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Pop-Star Composer

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"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, television, 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—featuring 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 the trope title, the songwriter in question doesn't necessarily have to be an alumnus of the "pop" music genre—they just have to be known for performing 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 '80s 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 '90s 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 '90s 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.

See also Cult Soundtrack.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Yuki Kajiura, the maker of many soundtracks for various anime series, was one of the two members of famous Japanese pop duo See-Saw, and regularly contributes to Japanese music through the solo project Fiction Junction and the band Kalafina.
  • Similarly enough, anime composer Hiroyuki Sawano also has his own music project SawanoHiroyuki[nZk].
  • 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 pop star Neil Sedaka composed the opening and ending themes for the series Mobile Suit 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. Another famous Vocaloid producer, livetune, was hired to write the OPs for Devil Survivor 2 and the second season of Oreimo. The latter is actually a double-example, written by livetune and performed by the pop idol duo ClariS.
  • Yoshiki Hayashi, for X/1999 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.
  • Paul Oakenfold arranged the Transformers theme for the English dub of Transformers: Cybertron.
  • Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was scored by former Yellow Magic Orchestra member Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of few soundtracks he did for an animated work. Studio Gainax hired him specifically to tie in with their intentions of making the film an animated Epic Movie, as YMO were one of the most famous bands in Japan, and by the time he was hired in 1986, he had already made a name for himself as an in-demand soundtrack composer. Tellingly, hiring Sakamoto required Gainax to increase the film's budget by ¥40 million.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney uses this trope every once in a while:
    • A surprisingly early example: Peggy Lee wrote (with Sonny Burke) the songs for Lady and the Tramp and sang most of them.
    • Country singer Roger Miller wrote and performed "Oo-de-lally", "Not In Nottingham", and "Whistle-Stop" for Disney's Robin Hood (1973).
    • Almost all of the songs in Oliver & Company. "Once Upon a Time in New York City" was co-written by Barry Mann, "Why Should I Worry?" was written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight, "Streets of Gold" was written by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow, and "Perfect Isn't Easy" was co-written by Barry Manilow. Bonus points for the first two of those songs being sung by songwriters themselves, Huey Lewis and Billy Joel (respectively), though neither of them wrote songs for the movie.
    • The Lion King's songs by Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics).
    • Phil Collins of Genesis wrote the songs for Tarzan. A few years later, he also did the songs for Brother Bear, which then is lampshaded in the DVD Commentary:
      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.
    • Moana's soundtrack, in addition to being composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, features singer Opetaia Foa'i of the New Zealand-based Pacific fusion band Te Vaka. Miranda also did Encanto.
  • Aside from Lion King, Elton John also co-wrote and sang most of the songs in The Road to El Dorado with Tim Rice, though unlike The Lion King, that wasn't a Disney movie.
    • Gnomeo & Juliet also features several songs by him (and his usual collaborator, lyricist Bernie Taupin), 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.
  • performed and co-wrote with composer Hans Zimmer music for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
  • Despicable Me had original songs by Pharrell Williams, who was also credited for the underscore along with Heitor Pereira. Pharrell not only came back for the sequel, but one of the songs from its soundtrack — "Happy" — became his biggest hit.
  • The Road to El Dorado reunites Elton John and Tim Rice, fresh off The Lion King.
  • 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!
  • Curious George 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.
  • Over the Hedge has songs written by Ben Folds.
  • Sia composed "Rainbow" for the ending credits of My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), in which she has the ponysona Songbird Serenade. Danish artist/band Lukas Graham also contributed "Off to See The World" for the first trailer.
  • Makoto Shinkai joined forces with Japanese darlings RADWIMPS for the soundtracks of Your Name and Weathering With You, including multiple tracks for frontman Yojiro Noda to sing on. The two films greatly increased international awareness of them.
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails wrote the score of Soul, with jazz musician Jon Batiste also contributing original songs in his genre.
  • For Turning Red, all three 4*Town songs were co-written by FINNEAS and Billie Eilish.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 


    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • They Might Be Giants have a history of back-and-forth collaboration with Homestar Runner and the Brothers Chaps. While the Brothers generally do their own music (usually toy keyboard ditties or hair metal), TMBG have provided several songs for Homestar cartoons. Notably, their tribute to Strong Bad's 200th email had John Linnell voicing the first violation of The Poopsmith's vow of silence. In turn, the Brothers have animated two music videos for TMBG ("Experimental Film" and "Figure Eight") and performed with them as puppet versions of Homestar characters.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):



Alternative Rock band Imagine Dragons, who are big fans of League of Legends, composed and performed the song "Enemy" for the game's animated adaptation, Arcane.

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