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Pop-Star Composer
A soundtrack that rocks for a movie that shocks.

"I have the feeling that this movie is just a receptacle for songs David Bowie didn't want to release on any of his albums."

When you're setting up an All-Star Cast, who says you have to stop at actors?

The Pop-Star Composer is a famous musical figure, known primarily for their work with, well, popular music, who is hired by a movie or video game studio to provide music and songs for their latest work. Think partially-or-completely washed-up rock stars and dueling divas. This is especially common for animated musicals—lyrics and music by a famous songwriter seems a good way to draw audiences. If they already like Songwriter X, then they'll probably like the movie! Or so one hopes. Despite what you might think, the songwriter in question doesn't necessarily have to be an alumnus of the "pop" music genre—they just have to be known for something besides movie scores.

This particular practice has been somewhat all-over-the-place since it first began. Earlier, Trope Making examples sprouted up in The Eighties with examples such as David Bowie doing the songs for Labyrinth and Queen doing a lot of the music for movies such as Flash Gordon and Highlander (they did not do all the music for these films, however, as admirers of Howard Blake and Michael Kamen will attest). But animated movies in The Nineties really codified this trope, with examples such as Elton John doing the songs for The Lion King. In particular, animated movies with this kind of musical casting are prone to Award Bait Songs and composers/performers who used to be kind of cool once.

Ironically, the more mainstream and big-budget a live-action movie generally is, the less likely this trope will be used. With many Hollywood studios serving as corporate siblings of major record labels, "synergy" usually rears its head and a grab bag of artists from a label will be tapped to each provide a number for a movie soundtrack (it was common in The Nineties to end TV ads with a list of performers who appeared on the soundtrack, no matter how briefly their work turned up in the actual film). Pop Star Composers usually work in animated features or smaller-scale films that aren't trying so hard to hit every potential radio market and can thus focus more on matching music to the moment.

And before you ask: No, Danny Elfman does not count though he was in a band.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Yuki Kajiura, maker of many soundtracks for various anime series, is one of the two members of famous Japanese pop duo See-Saw (disbanded), and regularly contributes to Japanese music through the solo project Fiction Junction and the band Kalafina.
    • In case you were wondering, yes, this is why Gundam SEED and its sequel have insert songs by Fiction Junction, and this is also why Kara no Kyoukai has all of its ending themes by Kalafina.
    • Also why .hack//SIGN has an opening theme, "Obsession" by See-Saw.
  • Susumu Hirasawa, a pop star during the 80s and 90s, experienced something of a second coming as a composer of anime soundtracks, notably Berserk and the works of Satoshi Kon.
  • Ai Maeda is a film actress and singer, and provides the distinctive voice of the main character in Kino's Journey. Naturally, she also sings the ending theme song. (Relatedly, the ending theme lyrics were written by the original book's novelist.)
  • US popstar Neil Sedaka composed the opening and ending themes for the series Zeta Gundam. Ironically however, this resulted in the openings not being used in the US DVD release.
  • Daisuke Inoue, composer and performer(both vocally and instrumentally in some cases) of several songs for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, was well-known in Japan and to some folks in the US for being frontman and saxophonist of the early J-Pop band Blue Comets, who had a huge hit with Blue Chateau.
  • Supercell's soundtrack was the main attraction of Guilty Crown, in much the same way that Yuki Kajiura was the main attraction of .hack//SIGN. Another famous Vocaloid producer, livetune, was hired to write the OPs for Devil Survivor 2 and the second season of Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai!. The latter is actually a double-example, written by livetune and performed by the pop idol duo ClariS.
  • Yoshiki Hayashi, for X1999 with Forever Love, and Osamu Tezuka's Buddha with Scarlet Love Song.
  • FLCL featured music from the j-rock band The Pillows, in somewhat of an inversion of this trope — the studio picked the band because they thought their sound fit the series rather than for marketing reasons, and their involvement in FLCL actually caused a popularity bump for The Pillows, rather than the other way around. In addition, most of the music used in FLCL was stuff The Pillows had already recorded — only two songs were actually created specifically for the series, though those two songs ("Ride on Shooting Star" and "I Think I Can") are featured prominently, as the Ending Theme and arguably the series' main theme, respectively.

