nomination for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media (Includes Film And Television) for his score for season three of "Succession" at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Britell's unique musical voice helps amplify the narrative, as seen in moments like Shiv's betrayal by Tom at the end of season three. To score the revelatory moment, the composer deployed the show's first-ever use of choral arrangements. 

Just before the choir begins, there's a brief pause — a moment that elevates the tension, helping viewers to feel the full weight of Tom's betrayal. It's this type of precision that "Succession" fans have come to admire and expect from the critically acclaimed series.

As Shivy Shiv and the Roy boys prepare to wage their final battle in the war to gain control of Waystar Royco, revisits five of the show's standout musical moments.

Read More: Nicholas Britell On Scoring 'Succession' And 'The King' & Learning From Steve McQueen

The “Succession” Theme Song Goes Viral

The main title theme is easily the most popular piece of music from the show thanks to its creative blend of classical and hip-hop. The theme is compelling but slightly unnerving — and that's by design. Dissonant chords played on an out-of-tune piano, stabby strings and a chugging drumbeat combine to create an emotional response that befits the intensity of the prestige drama.

"The score for 'Succession' has a similar duality that I think the show has, which is this combination of elements of absurdity and also a deep gravitas under the surface," Britell told Vanity Fair in 2019. 

After kick-starting the opening credits of the award-winning drama's pilot episode, the title theme became an instant hit among viewers. The infectious tune spawned several memes and parodies, including twerking Kermit, a Joker parody, a Mario Paint rendition, and a hilarious remix from writer Demi Adejuyigbe, which asks two pertinent questions: "Who will Daddy kiss?" and "Does he love his kids?"

Kendall's Hip-Hop Hype Music

Many of the show's key music moments revolve around Logan's No. 1 boy, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who kicks off the pilot episode in the backseat of a Mercedes Benz rapping — and shadow boxing — to "An Open Letter to NYC" by the Beastie Boys to psych himself up for a big meeting.

This backseat rap moment came full circle in the middle of the final season, when Kendall is vibing out to Jay-Z's "Takedown" as his chauffeur drops him off at Waystar Royco HQ for his first day as co-CEO. This time around, there's no rapping along to Hov — this Ken is calm, focused and ready to protect his birthright from GoJo's Lukas Matsson.

But Ken is no stranger to a grim moment or theme. Season 3's "Chiantishire" ends with an intoxicated Kendall lying prone on a floating raft, his face seemingly submerged in the pool as Britell's chilling "Impromptu No. 1 for Strings" signals impending doom — leaving many viewers to presume the worst. The composer earned an Emmy nod for his work on the episode.

"L to the OG"

In season two's "Dundee," Kendall made the cringe-worthy decision to mark his father's 50th work anniversary by serenading the head of Waystar with his very own tribute song: "L to the OG."

After removing his suit coat to reveal a custom Logan Roy baseball jersey, the Notorious KEN thanked his boy Squiggle for "cookin' up the beat" then launched into his Logan-praising bars as his siblings, colleagues and associates watched in disbelief. Fans immediately fell in love with the song and rallied for HBO to release an official version — and they obliged. 

While Britell created the beat for the song — which was not a part of the original script — he lauds Strong's contributions and performance for taking it to the next level. 

"What was amazing was how Jeremy took this and made it his own. It's one thing to act, but it's another to pull off a true rap performance," he told Variety. "That's a whole other skill set. Jeremy wrote the melody that you hear when Kendall is singing that sung line, 'L to the OG,' it was him who came up with that part of it."

Connor's Karaoke Moment

When his ever-reluctant bride-to-be gets cold feet the day before their wedding, Connor convinces the Roy sibs to hit a karaoke joint after their work talk sours his impromptu bachelor party at a local bar. While there, Connor discovers that Willa has gone off-grid then reveals that he's invited their father to the bachelor bash so they can all clear the air — to the disdain of his plotting siblings.

