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Who Let The Great Gatsby Soundtrack Happen?

Do Fergie, Nero and Jay-Z really encapsulate the sound of the Roaring Twenties?
Ryan Bassil
London, GB

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was released in the US last week, netting a cool $51.1 million, making it the second highest earning film of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career and also, hopefully, enough money to ensure that Baz Luhrmann disappears back to a rose budded boudoir for a couple of years, unable to tamper with other pieces of work.

The film is going to be released in the UK this week and I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a smash hit. Why? Because, alongside teen-star-cum-menopause dreamboat DiCaprio, the film features passive aggressive little spoon Toby Maguire, up-and-coming British bombshell Carey Mulligan and it’s shot in 3D, which is always a big draw for people who have more money than sense.


In case you didn’t study A-Level English, The Great Gatsby follows the story of millionaire Jay Gatsby and his neighbour, Nick Carraway, who recounts his tumultuous encounter with Gatsby at the height of the Roaring Twenties. It’s set in a prohibition-era metropolis, at a time when jazz music wasn’t just something to soundtrack cheap dates at Pizza Express, but a cultural movement that played a pivotal foundation within the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Penguin Classic. Which is why, upon learning that the official soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s weekend watch featured the gurning EDM of Nero and the Pret A Manger dullness of Gotye, I felt really confused.

The record, which is executively produced by Jay-Z, was reportedly worked on for two years as the pair “[translated] the Jazz Age sensibility of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novel into the music equivalent of our times, through the blending of hip-hop, traditional jazz and other contemporary musical textures”. It’s a fair enough statement and would have worked if they’d coupled the crooning sensibilities of Frank Ocean with jazz. Or the languorous hip-hop Jay Electronica with lounge music. Both modern musicians who could easily be translated to upper-class sonance. But when you consider that the soundtrack features geometrically coiffured song-stealer extraordinaire and his Black Eyed Peas cohort Fergie, the aesthetic thematics of The Great Gatsby have been ruined before you've even had the chance to watch Leonardo DiCaprio throw his head into a sink just to think straight.


If you’re directing a blockbuster, then a soundtrack is a pretty big deal. They’re the reason that I want to spend my pending mid-life crisis bunning a zoobie with Kevin Spacey while we cruise to our drive-thru jobs listening to “All Right Now”, bike-riding through the hills by a golf course blaring Echo and The Bunnymen, or plunging into a pool of iridescent Thai island mirages while “Pure Shores” plays through my mind. In fact, I’d almost be completely happy having a psychotic meltdown, if only the Pixies could play while the world burns around me.

All of the above soundtracks work, because the era that the films in question (American Beauty, Donnie Darko, The Beach and Fight Club) are set, aren’t essential to the plot. But, drinking bourbon with Gatsby while listening to Jay-Z sounds like audio blasphemy – and not just because Gatsby wouldn’t allow black people in the building – but because it’s the equivalent of soundtracking a re-make of The Great Escape with nuclear-bomb-dropping-dubstep, just because America finally figured out what EDM means and how to make money off it.

Remember when the trailer for the film was released? I do. I’d sat salivating for months and months, wistfully staring at the DiCaprio screensaver on my phone, waiting to be transported to a lavish world that I’d only imagined in my head.

Instead, I was greeted by a track from Kanye West and Jay-Z’s self-important Watch The Throne, a record that couldn’t be further removed from West Egg than a pauper trying to gain access to a Gatsby soiree. It makes slight sense to include Jay-Z on the soundtrack, not only because he produced it, but because he’s “come from the bottom the bottom, to the top of the pops” like a modern, mentally stable, Gatsby. But, unfortunately, his “$100 Bill” feature track veers not on the jazz sensibilities of Fitzgerald’s novel, but, rather, a disappointing lambast that sounds like it’s been phoned-in from his Brooklyn Nets minority share. If the verses sound like Jay couldn’t be bothered to finish them, then the final product sounds like he couldn’t be bothered to listen, instead sitting in his Range Rover, rubbing Beyonce’s butt with bills bills bills and laughing.


It’s not just the Jay-Z track that falls flat, though. Beyonce and Andre 3000 struggle through “Back To Black” begging the question, why not use Amy’s original? Surely, with all it’s grandiose, yet despairing jazz charm, Winehouse’s version would be more fitting with the upper echelon’s of bourgeoisie socialite parties than your sister’s favourite pop diva stretching her vocal chords over a backing track that sounds like it’s being played through Vauxhall Nova speakers.

The answer, though, is money. No one has talked about this record in terms of an appreciation for art, in the way that they talked about the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? or they way they should have talked about OutKast’s Idlewild. The names of the artists have been pushed to the forefront, Luhrmann and Jay both in the knowledge that a record featuring Lana Del Rey, Emeli Sande and Jack White will make more money than a genuine, thought-out creative jazz soundtrack. If they were trying to put the persona of Jay Gatsby into the record, then they’ve succeeded, leaving behind a £160 vinyl, devoid of personality, but packed full of money. In terms of capturing the spirit and earnestness of Gatsby’s West Egg mansion parties, though, Luhrmann has failed. Instead, we’re left with a fully loaded record that has more in common with a multi-million dollar campaign for a Twilight film, or an advert for high definition headphones, than a period drama set in the 1920s.


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