COLUMN: 'Twilight' never sounded so good

Sunday, July 11, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 13, 2010

For the past week, I have been on a camping-only road trip across Quebec, and even without the use of Internet or phone service, there are four things I was completely unable to avoid. The first three, regrettably, were mosquitoes, sunburns and the shamefully awkward misuse of my high school French. The fourth — and most bewildering — is “Twilight.”

I guess two of the four being bloodsuckers is not too bad.


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For the last seven days, my best friend and I have woken up, stretched whatever muscles our spiteful little tent reminded us we had, climbed into our muddy rental car and driven past an uncanny amount of posters reminding us en francais (with giant pale faces as proof) that the third film in the trilogy is out. But I already know. I saw it opening day, and though I should be more ashamed — probably even humiliated — to admit that, I am not. What I don't know, however, is what the fanged phenomenon means for society when even rural French Canada is obsessed. Probably nothing good. Or at least nothing nearly as good as the soundtracks.

My original intent, in light of the aforementioned movie release, was for this column to be about the “Twilight” movies, until I realized there is something a lot more culturally relevant: their soundtracks. You could easily argue that not since John Hughes movies, or at the very (very) least, the heyday of “Grey’s Anatomy,” has a soundtrack taken such a savvy bite out of popular culture. Or spawned as many musical vampire puns. In an age where CDs are moving very slowly, if at all, the fact that one of the bestselling titles belongs to a soundtrack is something to be celebrated, no matter whether you’re on Team Edward, Team Jacob or Team I’d Rather Die. It will take a village to breathe new life into music sales, and it appears that Stephenie Meyer is that village’s mayor.

Is this a bad thing? I’ve made my opinion pretty clear, but there are two sides to every cheesy supernatural drama, and that also applies to the music behind them. Those who side with evil might suggest that the reason the soundtracks are so popular — the bestselling movie soundtracks since that of “Chicago,” in fact — is because they are tied to the singularly undefeatable series that spawned them. Were they not part of the vampire/human/werewolf love triangle, they would not appeal to any of the three. Those people might even argue that tying indie music to a tween-wooing, consumerist machine removes the significance from these songs.

But those people are wrong. Even against that argument, the “Twilight” soundtracks would always side with good because any music created by a member of Radiohead or affiliated with that music could never be evil. Let’s be real here: It could never even be just OK. There is a polarizing moment amid the hypnotizing onscreen cheese of  “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” when bad girl vampire Victoria is stalking her human prey to the sound of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s ghostly croons that, in that single moment, redeems the entire experience. But more than anything, it makes you want to buy the soundtrack.

From the second movie on, the soundtracks feature entirely original music composed specifically for the book-to-film sensation. And so far, none of those songs have been bad. Along with Yorke, indie darlings such as Grizzly Bear and St. Vincent have joined ranks with more established names such as Death Cab For Cutie and Muse to create credibility in an environment where it had been replaced with heavy petting and even heavier sighing. The past two soundtracks have been greeted with generally complimentary press from the music media, and the fact that the songs are original cannot be understated.  Thom Yorke knew he was writing a song for “Twilight,” and Thom Yorke wrote a song for “Twilight.” This, among other reasons, even earned the “New Moon” soundtrack a solid “tolerable” rating of 5.4 from Pitchfork. That might sound like a bad thing, but it helps to remember that that is higher than or equal to the ratings the indie mecca gave the last five Weezer albums.

The most important thing to understand here, though, is that people wrote about it. By capturing the essence of all that is right with and wrong with and incomprehensibly popular with society in this exact moment, the “Twilight” soundtracks have come out on the side of modernism and cultural advancement on a path that it will likely be hard for the larger fad to follow. If you can’t beat the machine, at least make it sound better. In 20 years, there’s a chance I might be embarrassed to tell my friends that I attended and giggled at the opening nights of the “Twilight” movies, but I will certainly not be afraid to nostalgically reminisce about how good the soundtracks were. “Do you remember that Thom Yorke song?” I might ask. “That was great. What movie was that from?”

In general, I consider myself to be a minor music snob. I work as a clerk at a local record store, and when people ask me if we have an album by Jefferson Starship or if we carry Lil Wayne’s rock album, I might or might not think less of them. But there is a time for rereading Ayn Rand and expounding on “The Wire,” and there is a time for “Twilight.” And that time is now. If there’s an even larger point at hand, it’s that you shouldn’t be embarrassed of anything that you truly enjoy — unless that thing involves killing someone and wearing their face as your own. But you should be even less embarrassed if that thing is one of the “Twilight” soundtracks because, well, they rock. And right about now, that's rare.

Kelsey Whipple is the deputy editor of Vox magazine and a staunch supporter of Team Edward. But mostly she's just on team Thom (Yorke).

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