The Shrek soundtrack is an amazing cultural artifact.
Don’t let’s sell it short, though. The Shrek soundtrack is just like the rest of Shrek – a piece of media whose quality and whose success only function in relation to a particular environment around them. With a media landscape defined by a struggling, glurge-driven Disney, the rise of early computer graphics that both looked bad but were hideously over-used, a product like Shrek could only really succeed in spite of its qualities, not because of it. I mean, it’s a kid’s movie featuring Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow and Michael Myers – not exactly star names to headline young media.
The soundtrack is weird too. If you looked at it in a store you’d assume it was full of crossover pop songs, things that were designed to sell a brand and vice versa, rather than focusing on songs from the actual movie. But, unbelievably, yes, indeed, all these chintzy pop songs are in the movie.
That’s part of what makes them so strange to me – and the songs show some elements of the time in which they sprang up.
First up, let’s look at Smash Mouth, a band who had already long since sold their soul for merchandising money. It’s not quite selling out though, because for all that I liked their pre-movie stuff, none of it’s all that different. Smash Mouth didn’t have a marked drop in quality – but man, this is confusing. They didn’t just sell a song to a movie, though, they sold a song to a movie that they’d already sold to another, less successful movie.
That’s weird. That’s startlingly commercial. But they did it, and it did okay, and it set the tone of the movie to start. It wasn’t going to be a Disney film! This one had a pop song – a pop song you’ve heard for almost a year already!
The Baha Men are a strange group at the best of times because by all accounts they’re a group that didn’t have a soul to sell. Thanks to Todd in the Shadows, you can learn more, but to put it in quick perspective, the Baha Men are the second incarnation of another band which jettisoned their core group for younger, more attractive members. Their number one song is a Disneyfied version of an earlier song which is – shock horror – about sex.
After Who Let The Dogs Out, the Baha Men sort of drifted around doing movie soundtrack moments for anyone who would let them, including Crocodile Hunter. But here in the Shrek movie soundtrack they produced this… strange song about what sounds like a one-day romance leading to a marriage leading to corseted women twerking in front of a castle. And look at that clip! This is 2001, where did a group like the Baha Men have the money for a clip like that?
Oh right, the music industry still had Too Much Freaking Money.
But from one soundtrack mainstay to another:
I love the Proclaimers. I liked the Proclaimers when I was younger, when I knew them as the dorkish dudes who sang 500 Miles, but as I grew older and learned more of their music, holy crap did I come to love them. There really is no possible reason for them to show up on this soundtrack from an outsider, artistic perspective. This song isn’t a big hit of theirs, it didn’t have existing pop cachet, and it’s not even about themes that connect well to the story or to the kids beyond basic sentiments of love and commitment. It covers a travel montage in the movie.
Michael Myers loved the Proclaimers, because they’re basically a skit of his come to life. And the Proclaimers loved movie soundtracks because they didn’t do any work on them. Don’t think they wanted to build their brand in America; the Proclaimers pretty evidently could not give a tundering fook about America. Their first hit song was basically telling British listeners to get bent if they didn’t like their accents. Their second hit was about a suburb of Edinburgh. Their third major hit was only successful in America because a hipster kid on a movie wanted them included. After that, you have to ask why they covered King of the Road or sang a song praising Getting Married during the late 90s.
No, they loved doing these soundtracks because it wasn’t really work. It was a simple as asking if they could include a song, unchanged, and bam, they did it. And they did it because in this window of time, the Proclaimers were in the stage of their career known as ‘taking a break to spend time with their family.’
No really, their dad was dying, and they were dedicating their funds to taking care of him.
A dying relative, apathy, and a running joke, and… so here’s a Proclaimers song.
Hand over heart, I hate this song. Yes, yes, it’s very artful, the piano is pretty, and I know a lot of people like it. I heard it for the first time in 2001, in this movie, and at the time I thought it was a bit dreary but whatever. That antipathy didn’t metastatize into full hate however, until in the intervening ten years, it came up as every freaking romantic moment in the ever-expanding Web 2.0 fan-produsage movement. I saw fanmade videos of Supernatural characters, City of Heroes Roleplay characters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters, and on and on set to this fucking song, and then the other movie makers got in on it! It started showing up in other movies, even in movies where it didn’t make sense –
Yes, looking at you, Watchmen.
The point is that this song has just the right blend of overexposure, hype, religious iconography and plodding, maudlin emotional glurge to make me immediately switch off. And what’s more, most of that exposure seemed to come from this movie. Who knew the writers of serious superhero deconstructions and crime dramas and procedurals and crime procedurals all watched Shrek for their fucking cues?
See, you know how I said this soundtrack couldn’t happen at any other time? I think this song is the real dragon tooth for that. If you’re listening to it now, you’re probably around the first point the singer rather artlessly delivers a chorus of ‘oo, aa, yeah, hey, it’s like wow,’ which has to be a Peak 2001 sentence. If it’s a sentence, I’m not about to make fun of her.
She’s thirteen in this piece.
The woman singing here is Leslie Carter, the younger sister of Nick and Aaron Carter, the other 90s pop goblins we used to mock and ridicule for their own special brands of bad. Nick was a Backstreet Boy, and Aaron was basically the warm-up act for Justin Bieber. Aaron owns the distinction of being the only human I know who sings ‘I want Candy’ in a way that really makes me sure he’s singing about the foodstuff, or possibly a babysitter who will bring him the foodstuff.
Anyway, Leslie Carter was signed to make this song when she was thirteen. It was delivered when she was fifteen. It became a top 100 hit in only the most technical sense of the term, placing 99th, and thereafter, Ms Carter did nothing of note.
And then, at the age of twenty five, she passed away, after complaining of illness. Illness that doctors suggest was a byproduct of heavily self-medicating.
Leslie Carter was, to my understanding, not a happy lady. She lived in two shadows that almost defined fleeting glory, and strived to do what they did anyway. And she passed away, leaving behind a surprisingly small discography for someone who had a record contract for twelve years. That unhappiness may well have led to her death. Easily, this is her most heard thing; the voice she shared with the world the most… and it was this little, simply, almost empty little jingle.
I feel bad about this song, a lot. It isn’t a very good song. But knowing it came from a thirteen year old girl makes so much of it make sense. And, more than anything else on the Shrek soundtrack – a movie that became a franchise, a monolith of production that repeated and iterated and ground every last drop of merchandisable content out of it – this is basically all of her we have.
We’ll never get another Shrek soundtrack. It’s a little gem of that time it’s from. If nothing else, it’s from a time before there were a half-dozen Shrek movies that had worn every damn joke out of the Twisted Fairy Tales premise.