Connor's vibe-killing rendition of Leonard Cohen's ultra-sad "Famous Blue Raincoat" — a song about a twisted love triangle —  gets interrupted by Logan's entrance. And the Roys' final family meeting with their patriarch commences, only to be cut short after Logan fails to seal the deal, and then hurls one last searing insult at his brood: "I love you, but you are not serious people." 

The Rise of Dark Kendall

In the penultimate episode of season four, Kendall finally completed his prophesied Anakin Skywalker-esque transition to the dark side in order to stake his claim to the recently vacated Waystar throne. As the church service concluded, Kendall — with the collar of his $9,000 cashmere overcoat flipped for maximum villainy — immediately resumed his quest to become the chosen Roy. 

"There's been a profound transformation from the way I walked into that church to the way I leave that church," Strong said on the second-to-last episode of the official "Succession" podcast. 

To mark the moment where Ken fully embraces his dark side, Britell crafted the CE-Bro his own villainous theme. The nefarious score was deployed after Ken sells one of his dad's Waystar allies, Hugo, on joining his team, as he schemes to tank the deal with Matsson — paving the way for his solo CEO era.

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15 Songs That Will Make You Dance And Cry At The Same Time, From "Hey Ya!" To "Dancing On My Own"
André 3000 of Outkast performs "Hey Ya" at the VH1 Big In '03 in 2003.

Photo: M. Caulfield/WireImage for VH-1 Channel - New York


15 Songs That Will Make You Dance And Cry At The Same Time, From "Hey Ya!" To "Dancing On My Own"

Whether it's "Tears of a Clown" or "Tears in the Club," take a listen to some of the most sneakily sad songs by Outkast, TLC, Avicii and more.

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2023 - 05:20 pm

In 2003, OutKast scored their second No. 1 hit with "Hey Ya!" The timeless track has an upbeat energy that makes you want to shake it like a polaroid picture — until you happen to catch its rather unhappy lyrics.

"Are we so in denial when we know we're not happy here?" André 3000 sings on the second verse. The line that follows may sum up its contrasting nature: "Y'all don't wanna hear me, you just wanna dance."

The ability to make listeners feel (and physically react) to a wide range of emotions is part of the genius of songwriting. Tunes like "Hey Ya!" — a sad narrative disguised by an infectious melody — is one trick that has been mastered by Outkast, R.E.M., Smokey Robinson, Robyn and many more. 

If you've ever happily boogied to a beat before realizing that the lyrics on top are actually a big bummer, you're certainly not alone. BBC and Apple Music both call such tracks Sad Bangers, a fitting name for what's become an unofficial genre over the past half-century. 

In light of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, compiled a list of 15 songs that will both get you in your feelings and get your body moving. 

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — "The Tears of a Clown" (1967)

The upbeat music on this Motown classic was written by Stevie Wonder, a 25-time GRAMMY winner who is deft at crafting tearjerkers that will tease your body into joyful dancing. The bassoon-bottomed song registers at 128 beats per minute, a tempo that's still favored by modern dance music producers. So when Smokey sings, "The tears of a clown/When there's no one around," you'd be forgiven for also welling up just a little bit while you're in the groove.

Gloria Gaynor — "Never Can Say Goodbye" (1975)

Gloria Gaynor reimagined the Jackson 5's 1971 pop hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" for the disco era. The sweeping string arrangements and trotting beat helped to fill dance floors, and to make the poignant song about holding onto a love of her own. Other cover versions by Isaac Hayes and the Communards also capture the contradictory vibe.

Tears For Fears — "Mad World" (1983)

British duo Tears For Fears became internationally known after outfitting their first danceable hit with a depressing and dramatic chorus that's hard to shake even 40 years after its release: "I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had." Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith would later release more uplifting fare, such as "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" and "Sowing the Seeds of Love."

