‘The Great Gatsby’ Proves the Timelessness of Hip Hop

By  · Published on May 16th, 2013

Director Baz Luhrmann is known for his grand, stylized aesthetic, but he is also known for his keen ability to place contemporary music into classic stories or those set in decades past. Whether updating the world of Romeo + Juliet from fair Verona to Verona Beach or having the leads in a musical set in 1899 sing songs like Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and The Police’s “Roxanne,” Luhrmann always gives these musical choices a purpose whether he is bringing a well-known play into present day or infusing renewed life into the 1900s.

The fact that these modern music placements actually work within these different contexts proves music really is the universal language and reminds audiences that even though these stories may not be from present day, they are certainly not dated. Luhrmann is a master at taking these stories, no matter when they were written or set, and making them feel fun, vibrant, and relevant.

For Luhrmann’s latest film, The Great Gatsby, the director joined forces with music mogul Jay-Z to create the film’s hip hop inspired soundtrack and has proven, yet again, how contemporary music works as well in days gone by as it does now. That is not to say the songs you hear when you turn on the radio are simply dropped into this world, they have been reworked to fit the sound of the 1920s making current pop songs like Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” sound like it came straight out of the jazz era thanks to a new rendition from Emeli Sandé and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra.

However the hip hop tracks were not reworked. They still work well within the context of this era because both hip hop and Roaring Twenties jazz, pushed boundaries and ushered in a new era of music. Jazz was considered dangerous in the 1920s, but hindsight and the advent of new musical styles have caused this once cutting edge sound to be considered on par with classical music. To bring back that dangerous feeling which filled F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, Luhrmann turned to jazz’s modern day musical equivalent.

While it would have been interesting to have Mr. Hova himself take to the conductor’s stand and compose the film’s score, that task was instead left to long-time Luhrmann collaborator, Craig Armstrong. Armstrong’s 1920s inspired score worked well with songs from contemporary artists like will.i.am’s “Bang Bang” and Coco O.’s “Where the Wind Blows” while other pieces such as “Together” from The xx and “Hearts A Mess” from Gotye filled the film with the true sadness driving all its characters and their desire for constant distraction.

When the music placements worked, they worked well. From Florence + The Machine’s “Over the Love” lazily sung in the background as one of Gatsby’s infamous parties slowed to an end to Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” which became the love theme for Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and hovered around the frame anytime these two found themselves alone together. “Young and Beautiful” is not only a stunning and haunting ballad; Del Rey’s sultry vocals were the perfect accompaniment to these more scandalous meetings, infusing the moments with a palpable sexiness.

More importantly, the song’s lyrics voiced the truth running under all this passion asking, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul?” Gatsby built a world and an image around impressing young and beautiful Daisy, but, as Del Rey’s song asks, what’s behind the glittery facade and is it enough to sustain?

But there were moments where the juxtaposition of the modern songs and jazz filled score stood out too much and came across as choppy rather than seamless. While it does not appear on the film’s official soundtrack, one of Jay-Z’s popular songs “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” was placed in the film and was one of the few moments that ending up taking audiences out of the film (FSR’s own Kate Erbland included) instead of further immersing them in the story.

On its own, the soundtrack is a fantastic combination of different musical styles from hip hop to rock to ballads, but the soundtrack’s at times sparse use within the film made it feel as though you were listening to a great song that was cut short before it reached its climactic chorus. Jack White’s “Love Is Blindness” (which drove the film’s trailer) made only a brief appearance rather than letting it play to the rafters like the track begs for. There are moments within The Great Gatsby where the soundtrack sings, but those moments ended up being rarer than one would expect when listening to a soundtrack full of music that not only reflects the themes of the film, but one full of lyrics saying what its characters cannot (or will not).

Hindsight is 20/20 and reworking the music placements may have made The Great Gatsby a stronger adaption of this novel, but as Nick Carraway says, “You can’t repeat the past.” Pick up the soundtrack to enjoy it in its entirety, but consider the film merely a pre-cursory introduction to the music.

The soundtrack for The Great Gatsby is available through Interscope Records.

1. “100$ Bill” – Jay-Z
2. “Back to Black” – Beyoncé
3. “Young and Beautiful” – Lana Del Rey
4. “Love Is Blindness” – Jack White
5. “Crazy In Love” – Emeli Sandé & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
6. “Bang Bang” – will.i.am
7. “I Like Large Parties” – Elizabeth Debicki
8. “A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody (All We Got)” – Fegie, Q-Tip & GoonRock
9. “Love Is the Drug” – Bryan Ferry & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
10. “Can’t Repeat the Past?” – Leonardo DiCaprio & Tobey Maguire
11. “Hearts a Mess” – Goyte
12. “Where the Wind Blows” – Coco O.
13. “Green Light” – Green Light
14. “No Church In The Wild (featuring Frank Ocean & The-Dream) – Jay-Z & Kanye West
15. “Over the Love” – Florence + The Machine
16. “Together” – The xx
17. “Into the Past” – Nero
18. “Kill and Run” – Sia
19. “Over the Love (Of You)” – Florence + The Machine & SBRTKT
20. “Young and Beautiful (DH Orchestral Version) – Lana Del Rey
21. “Gatsby Believed In the Green Light” – Tobey Maguire & Craig Armstrong