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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, 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 Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and its sequel have insert songs by Fiction Junction, and this is also why The Garden of Sinners 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 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, 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 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.

    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.
  • 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 and 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.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 

  • 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 Piña 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 '90s, 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.
  • Ça 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:
    • 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.
    • Anthony Gonzalez, frontman of French synthwave/shoegazing band M83, scored Volta.
  • Musician Sara Bareilles wrote the songs for the musical version of Waitress, even starred in the show for six weeks.
  • The Jim Davidson sitcom Up the Elephant and Round the Castle had a theme song by Keith Emerson. Davidson was both a friend of Emerson and a huge prog rock fan.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • 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.
    • Jun Senoue and his band Crush 40 wrote music for several of the 3-D games.
    • R&B musician Akon remixed Dreams Come True's "Sweet Sweet Sweet" for Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
    • 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.
    • Jaret Reddick from Bowling for Soup performed "Endless Possibilities" from Sonic Unleashed.
    • Sonic Colors had Alex Makhlouf of Cash Cash do the main theme. Later on, they and Circuit Freq did remixes for Sonic Generations.
    • This goes all the way to Sonic Forces, where Douglas Robb of Hoobastank wrote and performed "Fist Bump".
  • 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. Skrillex joined them in composing the opening theme for Kingdom Hearts III, "Face My Fears".
  • 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... Because of this, the game was made free-to-play shortly after his death.
  • 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 ambient, electro-industrial soundtrack was composed by Peter Stone, also known as the one-man musical act 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:
  • 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, while Lisa Miskovsky performed the former's theme tune, "Still Alive" (not to be confused with the Portal theme).
  • 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.
  • 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 II.
  • The Australian Synthwave duo Power Glove soundtracked Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which also reused their song "Hunters" from Hobo with a Shotgun.
  • Poets of the Fall, a Finnish Alternative Rock band, has a nice sideline composing videogame soundtracks.
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier's soundtrack was co-produced by the symphonic electronica group Hybrid, alongside franchise regular Tom Salta.
  • The Devil May Cry reboot, DmC: Devil May Cry had a soundtrack by Combichrist and an original score by Noisia.
  • Carmageddon's soundtrack is partially instrumental versions of 3 tracks from Fear Factory's album, Demanufacture. The included songs are Demanufacture, Zero Signal (Also used for the game's intro sequence), and Body Hammer.
  • The title theme to Johnny Bazookatone was written by Richie Sambora and Tico Torres, both of Bon Jovi.
  • Mirror's Edge: Catalyst's theme song, "Warning Call", is by CHVRCHES, while Solar Fields once again produced the game's underscore.
  • Alone in the Dark: Stewart Copeland wrote the credits song for The New Nightmare.
  • French-Canadian artist Coeur de pirate (Beatrice Martin) composed the soundtrack for Child of Light.
  • Life Is Strange and Life Is Strange 2 have original scores by Jonathan Morali, the frontman of Syd Matters. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm continued this trend, with an original score by the indie band Daughter, and Life Is Strange: True Colors has a score by Angus & Julia Stone. In each case, a few songs by the respective bands make their way onto the licensed soundtrack as well.
  • Mitch Murder, of Kung Fury fame, scored the indie games Megamagic: Wizards of the Neon Age and Impact Winter.
  • Seattle-based dream pop artist Lena Raine (neé Chappelle) composed the soundtracks to Guild Wars 2 and Celeste.
  • Prog-rock legends Yes composed the end credits theme to Homeworld, apparently for no better reason than because they saw some screenshots and concept art and thought it sounded awesome.
  • Finnish spacesynth/synthwave artist Dreamtime produced the soundtrack of Rigid Force Alpha/Redux.
  • CHVRCHES also performed the end titles theme of Death Stranding.
  • Haven (2020)'s soundtrack was produced by Danger, who was also featured in The Game Bakers' previous game, Furi.

    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 
  • 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 Ben 10, 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 AmiYumi'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.
  • Mark Mothersbaugh (yes, again) has a fair bit of animation on his resume, from Rugrats to Regular Show.
  • Besides the theme song, the TV special Really Rosie features segments based on Maurice Sendak's "Nutshell Library" books set to music by Carole King.
  • J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus fame has provided scores for The Venture Bros. and Archer, amongst others.


Video Example(s):



Australian singer-songwriter Sia, in addition to her guest role in the film, wrote and performed the song "Rainbow" for the final scene and closing credits of My Little Pony: The Movie (2017).

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