Kate Bush — "Running Up That Hill" (1985)

Kate Bush has had three twirls through charts around the world with "Running Up That Hill," beginning with its 1985 release and then as an unlikely Summer Olympics closing ceremony song in 2012.

"And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God/And I'd get him to swap our places/Be running up that road/be running up that hill/With no problems," she sings in the chorus of the racing track, longing to be more worry-free.

More recently, a placement in the Netflix drama Stranger Things in 2022 earned the weepy, minor key-led dance number a whole new generation of fans. The English artist was recently named a 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

Midnight Oil — "Beds Are Burning" (1988)

Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett channeled the rage he felt from early climate change and the lack of Aboriginal land rights in the Australian Outback into "Beds Are Burning." The powerful dance tune flooded airwaves and dance floors around the world in the late '80s, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

"How can we dance when the Earth is turning?" he sings in the rousing chorus. "How do we sleep while the beds are burning?"

Garrett clearly had a personal connection to the song's yearning message: He later dedicated his life to environmental activism as the leader of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and became an elected Member of Australia's House of Representatives.

Crystal Waters — "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" (1991)

A house music hit about a woman without a home, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" helped New Jersey singer Crystal Waters achieve international success despite a somewhat somber subject. A subsequent parody on the sketch comedy series "In Living Color" drew attention to the contrast of having happy and upbeat instrumentation with dispiriting lyrics.

"She's just like you and me/But she's homeless, she's homeless," rings the chorus. "As she stands there singing for money/La da dee la dee da…"

R.E.M. — "Shiny Happy People" (1991)

This upbeat collaboration is between rock group R.E.M. and B-52's singer Kate Pierson.The jangly guitar pop makes you want to clap your hands and stomp your feet, but the lyrics make you question if everything is indeed quite so shiny and happy.

The song is rumored to be about the massacre in China's Tiananmen Square, because the phrase "Shiny Happy People" appeared on propaganda posters. Pierson isn't so sure about that, though.

"I can't imagine that R.E.M. was thinking at the time, Oh, we want this song to be about Chinese government propaganda," she said in a 2021 interview with Vulture. "It was supposed to be shiny and happy. It was a positive thing all-around."

TLC — "Waterfalls" (1994)

"Waterfalls" was a worldwide hit for TLC in 1994, thanks to its sing-along chorus and funky bassline. The song's insistent bounce softens a firm lyrical warning that pulls people back from the edge: "Don't go chasing waterfalls/Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to/I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all/But I think you're moving too fast."

"We wanted to make a song with a strong message — about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd," Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas shared with The Guardian in 2018. "The messages in 'Waterfalls' hit home. I think that's why it's our biggest hit to date."

Outkast — "Hey Ya!" (2003)

André 3000 sings about loveless relationships to a whimsical, time-shifting dance beat on this Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping smash. The seriousness of the song — which André 3000 once explained is about "the state of relationships in the 2000s" — got lost among many listeners.*

Its unhappy lyrics were masked by André's peppy singing, as well as the song's jangly guitar and keyboard-led groove, which infectiously doubles up in speed at the end of every four beats. Even Outkast themselves couldn't help acknowledging the song's juxtaposition in a 2021 tweet.

Robyn — "Dancing On My Own" (2010)

A penultimate example of a sad banger is "Dancing On My Own" by Swedish pop star Robyn. The rueful song — a top 10 hit in multiple countries — commands you to shake your stuff, while also picturing yourself watching your ex move on at the club. Calum Scott's 2016 cover really brings out the sadness that can be obscured by Robyn's uptempo version.

"Said, I'm in the corner, watching you kiss her, oh no/And I'm right over here, why can't you see me?" Robyn sings in the chorus. "And I'm giving it my all/ But I'm not the girl you're taking home."

Fun. — "Some Nights" (2012)

fun. (the trio of Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess) is best known for the zeitgeist-grabbing pop-rock power ballad "We Are Young," which is about the relentlessly positive enthusiasm of youth out on the town. The title track to their 2012 album Some Nights (which contains "We Are Young") is a much dancier, yet sadder song.

