Mainstream pop music nostalgia neatly packaged in romcom form? Why not?
SONIC REDUCER Why did the farmer become a punk rocker?
He got tired of haulin' oats.
So goes the nyuck-fest a Facebook friend unleashed when I typed that the Joseph Gordon-Levitt dance scene to Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams" was on my mind. Why? It was only the best thing about (500) Days of Summer. That, and I'm a sucker for those color-coordinated, big-screen numbers right out of a Vincent Minnelli musical the kind that can inject a "oui, whee!" Parisian flair even to downtown Los Angeles (an achievement, since I've been thoroughly brainwashed by friends and coworkers to believe pre-Smell L.A. is a scary, cracked-out, body-strewn crime scene that all the trucked-in glam of NAMM and the Grammys cannot defeat).
Oh the music-dependent (500) Days has newer songs on its soundtrack. In fact, a major plot point hinges on the Gordon-Levitt character's love of the Smiths and one wouldn't be too off-base to read the movie as a lengthy promo video of sorts for the charms of She and Him chanteuse Zooey Deschanel (her "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" closes the soundtrack with a nod back to Manchester's primo mopers and unfortunately begs comparisons between her vocals and Morrissey's). But though the Smiths run through the blood and bones of (500) Days an inspired yet derivative love letter to fresh-faced kids and filmmakers everywhere, be they based in Amerindie cinema or la nouvelle vague Hall and Oates were the real take-away for me.
Full disclosure: I loathed Hall and Oates at one time. The ubiquity and Reagan-era optimism of the duo during the '80s made me recoil into an Anglophile's punky hole. I closed my mind to H&O's punchy, perfect pop charms. The way the forward-thrusting bounce of the keys, rhythm section, and Daryl Hall's well-excited, extremely well-executed vocal performance, complete with Jacko-derived "ooh's," work together in tandem to encapsulate first-love euphoria and drove 1980's "You Make My Dreams" to the top of the charts. Still, moments like the (500) Days dance scene can open one's numbed eyes and ears to the genius of H&O a testament to a momentary, only-in-dreams marriage, or ménage à trios, of sound and image and story.
Seeing that the (500) Days compilation is currently the highest charting indie-ish disc on the Billboard soundtrack chart perched at No. 6, below two Hannah Montana offerings, Twilight, and the Transformers sequel score, I'm inspired to think about the latest top five singles on Billboard's Hot 100 as would-be "You Make My Dreams," redeemable when attached to the right boy-meets-girl narrative. Could these tunes (and accompanying videos) be the ideal stuff of arty rom-com soundtracks?
Black-Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling": Functional but forgettable and designed for a very specific use, namely girding one's well-oiled, mall-rat loins for a night out, as detailed in the video. I have to wonder, who likes the pressure these kinds of images put on you to go out and have a good time? Also I seriously doubt the throwaway hook is going to lodge itself in my cerebral cortex anytime soon.
Drake's "Best I Ever Had": High-school nostalgia with lots of bodacious, jiggly, split-happy peeks in the girls' locker room. Much as the song is all about the regret and longing the great lay that got away can trigger, the video is about ogling and braggadocio clad in the scanty uniform of, uh, women's-sports empowerment: "My shirt ain't got no stripes, but I can make your pussy whistle." Take that, Title Nine haters! Absurdly humorous, but where's the rom part of the rom-com equation?
Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me": Cinderella meets American Beauty (1999) leached of all the sinister aspects of voyeurism and loaded with an inevitable happy ending. Can you believe the country music sweetheart would ever pass as an ugly duckling? The banjo-embellished up-tempo number could work as the backing track for a down-home swimming hole scene or all-American road trip rom-com montage.
Keri Hilson's "Knock You Down" featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo: Feh. Knockable, ephemeral pop with a tossed-off Reebok rhyme by West, who, in the video, looks like he's gearing up for a backup career as an actor. Overall I prefer "Turnin' Me On," though Hilson's disco-ball booties here are covetable.
Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody": Will I ever be able to stop cringing after a song title like "Sex on Fire"? This tune was obviously crafted for strategic placement in the why-did-I-lose-her/him scene in our imaginary chick flick. So why do I feel so ... used the moment the number ends? Could it be the gratuitous, freeze-frame-able backstage butt shot? These guys could do better and so could your next Katherine Heigl vehicle.