"Stayin' Alive." "My Heart Will Go On." "I Will Always Love You." "Lose Yourself." Just the sheer mention of these song titles immediately recalls the films from which they sprung. It's not just the on-screen characters that are ingrained in our brains—B-Rabbit 4evr—but the behind-the-mic artists that soundtracked those stories. And that's because successful theme songs make themselves synonymous with the scripts. Was there a point in 2014 that a mention of Frozen was not coupled with an impromptu dramatic rendering of "Let It Go"? (No, there was not.)
But save for Queen Elsa's opus, all the aforementioned tracks are over a decade old and have solidified a place in the pop-culture history of their respective times. What I'm saying is that they've set a hella high standard and I'm not entirely sure today's movie music is living up to it. Here, I review songs from the last few years to see how they compare.
WORST | Artist: Fall Out Boy ft. Missy Elliott | Song: "Ghostbusters (I'm Not Afraid)" | Movie: Ghostbusters (Remake)
If there was something strange. In my neighborhood. These are the last people I would call. Because remember a few seconds ago when I talked about certain songs having a special place in history? Well, Ray Parker Jr.'s original version is a national treasure, and this? An abomination. Listen, I know that the movie was about a bunch of parapsychologist professors who launch their own ghost extermination service and stumble upon a gateway that leads to another dimension and belongs to an ancient, evil God who later shapeshifts into a giant marshmallow-man and terrorizes New York City, okay? But how dare you guys not take this seriously.
BEST | Artist: The Weeknd | Song: "Earned It" | Movie: Fifty Shades of Grey
Didn't think you could get down to waltz, could you? Didn't think you could feel sexy to symphonic-pop, huh? Well, The Weeknd made sure you, uh, earned the right to believe in yourself? I don't know. Anyway, Abel's lyrics aren't necessarily ones I could hear a sadist saying to a masochist—I'm imagining something dirtier and think that "Girl, you're perfect/ You're always worth it/ And you deserve it" is more fit for, say, a Hallmark card—but, hey, the song nabbed a Grammy Award win, an Academy Award nomination, and many, many a spot on playlists probably just lazily titled "sex."
BEST | Artist: Charli XCX | Song: "Boom Clap" | Movie: The Fault In Our Stars
Charli XCX earns this "best" distinction for no other reason than being able to sprinkle joy throughout a film that exists (also for no other reason than) to turn you into a mushy ball of sobs and snot. If you haven't seen The Fault in Our Stars, spoiler alert: this is actually a savior alert (gotcha! you'll thank me later) because it's about two cancer-stricken teens who fall in love and if you try not to cry, your head literally explodes from the pressure. I don't even care that the song title is just a meaningless onomatopoeia; the track is 80s-inspired, synthy-pop goodness and manages to be bound by none of the same sap that populates the movie.
WORST | Artist: Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth | Song: "See You Again" | Movie: Furious 7
You know what's sad? Someone dying. You know what's sadder? Opportunistic songs specifically written to capitalize on that someone dying. And you know what's saddest? When the song is shit. "See You Again" was, for reasons that defied logic, a juggernaut. For starters, it stayed on the charts longer than the film even stayed in theaters, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 in April (at the same time Furious 7 was released), but then savagely clinging there for 12 long and non-consecutive weeks, way after the film had left. Additionally, against all evidence that has shown what a SONG OF DA SUMMMMERRR should be, it managed to become one despite being a cheesy, syrupy, downtempo maudlin mess that should only be played at graduations or when ASCAP needs to replace Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" in those depressing commercials. Plus, it's Wiz's most successful single to-date, and this is a man who once told us to "Smoke weed, count stacks, get fly."
BEST | Artist: Lorde | Song: "Yellow Flicker Beat" | Movie: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
If Kanye West deems your track worthy of a "rework," then you automatically earn a "best" title on this list. (The rules to this competition are becoming embarrassingly simple.) But honestly, even before the Kanye co-sign, Lorde created a song that, sure, may not have topped charts or become an interchangeable entity with the very idea of the film—I think that accolade goes to the always-divisive 'Team Peeta or Team Gale' debate, amirite?—but that succeeded in echoing its overall sentiment. In the movie, Katniss Everdeen has reluctantly agreed to become a symbol of rebellion for her city and this song, with its buzzy hum, metallic tap, ominous synths, and big drum drops, builds a haunting groove that sounds a lot like her warning to naysayers.
WORST | Artist: Rihanna | Song: "Sledgehammer" | Movie: Star Trek: Beyond
I've already gone in-depth about this one so, for now, I'll simply say that this sounds like Rihanna doing her best impression of Sia. No, of Sia doing musical theater. Okay, of Sia doing musical theater while a ballerina does interpretive dance behind her. The song is so grandiose and overwrought that if it's not used during an on-screen battle between a Starfleet ship and that of its enemy, it's gone to waste. Because this will not be your "Wrecking Ball," Rihanna. It will not.
BEST | Artist: Pharrell | Song: "Happy" | Movie: Despicable Me 2
I, personally, was not a fan of "Happy," but I understand that I've been vetoed by, like, the entire world and also I'm not a monster, so I'm totally capable of understanding how something so unapologetically peppy and criminally cheerful that's been doused in relentless handclaps, a tirelessly bouncy keyboard, and a trifecta of incessant kicks, snares, and hi-hats could be seen as charming. I could totally see that.
WORST | Artist: Leona Lewis | Song: "I See You" | Movie: Avatar
Just kidding. Literally no one remembers this. It gets no review.