"What do I stand for?" Ruess asks as your feet shuffle along to the beat. "Most nights, I don't know anymore."

Avicii — "Wake Me Up" (2013)

Avicii collaborated with soulful pop singer Aloe Blacc for this worldwide chart-topper that is considered one of EDM's peak anthems. The slapping beat masks the track's sad, self-reflective lyrics about being lost.

The Swedish DJ/producer's 2018 death by suicide adds an even heavier air to Blacc's impassioned chorus: "So wake me up when it's all over/When I'm wiser and I'm older/All this time I was finding myself, and I/I didn't know I was lost."

Flume featuring Kai — "Never Be Like You" (2015)

"Never Be Like You" isn't the fastest cut in Australian DJ/producer Flume's bass-heavy discography, but the wispy track still has an irresistible bump to it. Canadian singer Kai begs her lover not to leave her ("How do I make you wanna stay?"), but her lovely tone still manages to keep the song hopeful.

FKA twigs featuring The Weekend — "Tears In The Club" (2022)

Perhaps the most overt selection of this entire list is "Tears In The Club," which finds FKA twigs and The Weeknd taking to the dancefloor to shake off the vestiges of a bad relationship. The singer/dancer has been candid about being in an abusive relationship, and the song is a lowkey bop that's buoyed by despairing chants such as, "I might die on the beat, love."

Everything But The Girl — "Nothing Left to Lose" (2023)

Nearly 30 years after DJ/producer Todd Terry helped introduce Everything But the Girl to the international dance music community with a remix of "Missing," the duo leaned into their electronic side on "Nothing Left to Lose." A single from their first album in 24 years, Fuse, "Nothing Left to Lose" features a squelching electronic bassline that contrasts the song's helpless yearning.

"I need a thicker skin/ This pain keeps getting in/ Tell me what to do/ 'Cause I've always listened to you," the pair's Tracy Thorne sings on the opening verse. Later, she makes a demand that fittingly sums up the conflicts of a quintessential sad banger: "Kiss me while the world decays."

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'Fast X' Composer Brian Tyler's Career Highlights: Creating a Legacy With The 'Fast' Films, Scoring 'Super Mario Bros,' Befriending Kobe & More
Brian Tyler

Photo: Aris Stoulil


'Fast X' Composer Brian Tyler's Career Highlights: Creating a Legacy With The 'Fast' Films, Scoring 'Super Mario Bros,' Befriending Kobe & More

The prolific conductor detailed some of the standout moments of his storied 26-year career, and revealed why the 'Fast X' score is his favorite of the whole franchise.

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2023 - 03:38 pm

Even after nearly 30 years in the entertainment business, Brian Tyler is still seeing his childhood dreams come true. He's scored reboots of Rambo, Rescue Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and Power Rangers, and worked with heroes like Steven Spielberg and Danny Elfman.

This year, the award-winning composer added the 2023 reimagining of Super Mario Brothers to his extensive list of dream gigs. Like many kids growing up in the '80s and '90s, Nintendo was a fixture in Tyler's life, so when "Mario" creator Shigeru Miyamoto reached out to him about scoring the reboot, the decision was a no-brainer. 

A longtime admirer of legendary composer John Williams, Tyler decided to craft new themes imbued with what he calls "built-in nostalgia" (á la Williams' E.T. score) while paying homage to the trailblazing game. His strategy worked — the bombastic score has earned praise from critics and fans alike.  

Six weeks after The Super Mario Bros. Movie was released, Tyler had another big-time score hit theaters: Fast X. He has helped craft and evolve the sound of the blockbuster Fast & Furious franchise since 2006, and while he counts all of his Fast work among his proudest achievements,  Fast X is his favorite to date. 

Whether he's working on a theme for Rita Repulsa, Luigi or Dom Toretto, one thing can be certain: Tyler is giving it his all. "The only thing that gives me any anxiety about writing music is that I don't wanna let down anybody that created this thing that I love. I want to be associated with it. I want the movie to be great." 

