As anyone not living under a rock (or better yet, not drowning in schoolwork) is well aware, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the controversial film adaptation of the first novel in E.L. James’s best-selling erotica trilogy, is in theaters now. However, whether you are a social justice warrior condemning the film for its alleged undertones of condoning domestic violence or a devout fan of the series dying to become enthralled in Christian’s and Anastasia’s escapades in the front row of the theater, I think one thing we should all be able to agree on is the fact that the soundtrack for the movie actually has some pretty good songs on it. While I feel that the film is not going to hold back in terms of the graphic imagery they are going to offer the viewer, the sonic palette of the soundtrack is full of restraint. Powerhouse vocalists hold their voices back from reaching the notes they’re capable of hitting, leaving the listener begging for more, and the artists exercise control over the listener by withholding that gratification from them. For a movie that supposedly uses power dynamics between characters during sex as a foundation for its plot, the juxtaposition the soundtrack offers is, in some ways, brilliant. And for the most part, aside from a cheesy ballad from Ellie Goulding and a beautiful but out-of-place track from Sia, it works! Here are my three favorite tracks from the soundtrack:
- Laura Welsh—“Undiscovered”
In a song that is likely supposed to evoke the raw and innocent nature of Anastasia towards the beginning of the story, relatively unknown English vocalist Welsh allows her soulfully-reserved voice to carve a fairly catchy melody over a simple skipping drum beat. Christian’s point of view occasionally pokes its head in the chorus: “You’re undiscovered/I want to see the rest of you/I can’t get next to you,” but ultimately, the song builds into a simple yet interesting dance track.
- The Weeknd—“Earned It”
Abel Tesfaye, otherwise known as The Weeknd, was a clear must-have for this movie’s soundtrack. One would be hard-pressed to find another artist who so delicately tiptoes that line between smoke-stained tragedy and delicate sensuality in their music. So, of his two contributions to the soundtrack, “Earned It” easily reigns superior. Tesfaye ditches the hazy synth production his work often favors for cinematic orchestral arrangements to allow his voice to assume the form of a fragile crescendo weaving its way through the throbbing strings. And despite boringly rhyming “perfect” and “worth it” in the chorus—a trope many a pop star falls victim to—I was particularly fascinated by points in the song where Tesfaye’s beautiful falsetto was muffled by a vocal filter, exercising the restraint found elsewhere on the album. But it is one of his best solo singles in quite some time.
- Vaults—“One Last Time”
What is likely my favorite song from the soundtrack comes from an also relatively unknown English band, Vaults. “One Last Time” fashions a beautiful violin riff over a trippy drum beat, and allows singer Blythe Pepino’s voice to craft a dejectedly-romantic baroque-dance ballad. Her voice is like Florence Welch’s (of Florence + the Machine), but whereas Welch’s voice easily fills a concert hall, Pepino’s voice feels more comfortable reverberating through its nooks and crannies in the afterglow of a concert. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s the intimacy of her voice that allows this song to stand out over several other great cuts from the soundtrack.