    Comicbooks 
  • From what the rumors say, they tried to do this to Bone, with famous pop songs and a plot changed to be more "teen friendly." Jeff Smith was not pleased and shot it down, hard.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney uses this trope every once in a while:
    Rutt: Phil Collins, Phil Collins, Phil Collins... He's everywhere.
    Tuke: Doesn't he take a break?
    • In addition, many of the dubs got a major pop star from their area to sing the dubbed songs: Ákos Kovács in Hungarian, Alex Panayi in Greek, Wakin Chau in Cantonese, Hisham Nour in Arabic, Luís Represas in European Portuguese, and Paweł Hartlieb in Polish, just to name a few.
    • The Emperor's New Groove was originally set to feature a whole arsenal of songs by Sting, but due to the movie undergoing a massive plot-shift in development, only two songs remain in the movie: Kuzco's facetiously-used theme song, and the end credits Award Bait Song, "My Funny Friend and Me." The rest of the songs can still be heard on the soundtrack album.
  • Elton John also wrote and sang most of the songs in The Road to El Dorado, though unlike The Lion King, that wasn't a Disney movie.
    • Gnomeo and Juliet also features several songs by him, both originals and classics. The trailer even shows a gnomified version of him.
  • While Peter Gabriel's main contribution to Pixar's WALL•E was the end credit song "Down to Earth", he also co-wrote EVE's theme with underscore composer Thomas Newman.
  • While most of the Newman family is known for film soundtracks, Randy Newman had a career as a singer-songwriter before (and while) working on films. He's been doing this for quite some time too, including six Pixar movies and The Princess and the Frog.
    • Cars, along with pre-existing songs and Newman's score and "Our Town", also had original songs by Sheryl Crow and Brad Paisley.
  • will.i.am performed and co-wrote with composer Hans Zimmer music for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
  • Despicable Me had original songs by Pharell Williams, who was also credited for the underscore along with Heitor Pereira. Pharell not only came back for the sequel, but one of the songs from its soundtrack — "Happy" — has proven one of his biggest hits.
  • Originally, Coraline was set to have a whole arsenal of songs by They Might Be Giants. However, they ended up not fitting with the tone of the film, and mostly getting cut. One short song, sung by Other Father, does remain in the film.
  • Plan on watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron? Hope you like Bryan Adams!
  • The animated Curious George movie has songs by Jack Johnson.
  • Animalympics has songs written and performed by Graham Gouldman of 10cc.
  • Jimmy Webb, best known for "Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park", wrote the underscore and songs for The Last Unicorn; the group America performed some of the songs.
  • Roger Waters composed the music to When the Wind Blows, with David Bowie contributing the title song.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • The scores for Heroes were written by Wendy and Lisa, who scored Tim Kring's previous show, Crossing Jordan (and later Touch). They also did Nurse Jackie (winning an Emmy for the series theme).
  • Nelson Riddle, responsible for the jazzy Route 66 theme, moved into television and film scores but rose to fame as a popular band leader and arrangement artist for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole.
  • They Might Be Giants scored the pilot and some early episodes of Malcolm in the Middle, as well as the Theme Song.
  • Stewart Copeland of The Police was the composer for the pilot of Babylon 5; however, his techno score was not carried over to the series itself, where most of the music was done by Christopher Franke, formerly of Tangerine Dream.
  • David Bowie (again) wrote the score for the BBC miniseries The Buddha of Suburbia. The pieces he composed were reworked into a separate album, also called The Buddha of Suburbia - only the title track from the album is used completely unaltered in the series. From there, he re-recorded one of the other songs, "Strangers When We Meet", for his solo album 1. Outside.
  • The short-lived Cop Rock had its music composed by Randy Newman.
  • Les Revenants music was scored by Mogwai