In the midst of preparing for his next endeavor — an immersive live concert experience — caught up with the composer to chat about some of the most epic moments of his career. 

Passing Out Programs To His Musical Heroes At The GRAMMYs

At 12, I was a drummer on The NAMM Show, and I remember talking to a producer, either Elton John's or Metallica's, and telling them, "I want to go to the GRAMMYs. It's my dream." And they were like, "Okay, you're not really hired. But you can come, you can wear a little suit and hand out [the programs]." 

So I was there and they put me where the artists come in. I was meeting legends, one after another — Joe Satriani, Metallica, A Tribe Called Quest, Chuck D, Q-Tip. It was crazy. I was so stoked because I was looking up at these artists, like, "Wow, that's the impossible dream." 

The funny thing is, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine — who I met at either NAMM or the GRAMMYs — now we're friends. Years later, we've reconnected and now, as Madsonik, I've recorded a song with him called "Divebomb."

Playing With Taylor Hawkins

I was in a band with Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters when I was 13, and he was a little older. We were both drummers. I introduced him to hip-hop and Depeche Mode, and he played me Rush for the first time, which changed my life. He was such a fan and, of course, he became friends with them. I met Neil [Peart] and all that. But Taylor was a friend, and we recorded together here at my last studio. We did songs together through the years. 

I remember we played in these battle of the bands [competitions], and one of the bands — right before they hit it big — was No Doubt. We were the younger guys, [and] we loved playing super-complicated things. You know, you're like 13 and you want to run before you can walk. We would just shred.

Befriending Kobe Bryant

I met him at a John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Kobe is my favorite all-time sports figure. I started scoring the same year Kobe joined the Lakers, so we have this thing, right? 

I've known John Williams for years and years. He helped me out early on and has always been supportive. And I'm backstage, and then I look over and it's Kobe Bryant! I'm like, "Oh. My. God." And I'm standing there, and he's kinda looking over at me and I go over, and he's like, "You are? Oh yeah, yeah, I know who you are!" 

Turns out, he's a huge film score guy. His daughter too. He rehabbed his Achilles to the Ironman 3 score, amongst other things. He loved Hans [Zimmer] and John Williams. 

We ended up becoming friends. We would go to lunch and dinners and talk about how he was the heir apparent to Jordan. And how we're standing on the shoulders of giants. He saw John Williams, who is my Michael Jordan. And when he saw me conduct, he noticed that I copy this same really idiosyncratic move that John Williams does when he's conducting. I didn't even realize that I did it! And Kobe is like, "That's just like me. I didn't realize I stuck my tongue out when I would be in iso," which is a Jordan thing. 

When he was coming back right after rehabbing his Achilles, Nike wanted to do an ad campaign about how he's weathered the storm and he's coming back. So Kobe's like, "Do you wanna write my theme?" So I did. This is my favorite basketball player, and we became friends, and I didn't wanna let him down.

Composing For "Yellowstone"

With ["Yellowstone" co-creator] Taylor Sheridan, whether we're working on "1883" or "Yellowstone" he sends me the script and I start writing just based on an impression. I don't write to scenes; I usually write themes and suites. 

In a sense, the music has a true actual history to it before they even film. As opposed to, I get the film, I look at it, then dive into some random theme in the middle — and it might only be 30 seconds, and you can't develop the whole theme. 

What I want is to be almost like a writer — good screenwriters do this — for even a minor character, they'll write a whole background for themselves, and they [share it] with the actors. I want all those themes and everything to almost feel like they exist outside of time and before the story happened. So I'm already making references and kind of variations on a theme at the beginning of the movie. It's not the exact way the theme ends up being developed later in the movie. It's almost like doing it ahead of time, telegraphing what it might become and then it can develop.

