How Twilight Ushered in a New Dawn For Movie Soundtracks

Ten years since its release, we look back on the soundtrack that brought indie acts like Bon Iver and St Vincent to the mainstream.

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Dec 4 2018, 3:00pm

“I was just messing around in London. I was doing music last year, I was going to give up acting and then—”

“Wow—”

“And then—you know—it gets to the end of the year and you’ve got no money, —"

“Oh my god. Yeah, I guess I'll do this audition.”

This is how the interview between Robert Pattinson and Paramore’s Hayley Williams for Myspace’s (RIP) Artist On Artist series began. Well, if two people talking awkwardly over each other while sat at an exceedingly shiny mirrored table can be called an interview.

It was November 2008 and Paramore had two songs on the soundtrack for the first Twilight film. Williams was a self-proclaimed fan of the books, claiming she connected immediately to the forbidden romance between an anemic teenage girl, and a vampire trapped in the body of a 17-year-old boy with a worrying dependence on hair wax. In fact, Williams was so enamored by the story that when she heard the films were in production she began phoning around, desperate to be part of the soundtrack. Her quest was successful, and Paramore composed two new songs for the film: “Decode”, with its big fat nod-and-a-wink lyrics (“But you think that I can't see / What kind of man that you are / If you're a man at all”) and the highly catchy “I Caught Myself”.

Thing is, the movies are awful. Even Pattinson thinks they’re awful. He’s said it on the film commentary, while doing press, and when asked what he would take away from the Twilight set after filming wrapped he replied, “my dignity.” Perhaps this open disregard for the adaptations enabled Rob and co-star Kristen Stewart to escape the curse of being eternally associated with Edward and Bella. But it might also have something to do with the soundtracks, which were huge commercial and critical successes. Nominated for Grammys, the first went double platinum, the second platinum, and the third gold, and they always shuffled into the top five of the Billboard Charts, with favourable reviews. Unlike the films, which are pulpy trash, the soundtracks are credible. And this was all thanks to one woman: music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas.

The key to Patsavas’ success was curating the soundtracks to feel like intimate mixtapes shared between lovers in the first flush of romance. Listening to them now I’m reminded of how I felt about the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, which I played compulsively as a teenager, dreaming that one day I too would experience a love so pure, so world shattering, so Hawaiian-shirted. And the obsessive nature of Twilight fans meant they lapped all this up, especially since one of the songs had been pre-approved by Bella—Iron & Wine’s "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" was specifically chosen by Kristen Stewart for the prom scene—and another of the tunes is an original song written and performed by Edward – I mean Robert Pattinson. (Maybe that’s what he was working on in London before he ran out of money and had to sell his soul to the franchise?)

Really, Patsavas was selling music to a group of people who were desperate to buy anything Twilight-related. (And I mean anythiung. Edward Cullen lifesize wall decal anyone? Sparkly Cullen dildo? Also someone made a felt version of Bella’s womb, which you can’t buy but I want you all to look at it because I had to.) Faced with a market this bloodthirsty, Patsavas could have filled the soundtrack with any old dross and had phenomenal success, but thankfully she wanted to give her audience authenticity. So she employed a simple yet very smart tactic – she made sure all the songs were either by hip, up-and-coming bands, or brand new tracks from established acts.

But in an industry where artists need to be extremely careful who, or what, they associate with, how did Patsavas woo indie darlings like St Vincent and Bon Iver to be a part of a world where a 100-year-old vampire impregnates an 18-year-old with his super sperm? Two ways. The first was, of course, money (industry insiders inform me that the payout was between $30k and $100k per song, plus hefty royalties). The second was what The Boston Herald's Jed Gottlieb coined the “Twilight Bump”—thanks to the Twihard fandom, artists featured on the soundtrack would experience a huge increase in album and ticket sales.

Muse are a good example of a band who have no doubt profited from said bump, contributing songs to three Twilight films—and simultaneously whining that the experience was akin to selling their souls. Muse, who said that the films weren’t “their cup of tea,” then grudgingly admitted that things are going great for them in the US off the back of Twilight, selling out 20,000-capacity venues.

It’s probably also that the artists were enticed by the calibre of the other bands involved—I mean, if Sia’s doing it… That seems to be St. Vincent’s rationale in this Pitchfork interview from 2009 where she discusses her appearance on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack: “It's awesome to be included on anything that has Thom Yorke on it and Grizzly Bear.” Maybe they could also tell themselves that it was a generous bit of public service? “We were basically all suburban tweenagers at a point. I know for damn sure I was. I think if I had this soundtrack, if my 13-year-old self could've been exposed to Grizzly Bear, I probably would've been a little further along and probably better off”. I have to admit, I’m happy to live in a world where millions of teenage girls were exposed to the haunting brilliance of “Roslyn” thanks to a vampire movie.

In 2010, London based band Fanfarlo had their song “Atlas,” with its gorgeous layered vocals, hand claps and mandolin strums, used in a scene in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse where Edward drops off Bella to hang out with her ride-or-die Jacob. (FYI Jacob is a werewolf with a strong aversion to wearing fabric of any kind on his chest). Lead singer, Simon Balthazar, told me he’d not seen the film, “My dad however did go see it in Sweden, in the cinema, surrounded by 15-year-olds. Turns out the song only makes a token appearance that's barely noticeable so he called me afterwards and was confused about whether he'd seen the right film.” Simon isn’t aware of how much revenue the appearance of “Atlas” on the soundtrack brought in, but he did get his own piece of Twilight memorabilia that rivals even Bella’s felt womb, “I got a gold disc! It looks hideous, with faces of the film characters on it." Imagine how much that would go for on eBay.

In this post-Twilight world film soundtracks continue to boom—A Star Is Born, The Greatest Showman, and Bohemian Rhapsody are all currently nestled comfortably in the top 10 of the UK album chart. These are films that are (allegedly) about music, so that makes sense, but the trend stretches into all genres. Black Panther’s soundtrack was a roaring success and it didn’t matter that you didn't hear most of the songs in the movie, especially when a lot of them featured Kendrick Lamar. In fact it was the most successful soundtrack since Suicide Squad. You know, that nightmare of a film you barely remember. All of this proves that the future of soundtracks, and possibly even music, lies in re-creating the magic Alexandra Patsavas weaved on Twilight, which is to make them an enhancement and expansion of the world, the characters and the stories of the movie in question. And to convince Thom Yorke that he definitely wants to sing about a vampire baby.

You can find Elizabeth on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.