Are Slowed-Down Songs in Movie Trailers Getting Played-Out?

There’s much to love about the last few trailers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but is the use of “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio really all that great? Slowed down-familiar songs being used “eerily” in movie trailers are becoming an epidemic, threatening to replace the oppressive single-note BRAAAM noise-fad which found its inception in the trailers for, well, Inception in 2010. And while those brassy-slams were bad, are these slowed-down creepy songs any better?

Last February saw the release of Endless Love (a weird remake) and the trailer featured a “haunting” cover of Robert Palmer’s upbeat 80’s finger-snapper “Addicted to Love,” sung by Florence and the Machine. The original song isn’t really ruined (assuming that’s something you’re worried about), and because the themes of the movie are about reckless sex (kind of?) it actually makes a modicum of sense. Still, because the teenaged target audience of this movie presumably doesn’t know or care about Robert Palmer, it’s weird. Besides, Ingrid Michaelson has already done the definitive homage to all of Robert Palmer with “Girls Chase Boys.”Truly!

Anyway, the trend continued with the use of the Lana Del Rey cover of “Once Upon a Dream” in the trailer for this summer’s Maleficent. Like the Florence and the Machine version of “Addicted to Love,” this takes something “innocent,” and makes it “dark” by slowing the pace, speaking the lyrics more breathily, and making sure the instrumentation contains plenty of tinkling noises to let you know it’s a nursery-rhyme thing, only gone wrong. This, too, is partially excusable since at least “Once Upon a Dream” was written for Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty, of which Maleficent is an adaptation / re-telling.

Superficially it may seem “darker” to pair the scary imagery of Maleficent with the creepified version of “Once Upon a Dream,” but maybe it would have been scarier if they’d just use the regular song juxtaposed with creepy images. You know, like in a David Lynch kind of way. Lynch didn’t get a re-recorded version of “In Dreams” to make a scene creepier in Blue Velvet, he just used the regular Roy Orbison one. Which is why it’s scary. Conversely, the slowed-down song approach hits-you-over-the-head with its ethereal “otherness,” making it (arguably) un-scary and affected. Not to mention, it’s fairly obvious that the artists tapped to create these versions get to make a quick-buck from fake, recycled nostalgia, making the “darkness” seem even more manufactured.

Lately, this phenomenon is out of control. The teaser-trailer for Birdman sported a meditative version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” which (I guess) is supposed to subvert the pop innocence of a song that was big for like three months in 2006. Beyoncé tried to make 50 Shades of Grey cool by giving the trailer a slowed-down version of “Crazy in Love,” which admittedly is cool, but is still overtly manipulative. Basically, the inclusion of this special slowed-down version of “Crazy in Love” is attempting to put a moody spin on a familiar tune, serving as marketing shorthand that this movie is a movie with stuff in it you’ll like, but it will be messed up!

Meanwhile, Thor himself is dealing with two slowed-down classics; in addition to the brooding version of the Pinocchio ditty “I Got No Strings,” in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chris Hemsworth’s hacker flick Blackhat is employing a faraway-sounds-like-an-after-thought-version of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” in its extremely generic trailer. Bizarrely, the original song was written for a movie, and has had versions crop up in just about every single thing, ever. (And even more bizarre, this cover of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” was recorded by a pretty great band called Antony and the Johnsons, who also did a slowed-down cover of “Crazy in Love” a few years ago. Huh.)

Of course, the attempt to twist something bright to make it seem “badass” or “hardcore” is nothing new. But something as obvious as marketing a film by claiming it’s “not your parent’s [BLANK]” is pandering and insulting, which is why, I imagine, it stopped being used as an advertising tactic. (Though this phrase was actually used in a few of the Star Trek reboot trailers.) I mean, we’re not supposed to literally think of Avengers: The Age of Ultron as “not your parent’s Pinocchio,” but that’s kind of the intellectual effect of using the slowed-down “I’ve Got No Strings” melody. Especially with Ultron (James Spader) actually quoting lines from the song, just in case you didn’t get the point. I don’t think it’s edgy or interesting to appropriate these happy songs and make them fake-sad—it’s predictable and trite. What next? Tom Waits singing a super-sloooow version of the “Nana-nana-nana-nana-Batman!” song for Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice? It makes about as much sense as “I’ve Got No Strings.”

These slow-poke covers are shortcuts for creating “darkness” or “uneasiness,” but they actually do the opposite, drawing attention to the artifice that this isn’t an ad for a cool story, but rather a cultural event. The use of these familiar songs is trying to make you think this is something MORE than a movie, which, in fairness, is the entire aim of trailers. If trailers are commercials for a product, then they’re not required the same fidelity to logic that we might demand from the plots of the films themselves. But they do the movies a disservice when the trailers get so obviously manipulative.

Some among you may be celebrating the slowed-down songs, and waiting for even more slowed-down songs in the future. But as long as these trailers continue to pander to invented-nostalgia with this the parade of slow, plodding sameness, we should probably plug our ears—and maybe question the quality and the substance of the movies being advertised. Avengers: Age of Ultron, didn’t need to do any shorthand to let me know it was going to be “badass” or “hardcore.” And the attempt at making the trailer seem “really serious”actually had the reverse effect, because instead of being scared, or jolted into recognition; whenever I hear one of these slowed-down classics, I generally struggle very hard to stifle a laugh.


Ryan Brittis a longtime contributor to Tor.com and the author of the forthcoming essay collection Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: A New Geek Manifesto (Plume 2015). He lives in New York City.

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