    Theatre 
  • Elton John wrote two extra songs for the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of The Lion King, and went on from there to write songs for Disney's Aida and the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of Billy Elliot. Less successful was Lestat, a musical adaptation of The Vampire Chronicles.
  • Rupert Holmes, best known for "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", wrote the songs for Drood, and later helped finish Curtains.
  • Big River had songs by country singer Roger Miller.
  • Jim Steinman composed the score for the musical adaptation of Tanz der Vampire.
  • The French-language opera Prima Donna, composed by Rufus Wainwright.
  • Duncan Sheik, a pop star in The Nineties, is probably better known as a Broadway composer nowadays, having won Tony Awards for Spring Awakening.
  • Bono & The Edge composed the songs for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
  • The Capeman by Paul Simon.
  • Chess, by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA.
  • Ca Ira, by Roger Waters. Yes, really.
  • David Eugene Edwards of Woven Hand was commissioned by the Ultima Vez Dance Company to create soundtracks for their Blush and Puur shows. The soundtracks were partly original songs, and partly rearranged versions of prior Woven Hand songs.
  • Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, in addition to being scored by the famed duo Bob & Bill (also contributing to Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Kooza, and Totem), featured Montreal singer-songwriter Jenifer Aubry as lead vocalist.

    Videogames 
  • The score for Max Payne 3 was composed by noise/noise-rock band HEALTH. The techno soundtrack in Club Moderno consists of various artists from the Trouble and Bass record label.
  • Masato Nakamura from the J-pop band Dreams Come True wrote the soundtracks for Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Unfortunately, he held the rights to his music for the games, which left with him. The only music he didn't write was the drowning music and the chaos emerald jingle, which could and would be used for later titles.
    • Michael Jackson was reportedly hired to compose for Sonic 3. Some members of Sonic Team claim Jackson's involvement was unofficial and happened without Sega's knowledge, if it happened at all; others claim to have possession of a complete soundtrack's worth of demos from Jackson. How much of his work actually made it into the finished game is unknown. (The fact that several of the credited musicians, like Brad Buxer, actually worked for Jackson makes it even harder to guess.) Rumors abound, though, about suspiciously similar songs, stolen beats, and whole messes of trouble relating to the situation.
    • Sonic Colors had Alex Makhlouf of Cash Cash do the main theme. Later on, they and Circuit Freq did remixes for Sonic Generations.
    • The final boss theme of Sonic and the Black Knight, "With Me", is performed by Emma Gelotte and Tinna Karlsdotter from All Ends, the lead guitar work is done by Marty Friedman from Megadeth.
  • Trent Reznor (from Nine Inch Nails) composed the score for Quake. His contributes are noted by the "NIN" logos on the nail packs, which are used as ammo for the nail gun.
  • The first three Spyro the Dragon games had their soundtrack composed by Stewart Copeland of the famous 80s band The Police.
  • Utada Hikaru, a Japanese-American singer, writes the theme music for the Kingdom Hearts series.
  • Legendary Thrash Metal band Megadeth composed the soundtrack for the game Never Dead, and judging from the comments on the Youtube pages the fans are just there for Megadeth.
  • The overarching Leitmotif in Tales of the Abyss is derived from the theme music, composed by BUMP OF CHICKEN, called "Karma".
  • The God of War Blood & Metal EP by Roadrunner Records was made with this in mind: includes appearances by Trivium, Killswitch Engage, Opeth and Dream Theater, all writing original material.
  • David Bowie co-wrote and performed the songs of Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and appears as two different characters in-game. Several of the songs made it onto his album hours...
  • BT produced the soundtrack of Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005. One of the songs in DHT 2(the intro and the second Hoover Dam level) was a remix of his own "Mad Skillz (Mic Chekka)".
  • Descent II had three of its songs produced by Ogre of Skinny Puppy, and an instrumental remix of "Haunted" by Type O Negative.
  • Iron Helix's soundtrack was produced by Peter Stone of Xorcist.
  • IDM / trip-hop artist Amon Tobin composed/produced the soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
  • Techno DJ Sasha produced several exclusive songs for Wipeout 3, as well as including his single "Xpander".
  • Halo 2 has "Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin, "The Odyssey" by Incubus, and "Connected" by Hoobastank, although the last isn't used in the game.