I always find it very important to establish those things at the very beginning. The cool thing about Taylor Sheridan, he takes those themes and plays them on set, like through the speakers while they're doing the scenes. And whenever I meet the actors, like Sam Elliott and everyone on the show, they know my music. Even the costume designer and the director of photography.

Our lives are marked by music. You get married, you have your first dance — and the music as you walk down the aisle — and you go to work out or take a run. So it's really cool that Taylor recognized that and will imbue the performances with this kind of musical soul that I was already giving it before they even shot anything. 

Reimagining "Super Mario"

When I was growing up, I played "Mario Kart" and "Donkey Kong Arcade." I had my N64. And when I was a little kid, I would get [Electronic] Gaming magazine. I remember I had cutouts of stuff, and I remember articles about Koji Kondo and Shigeru Miyamoto — the guy that invented Mario. And then, here I am, just cruising along working and it's like, "Hey Brian, we want to set up a Zoom call with Shigeru Miyamoto." And I was like, "What?!" We talked about Mario.

I told them I wanted to pay tribute at times to the original themes from the game, but do new things that could flow into the scale of what a movie is, as opposed to a game. I wanted to pay homage, but at the same time, I want to write new themes — like the music John Williams did for E.T. — that feel like what I call "built-in nostalgia," where it's new themes, but you feel like it is Mario already. They loved that idea. 

I wrote this 12-minute suite before I started the movie, and played it for them. By the end of it, they're like, "This is also Mario. And we want these themes to be the new Mario themes, along with making a nod to me — a love letter to my experience as a kid playing the game. Like it became real, you know?

There was no ego from Nintendo at all. And the fact that they came to me, way on the other side of the world. Koji Kondo, the guy that wrote all the original Mario themes, he's showing me his DVD collection on Zoom to prove that he's a fan. It was so cool.

Adding To The "Fast & The Furious" Legacy

At the very beginning, the movie's conceit was, "Hey, what's up? I'll race you for pink slips. Sick." So I did more hip-hop. Let's say 80 percent was licensed songs and 20 percent was score. Then all of a sudden Fast and Furious Five comes along, and it starts becoming a little more serious. It's about heists and family, and it's epic.

As each movie kept going, the balance started switching. The score started becoming more prominent. We're always kind of pushing forward the envelope of what you can do with the idea of orchestra with beats, and sound, and groove, and all those things that are sonic ear candy. But at that point — and now it's evolved even more with each movie — the big change is I started writing leitmotifs [themes] for a character. 

Before we knew it, the sound of Fast and the Furious was utterly its own. If you look at a chart of how I did the score, it most closely resembles something like a Star Wars or a Lord of the Rings, where you have all of these different themes. It's like an old-school John Williams' score but it sounds modern. 

Now we have [Jason] Momoa, the coolest villain ever. And the new theme for him, I'm so happy with it. Typically, with a villain in a movie, people go low dirge-y, just bad-guy music. And here's the thing — Momoa's character, since this is told from his perspective, you have empathy for him, and you understand his origins and sympathize with why he became who he was. So I didn't wanna write, like, a bad guy theme. 

It's elegant. It starts in the strings, violins and the harp, but it kind of has this sneaky, sensual vibe that's very attractive. You almost admire the way he cuts you down and talks to you. And he's one of those villains that you have to admit to yourself that you like. So the theme is really elegant and kind of sophisticated, but you know something is f—ed up with this guy, in a beautiful way.

I feel that Fast X is our Empire Strikes Back. It's dark. It's intense. It's really amazing. And you have an introduction of a character that kind of takes over. He can walk in a room and suck all the air out of it, you know? So the theme had to be up to par, and a central idea — which is usually not the case in these types of films that are usually kind of relegated to commercial summer blockbusters. 

For me, the bar of difficulty is in a different universe than anything else, because people have associations and judge books by their covers. For me, it's always been the most interesting, challenging, pushing forward. And this is my favorite score of the series.

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