How the Lighting Keeps the Movie Soundtrack Tradition Fresh

In the field of cinema, nothing is more captivating than a film accompanied by a good soundtrack. Not the album for a film’s score, but the quintessential soundtrack for a film; music organized for a film, composed of new and/or old pieces. The film itself may be absolute trash, but even then a silver lining may take the form of a stacked album (i.e., space jam, batman forever, suicide squad). In the late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed like almost every major studio blockbuster had a soundtrack to coincide with their release. The company was so oblivious to this that we had some of the weirdest collaborations, like “Come With Me” by P. Diddy and Jimmy Page for Godzilla (1998).

Today, the chances of a studio movie getting a full soundtrack are pretty slim, especially if it’s not a Disney movie, a musical adaptation of a Broadway play, or a movie. a film adaptation of a YA novel. Although movie soundtracks are rare, Illumination is one of the few movie studios to carry on the tradition. The Chris Meledandri-led animation studio, best known for creating these must-have Minions, has had consistent hits since Pharrell’s contribution to the first Despicable Me installment in 2010. With Minions: The Rise of Gru Catching the likes of fashionable music producer Jack Antonoff of Bleachers fame as music supervisor for the ’70s prequel, it’s clear the music has become a central part of the studio’s identity.

When Meledandri founded Illumination and their inaugural feature film Despicable Me was put into production in 2008, he hired NERD’s Pharrell Williams to write original tunes and help compose the score alongside film composers Hans Zimmer and Heitor Pereira. In a 2010 press release, Meledandri said, “Pharrell is one of the most important contemporary songwriters, Hans is one of the greatest film composers, and Heitor is the next generation of Hans proteges. It’s an amazing team of talent. With each note they write, our film is enriched. It was the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer’s first venture into composing for film, and it elevated the quality of the film.


In an interview with CNN, Pharrell said, “In film, the music assists the illustration of the story. What I’ve discovered is that there’s a serious art to mastering storytelling. His non-diegetic and upbeat dance-pop-meets-hip-hop songs, from the upbeat “Fun, Fun, Fun” to the laid-back titular theme, enhanced the mood of the film, making each song stand out. Accompanied by a soundtrack he produced with Zimmer and featuring a variety of musicians from Robin Thicke to Lupe Fiasco, Pharrell’s Despicable Me the soundtrack was the start of a great relationship for the studio. Even after Despicable Meit launched Pharrell’s career in film, leading him to make albums for several films, from Spongebob: Sponge out of water with NERD for hidden numbersanother collaboration with Zimmer (and Benjamin Wallfisch).

The commercial success of Despicable Me and the accompanying soundtrack was so effective that Meledandri began using this model for the majority of Illumination projects. With each feature he has nabbed some of the most talented and experienced music producers of our time, such as Harvey Mason Jr. (Sing 1 & 2, The secret life of pets 2) and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart (The Lorax) — who recently produced Beyoncé’s song of the summer, “Break My Soul” — to contribute to their movies. It’s amazing to know that the producer of several Mariah Carey, Beyonce and Rihanna songs contributed to The Lorax, of all the movies. And I’m still thinking about how Tyler, The Creator was asked to produce Illumination’s the grinch soundtrack, which implemented its distinct horn-filled hip-hop style throughout.


The variety of artists and producers who direct these soundtracks go the extra mile, challenging themselves to explore which genre best suits the film they’re working on. Universal Pictures President of Music Mike Knobloch, who has overseen music supervision for several Illumination projects, recently said Billboard“We have worked with Illumination for [its] started a dozen years ago creating a unique musical identity for their films, which is a bit left of center.

Due to the close relationship Pharrell and Meledandri shared while working on the first Despicable Meit has become a tradition for Pharrell to write new music for each main line Despicable Me follow. Given that every entry so far has been released just in time for summer, Pharrell’s poppy music encapsulates the liberating, bouncy, and upbeat nature of the season. Tunes like “Happy” (Despicable Me 2) and “There is something special” (Despicable Me 3) illustrate joy in a carefree and moving way. The fast rhythms of many of Pharrell’s tracks, along with his falsetto voice, trigger a pleasant sense of excitement, which is much the same emotions children feel when they’re out of school and playing. ‘a new Despicable Me movie awaits them – and their parents’ wallets – at the theater. The same goes for the The secret life of pets films, which had similar release windows, and nabbed Antonoff and LunchMoney Lewis to deliver contemporary covers of Paul Simon’s “Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard” and Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day,” respectively, for the soundtracks .

The music of Despicable Me 2The soundtrack has retained its longevity to this day, with songs such as Grammy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated “Happy” and upbeat, upbeat “Just a Cloud Away,” which recently became a viral sensation on TikTok, resulting in Pharrell releasing the song as a single nine years after its initial release.


When the internet was flabbergasted by Antonoff’s role as music supervisor for the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack, that confusion cleared up, because it was a bop yet again. It’s the same studio that had the likes of Pharrell and South Parkby Trey Parker duets on a funky pop song for Despicable Me 3 it was better than any deal. Similar to tracks on The secret life of pets 2, The Rise of GruThe soundtrack features fresh, futuristic covers of ’70s classics by some of today’s hottest contemporary artists, including St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers, Brockhampton and Tame Impala, to match the film’s setting. 1976. Antonoff asked creepy Diana Ross, out of nowhere, to do an original, catchy funk song called “Turn Up the Sunshine”, which sounds straight out of the 70s, and it landed it on the Billboard charts for the first time since 2006.


Whether it’s a musical jukebox like the To sing movies or a silly short Minions film, the folks at Illumination know how to get the right tunes for their feature films and create happy, enjoyable music that goes beyond the movies they’re featured in. From Pharrell with Despicable Me and Tyler, the creator with the grinch to, now, Antonoff with Minionsthe animation studio has kept the tradition of the film soundtrack fresh and unique with every project they create.



Rendy Jones is a film and television journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of a self-published outlet Reny Reviews, a member of the Critics Choice Association and a graduate in film from Brooklyn College. They were featured in Vulture, The daily beast, audiovisual club and Radio-Canada News.

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