  • The title theme to WRC, "Speed", was produced by Rollo & Sister Bliss, the producers of Faithless.
  • Sonic Mayhem (aka Sascha Dikiciyan aka Toksin) produced the music to Quake II, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Hellgate: London, as well as half the music to Quake III Arena, the rest of which was done by Front Line Assembly.
    • Speaking of Front Line Assembly, they soundtracked the freeware RTS game AirMech.
  • Indie pop musician Owen Pallett (session violinist / string arranger on albums by Arcade Fire and others, and has some solo albums) composed part of the music to Traffic Department 2192 (specifically, the songs "Menu", "Vulture", "Intro 2", and "Death"), about 8 years before his earliest recorded music.
  • Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, from the bands System 7 and Gong, composed the music for a few games: the Xbox 360 port of Centipede & Millipede (2007), and the Full Motion Video game based on The Lawnmower Man (1993)note  and its sequel Cyberwar (1994).
  • Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and Myst IV: Revelation both featured songs by Peter Gabriel.
  • Rez includes original and pre-existing songs by musicians such as Ken Ishii, Jojouka, Adam Freeland, Coldcut, and Oval.
  • The soundtracks to Mirror's Edge and Capsized were produced by Solar Fields, aka Magnus Birgersson.
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle has a soundtrack largely made by various J-rock bands such as Neutrino, Missile Chewbacca and HONDALADY.
  • Test Drive 4 featured the Younger Younger 28's and Orbital. The track "Runnin' Out of Time" is actually the same as "Out There Somewhere Part 2" from Orbital's In Sides album. TD 6 had three exclusive songs by Empirion.
  • Lollipop Chainsaw had boss music composed by Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence.
  • Scivelation, a sci-fi shooter has four songs written by John Moyer from Disturbed
  • The title theme for Rise of the Robots was done by Queen's Brian May. He had composed a full soundtrack to the game, but his label asked for delays, which prompted the developers to make their own soundtrack to get the game out on time. May also did the theme for its sequel.
  • The highly offbeat Sega Dreamcast game L.O.L.: Lack of Love was the product of an unusual collaboration between Ryuichi Sakamoto and obscure developer Love-de-Lic.
    • Sakamoto also composed the soundtrack of the RPG Tengai Makyou: Ziria for PC Engine CD who was the very first multimedia game for consoles.
  • Azam Ali of VAS and Niyaz performed vocals on and composed the soundtrack to Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow, as well as contributing to Thor: The Dark World and the track "Pakistan Run" from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
  • The Australian electronica duo Power Glove soundtracked Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
  • Poets Of The Fall, a Finnish rock band, produced Max Payne 2's ending theme, "Late Goodbye". Markus "Captain" Kaarlonen from this group also did the soundtrack to Rochard.
    • They also are, essentially, the band from Alan Wake known as "The Old Gods of Asgard", and play all of the original songs that the band play in-game.
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier's soundtrack is by the techno-orchestral group Hybrid.
  • The Devil May Cry reboot, DMC Devil May Cry had a soundtrack by Combichrist and an original score by Noisia.

    Western Animation 
  • Clone High features music by singer-songwriter Tommy Walter, performed by his alternative rock band Abandoned Pools, including several songs that would later appear on the band's first album.
  • Several Cartoon Network series, including Ben10, Teen Titans, and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi featured music by Andy Sturmer, former frontman of early-90s power-pop band Jellyfish. Notably, the latter featured an actual cover of Jellyfish's "Joining A Fan Club". Sturmer's an unusual example though - nowadays he's almost as well known as one of Puffy Ami Yumi's songwriter/producers as he is for his former band.
  • The Raccoons had several songs by Lisa Lougheed (the voice of the character Lisa), which also appeared on her Evergreen Nights album.
  • The second season recording of the Rocko's Modern Life theme was performed by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of The B-52s.
  • The aforementioned Stewart Copeland of The Police also wrote the theme to The Life and Times of Juniper Lee.
  • The instrumental theme of the first season of The Batman was written and performed by U2 guitarist The Edge.
  • Country Music singer Billy Dean wrote (along with Verlon Thompson) and sang the theme to Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa.


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