Trailerisation: the movie trend resurrecting old pop music | Music

I doubt my 10-year-old daughter will ever forget the first time she fell in love with Nirvana. It was a combination of things that pulled her in: the minor chord sway of an acoustic guitar, Kurt Cobain’s fragile vocal, an ominous percussive thump, and then Commissioner Gordon looking at Batman and saying, “does any of this mean anything to you?” as the Caped Crusader grimly strolled towards the camera. She was hooked.

The use of the grunge icons’ Something in the Way in last summer’s teaser for The Batman, the latest reboot for Gotham’s angriest man, is one of the best examples of the current trend for “trailerisation”, whereby classic songs are being retooled and remixed to align with the dramatic beats of a two-and-a-half minute blockbuster trailer. Increasingly, this is how a new generation are discovering illustrious heritage acts.

Every new big budget superhero trailer seems to come with one, the latest example being this week’s teaser for Marvel Studios’ Eternals, which revamps Skeeter Davis’ country ballad The End of the World into an expansive, prog-pop epic. The preview for Venom: Let There Be Carnage took Harry Nilsson’s One and added an arsenal of menacing symphonics, the teaser for The Suicide Squad twisted the easy grooves of Steely Dan’s Dirty Work into pummelling beats and the trailer for last year’s Wonder Women 1984 featured an epic reimagining of New Order’s Blue Monday.

Trailer music has been leading up to this for more than a decade. It’s a melding of two approaches: one where the music took its cues from a film’s score (most notably displayed on the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Inception, with its giant honking siren) and another where the tendency has been for haunting cover versions. That fad was kickstarted by the choral interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep in the trailer for David Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network.

“That’s exactly right, now it’s a combination of the two,” says Will Quiney, the theatrical music supervisor at trailer house GrandSon. “The reason why big songs that are familiar get used so much is because studio executives don’t want to take any risks with music that might alienate people or that sounds too weird or new.”

With agencies all having the same footage to work from when pitching for a trailer, music is where you can get an edge on your competitors. “You can create a narrative with your music selection,” explains Quiney. “If you can come up with an amazing idea for a song and have that trailerised in a really cool way that blows them away, you’re going to beat the competition, you’re going to win that trailer.” Lum agrees: “Music is the secret sauce to a great trailer and the best trailer editors know how to make the most of it.”

Jaron Lum, creative director at Trailer Park’s in-house music production company Synchronic, says it’s rare to hear a song in a teaser these days that hasn’t had some form of trailerisation. “The general goal of trailers is to get the audience excited about the film,” he says, “so it makes sense to augment the classics with huge percussive impacts and clever reharmonisations to give a track more size.”

For sync and licensing departments, trailerisation has opened up an exciting new avenue on which to place their songs. BMG Rights Management owns Nirvana’s catalogue and Jonathan Palmer, the company’s SVP Creative Sync, says that film, TV and video game trailers are heavily predicated on the classics. The trick is to try to get the lesser-known songs on to the big spots. “The Batman trailer is one of those instances where we were incredibly pleased to see interest in a copyright that is not the most obvious title in the treasure trove of Kurt Cobain copyrights. Obviously, we see a lot for Smells Like Teen Spirit. We are going to be seeing that popping up in the coming months in a Marvel property, so Kurt Cobain is one of those rare entities that can straddle both worlds.” Palmer says the publisher’s mission is to expand the audience and keep the catalogues relevant. “It’s great that there’s a lot of kids out there in Nirvana T-shirts,” he says, “but they should also know the music.”

It’s not always the case that trailer houses come to his team seeking permission to use a track, he says, they actively push the material too. One recent example is the work of Roger Waters. “We got a very big promo look with his music in Westworld,” says Palmer. “It demonstrated that Roger was open for business in the trailer world.” Subsequently, Pink Floyd’s Eclipse was reworked by Hans Zimmer for last year’s Dune trailer.

Will Quiney says the debate about where trailer music will go next is a recurring conversation between music supervisors. “All of a sudden, a new trailer will come out and that’s the cutting-edge piece that every client starts talking about.” That happened recently with the teaser for Joker, which incorporated a sweeping version of the Jimmy Durante standard Smile – surely an inspiration for the Eternals trailer.

Jordan Peele’s Us similarly caused a sensation for its trailer which slowed Luniz’ I Got 5 on It first to a crawl, and then exploded it with creepy plucked strings and bass disturbance. Candyman, co-written and produced by Peele, repeated the trick with Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name. Beyoncé often crops up in these kinds of trailers, with Survivor covered for Tomb Raider, and her rework of Crazy in Love for Fifty Shades of Grey getting an official release.

Palmer says this works the other way round, too – artists release orchestral versions of their songs as a way of having trailer-ready material – while BMG has also started doing some trailerising of its own. Palmer says BMG has rearranged “a couple of Lewis Capaldi songs with the approval of management, to give the trailer producers an idea of what they can do”.

When I tell Palmer that I tried playing my daughter the original version of Something in the Way and she wasn’t interested, he says it’s all about the marginal gains. “If a percentage of those tens of millions of people who watched that Dune trailer come away with a new interest in Pink Floyd, that’s a big win. It drives those streams and increases the awareness. Your 10-year-old daughter is very important. That’s the future of our business.”

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