There’s nothing like a good soundtrack. Seriously. I love cinematography and the other aspects of visual art as much as the next guy. But there’s something about when the music in a show or movie syncs up perfectly with the mood of the scene. To me, the soundtrack is integral to the structure of a movie or TV show. It helps the movie or show come together, bringing in different emotional elements that would be missing without it.
A good soundtrack can be memorable and set a great show or movie apart from the rest of the pack. It should correlate with the emotions of the characters. A top-tier soundtrack should also be representative of the scenery and the background of the scene as well. The most important aspect is that the actual songs must be fire. If the songs aren’t good, then it doesn’t matter. In this article, I will delve into the best soundtracks for movies and TV in recent history and what makes them great. I didn’t break-up this article between television and cinema because it is way easier, so here is a holistic list from both mediums.
Donald Glover’s pièce de résistance has many positive aspects, but the soundtrack stands out among the crowd. Whoever is in charge of music direction on the show is someone that I want to be friends with, because their music taste is impeccable. From George Benson to Young Thug, every song used in the show is absolutely perfect. The show uses about 4-6 songs an episode, and each is employed to match the mood of the scene. For example, in the Teddy Perkins episode of season 2, after Lakeith Stanfield’s character Darius witnesses a particularly grisly murder-suicide, the entire scene plays in slow motion to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “Evil,” one of the most emotional, heart wrenching songs he has ever made.
Another fantastic aspect of the soundtrack is that it acts as a supporting character to the city of Atlanta itself. The album is strife with classic Atlanta jams like crunk anthem “Knuck if you Buck.” It also utilizes many Atlanta artists as well, with a number of songs from Migos, OJ da Juiceman, Future, and 2Chainz making appearances throughout the season. The sprawling soundtrack manifests itself as a character in the show and as a backdrop to interactions between characters. It is one of the best soundtracks to ever bless television and should be recognized as such. I’m excited to see how Donald Glover will continue to utilize music in the next season.
Issa Rae’s hit HBO show is the modern ode to awkwardness, as it also delves into issues of race in the midst of the modern black experience. With that being said, the show utilizes a wide range of new and established artists for its soundtrack. The show is culturally relevant right now, and it does its due diligence to remain in the forefront in terms of music. Season 2 utilizes an original song made specifically for the show by Jazmine Sullivan and Bryson Tiller that hones in on the difficulties and nuances of the modern relationship. It represents the conflict between characters Issa and Lawrence at the end of Season 1. It also does well to capture the vibe of southern Los Angeles, calling on breezy songs from Buddy, Goldlink, SZA, and Kari Faux.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show’s soundtrack is that it is rife with original raps from the show’s creator and lead actress, Issa Rae. She shows off her rapping chops on tracks like “Broken Pussy,” “Go Low,” and “Ho For It.” Her spoken-word performances deliver a fun, personal perspective from her character. With the strong soundtrack, Insecure easily creates a connection with the modern listener. The mood created from the soundtrack allows the creators to easily set the mood for modern black masterpiece.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vols. 1 and 2
There’s something special about creating a feeling of nostalgia without it being gimmicky. It is key to find a delicate balance between the two when a misstep could turn off an audience. That is exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy accomplished with the soundtracks for both of its movies. The campy, colorful, lighthearted Marvel franchise does a perfect job of establishing itself as a foil to other superhero movies. One way that it does this is with man-baby Peter Quill, aka Starlord’s, “Awesome Mix.” Both volumes of the mixtape is full of songs from the 70s and 80s, including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Flashlight” by Parliament. Starlord uses the music as an anchor to his Earth life, connecting him to his mother, and giving him a unique style and vibe in the depths of space. The music gives the movie a classic, 70s feeling that was unlike anything we had seen from a superhero movie.
The Netflix show has perfectly encapsulated what it was like to live in the 70s, save for the rampant alien monster that existed in the little Indiana town. With all the historical accurate artifacts that exist in Stranger Things, the best aspect of the 70s timepiece is the soundtrack. What’s great about it is that it is totally lacking in any type of lyrics. The soundtrack is completely made up of synthesizer beats and dark, sinister rhythms that set up foreboding tone that came with the Demagorgon attacks. The type of beat used throughout the soundtrack is also appropriate because that was when the synthesizer began to get popular. The soundtrack aptly takes you through a rollercoaster of a series, switching from foreboding and sinister to light and positive in a heartbeat.