Vox Lux is gonna be a divisive film. I found a lot to like in it (and a lot to think about), but I think just as many people will hate it as will love it. The music is also sure to be a discussion point, and whether it’s meant to be bad or if it just is. It was written by Sia and Greg Kurstin, two songwriters who have been responsible for some really great pop songs and also some pretty mediocre and terrible ones. So I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that the blandness and anonymity of these songs act as a commentary, but it very well could be that they are just bland and anonymous.
In an interview, writer and director Brady Corbet talks about why he picked Sia for the film:
I chose Sia as a partner on the film because I knew that the film wouldn’t be complex or convincing if the songs were bad. What’s unsettling about the picture is that it does hold the corporate world’s feet to the fire a bit, but it also acknowledges the medium’s virtues. I wouldn’t spend 15 minutes of screen time on a pop concert if I didn’t find it enjoyable and pleasurable. It’s also 15 minutes because I know everyone’s been waiting an hour and 40 minutes to see Natalie perform, so once she does, I thought I should give the people what they want.
But honestly … I don’t trust him! The creators behind A Star Is Born’s notable vapid pop song “Why Did You Do That” also hedged on whether it was supposed to be good or bad — never mind that it’s sorta good because it’s so bad — so I’m not inclined to believe them, or even (if we’re being really critical) whether they understand what makes pop music good or bad. I’m curious to hear what Sia has to say about the songs she made for the film, if and when she ever gives an interview about them, but I can’t imagine a legitimately talented songwriter writing something like “Ekg” or “Private Girl” and being like, “OK, that’s the one.”
The best pop song on here, if we’re being generous, is “Wrapped Up.” On the soundtrack, we get versions sung by Raffey Cassidy (young Celeste) and Natalie Portman (grown-up Celeste) and there are pretty stark differences between the two that suggest at least some thought about how true emotion is filtered through a pop machine. The earlier version is all spontaneous, and has heart. The pop version has … an approximation of heart. Now, obviously part of the heavy vocal effects are that Portman probably isn’t that good of a singer, but it’s also, like, a lot of pop stars can’t actually sing, and they certainly don’t sound like this.
Anyway, the real treasure here is Scott Walker’s score, which takes up the back half of the track listing. It’s strikingly decadent yet also has a real sense of decay. In the film, there’s a great sequence that cuts between glittering New York skyscrapers that look so futuristic and also look completely dead and lifeless, and that’s the sort of dichotomy that Walker captures with his score.
Listen to the soundtrack below, read our lil thinkpiece on it here, and lemme know if you’ve seen the movie yet! Also check out our list of Noteworthy Movie Soundtracks From 2018 that went up recently.
the Vox Lux soundtrack is out now via Columbia Records.