Never talk to me or my son (the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Soundtrack by Howard Shore) ever again.
When I was growing up, my parents never acquiesced to playing children’s music in the car. I mean, my brother and I got to choose from time to time what played, but it was rarely Kidz Bop. If my mom was driving, I would ask her to play a very specific album by Enya. I couldn’t tell you which. But there was one song on the album that I called the “Sunflower Dress Song.” Again, no idea what song I was talking about. My mom also had more than a few Celine Dion albums.
If my dad was driving, we’d typically ask him to put on some sort of soundtrack compilation. I remember we had one that was basically the hits of John Williams and the album started with the THX theme (you know, the one that blows your ears off without remorse?) One of my first CD purchases EVER was the soundtrack to Pixar’s Incredibles soundtrack by then-budding composer Michael Giacchino. (By the way, that soundtrack? Still slaps.)
All of that to say, movie soundtracks have been close to my heart from day one, and I have my parents to thank for that. The number of times I’ve made them listen to The Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia or the entire 2007 Robin Hood soundtrack in the car is probably without measure. This one’s for you, Mom and Dad. And for that one girl in 7th grade who said the music I listened to was boring. Well guess what, McKenleigh*? YOU’RE boring.
*Not her real name. Please, no one ever name their baby this.
Who’s Olivia Rodrigo? My 2021 Spotify Wrapped
“Good for you,” you say as you look at my 2021 Spotify Wrapped. “Your playlist looks happy and healthy—wait, you listened to ‘The Last of the Starks’ HOW many times? Like a damn sociopath.”
The 2021 Spotify Wrapped recently hit every subscriber’s account, and there was much rejoicing. And a lot of memes. And questionable graphic design. But it gives us something to talk about for the last month of the year.
(Are you guys okay? I’m going to assume no, because most of y’all listened to only Taylor’s version of things this year.)
Don’t worry, though. Because I’M NOT OKAY EITHER, but in a different way. In a “I-listen-to-Ramin-Djawadi-on-repeat-just-to-feel-something” kind of way. On my Spotify Wrapped playlist, you will find no fewer than 26 tracks from film and TV soundtracks (and one video game soundtrack, for funsies.) (You’ll also find an incredibly devastating cover of Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” by Penny & Sparrow. That track spills TEA.) That’s right—more than 25% of my top listening this year was soundtracks. Guess how many topped my list in 2020?
That’s right, my devotion to listening to soundtracks more than doubled—in fact, more than TRIPLED—in 2021. I wish I could tell you why, other than I simply had the urge. Soundtrack was my #1 most-played genre this year.
Last year, Howard Shore was my most-played artist. This year, it’s Ramin Djawadi. Some things never change. If you follow me on Twitter (I’m so sorry, by the way) you know how much I love yelling about movie soundtracks in general.
I consider Hans Zimmer, Ramin Djawadi and Bear McCreary to be the holy trinity of 21st Century composers. The work they do defines the genre and they understand the assignment every. Single. Time.
And this year honestly proved it for me. In January, I finished season 8 of Game of Thrones (yes, I have thoughts, but no, they’re not important) and dove headlong into the soundtrack because it’s just. So. Good. I also watched all of Outlander this year and became mildly obsessed, which inspired my love for composer Bear McCreary. And THEN someone shared the God of War soundtrack with me, which turned my world upside down.
In a nutshell, I was introduced to a lot of great scores this year and revisited a lot of old favorites, and guess what? I will now share that wisdom unto you. Here are some of my favorites that I binged this year:
Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious, from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by John Williams
Aside from the fact that Spotify’s progress bar turns into a lightsaber when you play Star Wars music, this particular theme gets me every time. That 6/8 time signature is just pompous enough to suggest how General Grievous feels about himself and his multiple-lightsaber-GENERAL-KENOBI skills, but those punchy choral notes tell you he means business. (Side note: I also love when his beat drops in the Episode III opener.)
Lullaby of the Giants, from God of War by Bear McCreary
I know next to nothing about the God of War video games. I know there’s a god, and he’s at war. Probably. What I do know is that the most recent installment has a bangin’ score. Bear McCreary definitely has flavors he likes to use in his music that gives him a “signature” sound, but everything he does is so unique to what he’s writing for. “Lullaby of the Giants” is a simple, beautiful melody, first sung plainchant-like by an all-male chorus and then sweetly sung by a female chorus. I have no idea what it means in the context of the game. I just think it’s pretty.
We Could Form An Attachment, from Bridgerton by Kris Bowers
I didn’t love Bridgerton, but I didn’t hate it either. Will I watch season 2? Absolutely. My draw to the series was mostly the score by American composer Kris Bowers. Aside from the instrumental versions of pop songs like “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift, Bowers adds beautiful and sometimes whimsical backdrops to the already visually beautiful screen. “We Could Form An Attachment” plays at the emotional climax of the very first episode, making the entire scene even prettier with breathless strings. Another favorite of mine from the soundtrack is “Feeling Exceptional,” which plays on the whimsy I talked about earlier.
Stay A Thousand Years, from Game of Thrones Season 8 by Ramin Djawadi
Hole up, I gotta go cry a second. I love this piece of music, which was never featured in the actual series. I heard it by accident on a YouTube compilation and went on a mad dash to find it. “Stay A Thousand Years” alludes to Jon Snow’s line in season 8 of wanting to hide away with Daenerys in this secret wintry hiding place they found while riding her dragons. The choral version is sung in what I’m assuming is Valyrian, using a familiar theme that Djawadi used as a sort of love theme for Jon and Khaleesi. When it’s sung a cappella, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Essentially, this was Audrey’s (Taylor’s Version.)
Theme from Black Sails by Bear McCreary
Remember when I said Bear McCreary understands the assignment every time? Well, I’m still right. This theme gets down, pirate-style. The show wasn’t super stand-out for me, but I never skipped the title sequence. First of all, it’s a visually ~cool~ title sequence, but also the theme music is out of this world. McCreary used one of my favorite instruments (a hurdy-gurdy) and some guttural male voices to create an anthemic, march-like theme that tells you this isn’t your grandmother’s Treasure Island.
The Kraken, from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest by Hans Zimmer
I SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST. My opinion is that Dead Man’s Chest has the best music out of the three Pirates movies. (Yes, I know there are five Pirates movies, but let’s all collectively forget that they made two more.) Davy Jones’ haunting theme really takes the cake, but The Kraken’s theme is in a league of its own. Hans Zimmer *sampled* Bach’s Toccata in D Minor for this theme, and it works perfectly. And it’s impossible NOT to groove to.
What soundtrack music did you vibe to this year? Please tell me, because I want to bump my numbers up for 2022. Check out the other frankly embarrassing tracks on my 2021 Unwrapped playlist!
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