Do you know that feeling when — in your heart — you know something is going to be awful? You don’t need to hear or read anything else about it, you already know in your soul that it’s not good and you could care less? That’s how I feel about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. And the books. And all the hoopla, and the feverish fans, and the protests surrounding it. I get it. I’m not the target audience, that’s cool. Great even. Film is overdue for more stuff not aimed squarely at guys who read comic books when they were 12.
There were points when I became intrigued in the film, like when I realized that co-stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson appeared to deeply hate each other, and when it became public that author E.L. James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson also despise each other (so much hate!), and I thought to myself "wow, this could be a complete train wreck." But watching the film just to see the lack of chemistry come out on screen is just like stopping to watch a car crash, and I have the Transformers series for that. There was nothing that got me to the point where something within the Fifty Shades of Grey ecosystem really grabbed my attention. Until today. Until the soundtrack.
The soundtrack features The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, and Beyoncé
The Fifty Shades of Grey Soundtrack is the best soundtrack I’ve heard in years. Now, as a rule, soundtracks are generally awful amalgamations of never-before-heard artists singing never-should-have-been-sung songs, but the Fifty Shades of Grey Soundtrack is not that. It is a compilation of magnificent songs both new and old from already amazing artists that form an album I would place right behind Sleater-Kinney’s No City to Love as the best release in 2015.
The album features a who’s who of artists that are obviously too great to be on this or any soundtrack, including The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, and Annie Lennox, whose cover of the 1956 classic "I Put A Spell On You" makes the perfect opening for the soundtrack. Jessie Ware’s amazingly bluesy "Meet Me In The Middle" makes me want to listen to Jessie Ware’s entire catalog — it may be the best original song on the album and is reminiscent of Sade. (She is not Sade, I repeat, she is not Sade. Sade lite, maybe.) Ellie Goulding’s synth-laden dance track "Love Me Like You Do" — another song that seems out of place with the film unless there’s an impromptu dance party somewhere in the movie — is already a number one hit in Europe, and is rapidly climbing the Billboard Hot 100 after being released just over two weeks ago. Even Vaults, a little-known band from London contributed a marvelous song in "One Last Night" which fits better with the motif of Fifty Shades of Grey.
But those tracks alone wouldn’t make the Fifty Shades of Grey Soundtrack one of the best albums of 2015. No, we have The Weeknd, Beyoncé, and a man by the name of Boots to thank for that. The Weeknd’s two contributions, "Earned It" — which has a probably NSFW music video directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson — and "Where You Belong" sound exactly like what I imagine the backing music for the film should be, and it’s really, really good. That’s not a difficult feat for the human ecstasy tablet that is The Weeknd, whose entire catalog is essentially one big sex mixtape (or sex playlist, for those of you who don’t remember mixtapes).
The lesser-known name in the trio, Boots, is the musical savant behind the majority of the production of Beyoncé’s definitely-should-have-won-album-of-the-year-over-Beck eponymous album, which remains her best body of work by far. But what Boots did by remixing "Crazy in Love" deserves far more adulation than crafting a new track for Queen Bey to sing over.
The remix of 'Crazy in Love' is better than the original
First, there’s the challenge of getting Beyoncé to agree to go back in the studio and remake one of her most iconic songs, which somehow they got her to do. Then there’s the arduous task of taking a song that’s been a worldwide smash hit for over 10 years — and is probably Beyoncé’s most well-known single — and improving on it, which is nearly impossible to do with a song of that magnitude. If you were offering me the choice between $1,000 in cash, or the chance to make $1,000,000 if someone could make a better version of "Crazy in Love," I would take the $1,000 every time. Without hesitation. I’ve heard thousands of remixes of popular songs, and rarely do you ever come across a remix that is clearly better than the original.
The only thing missing is Sade
But somehow Boots managed to create a better version of "Crazy in Love." Sonically a complete departure from the original version, with a cacophony of creepy backing strings, the remix is sultry and sexy, and yet doesn't lose the essence of the song. It’s actually better than the original. As if that wasn’t enough, Boots also remixed "Haunted," a track he produced on Beyoncé, and while it doesn't surpass the original, it comes awfully close. (Sadly both of Beyoncé's songs off the soundtrack aren't currently available on Spotify.)
That’s what it takes to make a soundtrack one of the best albums of the year: get a strong group of young talent like Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware, and The Weeknd to make some of their best music; add some legends to the mix like Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, and Annie Lennox; and convince the biggest pop star in the world to remake a gargantuan hit with a budding super-producer. There’s only one thing that this album is missing: Sade.
The album is good enough that I’m second-guessing my decision to eschew all things Grey. I definitely won’t read the books, and I won’t be at the theater on opening night. But there will be a Saturday afternoon in the near future where Sade will be playing in the background (as usual), I’ll be scrolling through Netflix, and Fifty Shades of Grey will pop up. And I will click play, mostly due to a man named Boots.