What’s Up Danger? – By Stephen Stachofsky.
Hey, let’s take a minute to preface this discussion.
- My name is Stephen. I am a music major. I have studied classical music since I was four. I have played in orchestra’s, garage rock bands, sung in operas and in punk bands. I studied music education.
- I loved both soundtracks from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Hey wait a second, did he just say “both” soundtracks? Yes. Yes, he did. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) had two different soundtracks. The musical score for the movie was composed by Daniel Pemberton, whose movie accolades include a personal favorite of mine, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. A full soundtrack album was released by Republic Records on December 14, the day of the film’s release, and was curated to represent what a teen like Morales would listen to. Artists on the soundtrack include Juice WRLD, Post Malone, Swae Lee, Nicki Minaj, Ski Mask the Slump God, Jaden Smith, Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla Sign and XXXTentacion. A separate album containing Pemberton’s score was released by Sony Classical Records on December 17. The first album featured music heard in the film like “Sunflower” and “What’s Up Danger.”
So what’s the point? Well from a purely musical point of view, there’s an issue with these two albums.
Listen to this.
This. This is the issue. This version of “What’s Up Danger” doesn’t appear on either one of the two separate soundtracks.
Why is this a problem?
There are several reasons. The whole score from Daniel Pemberton is a frenetic, frantic soundscape broken up by heroic brass motifs. There are bountiful themes throughout the score for every character, and Pemberton used classical, jazz, pop and electric influences to achieve a seamless tool for helping tell the story of Miles. The other soundtrack features music that a kid like Miles might actually listen to, and does listen to in the movie. The character motif for Miles contains large melodic leaps of whole octaves. (In non-musician speak, really large melodic leaps between notes.) These kinds of leaps are generally considered challenging and or unstable. I think Pemberton did this completely on purpose. Not to suggest that Miles is unstable, but that he’s a teenager, and he’s finding himself. The whole movie is building to Miles, an insecure teen, taking charge of his new powers and his destiny. That’s what makes the What’s Up Danger sequence hit so hard in the movie. The seamless blend of a bad-ass hype song and the theme of Miles that Pemberton wrote played by the timelessly heroic brass section, adds so much weight to the movie’s emotional language. That’s the whole point of any soundtrack in a movie. They help movie goers fully immerse themselves into the emotions of the scene, and they help us identify the movie’s characters, high points, low points, and even the weird middle points in-between. Independently the tracks “This Spark In You”, “Miles Morales Returns” by Pemberton and the song “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway and Black Caviar are great tracks, but together they create one of the most emotionally fulfilling moments in the movie.
Daniel Pemberton’s score throughout the movie plays musical hopscotch with its diverse and ranging styles. The ability of the composer to stick with some of the classic tropes of movie scoring, like specific melodic passages associated with certain characters or events (motifs or themes, John Williams is most famous for this, but the practice goes all the way back to romantic German Opera.), but Pemberton also throws in a fair amount of sound-scaping. This method of movie scoring is less about having themes for each character, which are immediately recognizable, and instead attempts to capture the mood and tone of the setting. This is especially apparent in the electro-jazz tracks like Brooklyn 1,2,3 and Security Guard. Pemberton as a composer is no stranger to the jazz world, as the 1960’s spy flick Man From U.N.C.L.E. heavily relies on the jazz styles that were widely popular during the setting of the movie. Other tracks sound more like a digitized nightmare than any discernible music. These tracks include things like the first track on the album, Into the Spider-verse. From these frenetic high energy digital takes Pemberton masterfully pulls a character theme out for The Prowler. The Prowler’s sound is actually a derivation of all the notes that make up Miles Morales’ theme stacked up together and distorted. Then the two most heartfelt pieces of the soundtrack are Mi Amor, where we get Miles’ theme in a tender and almost reverent way.
In short, the soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton and the songs used in the movie are excellent. No surprise of course as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was such a phenomenal movie, in part because of the music. In the future I will be offering more academic score analysis of other movies, and more fanboy hype of music in movies.
I tried to keep the super nerdy music-speak to a minimum this time, but look for more score analysis in the future. I might even break out words like anacrusis.
Thanks for reading.
Can’t Stop Me Now.