KAREN O & SPIKE JONZE
"The Moon Song" from "Her"
Perhaps it should be thought of as the anti-campaign. Creating an aura of undeniable indie cool, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O, 35, and the film’s composer, 31-year-old William Butler of Arcade Fire, have resisted doing publicity for "Her" (ditto for director and Karen O collaborator Spike Jonze, 44), and neither the song — a difficult fit for radio because of its hushed tone — nor the score is available for purchase.
Warner Bros. Pictures’ inhouse label WaterTower Music posted the film version of “The Moon Song” on SoundCloud in September and a duet between Karen O and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig in February. The song also can be found on YouTube, including the version that appears onscreen featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix as their "Her" characters, Samantha and Theodore.
But none of these digital displays has shown all-that-impressive metrics. The few live performances of “Moon Song” have been limited to exclusive events, like The Hollywood Reporter’s Nominees Night at Spago in Beverly Hills on Feb. 10, and on Santa Monica-based public radio station KCRW (worth noting: The station broadcasts out of Los Angeles’ Academy member-dense Westside).
Nonetheless, the economic effects of an Oscar nomination, and certainly a win, can open opportunities (and revenue streams) for indie darlings willing to go Hollywood (and weather accusations of going commercial). Take Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who shuns music’s biggest kudofest, the Grammy Awards, but takes vocal pride in the Academy Award he won for 2010’s "The Social Network."
Written and recorded at Karen O’s dining room table, steps from the couch where she first read the "Her" script, “Moon Song” was 10 years in the making and, according to director-screenwriter-lyricist Jonze, a testament to their friendship and creative chemistry. “It was a unique process,” he says. “Similarly to when Karen O worked on "Where the Wild Things Are," she was writing songs while we were shooting. When you get to cut with a piece of music that you love and that’s part of the movie, it becomes intertwined and [not reliant on a] rhythm that’s already established by some piece of temp music.”
“Spike wanted an intimate love song that conveyed what it feels like when you are falling in love,” says Karen O via
email. “The lyric ‘a million miles away’ is meant to signify the feeling of being the only two people in the universe a million miles away from your life as you know it. ‘A million miles away’ also signifies the inherent unrequited nature of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship.”
THE TIPPING POINT
What “Moon Song” lacks in a big-budget marketing campaign it makes up for with a still-building audience of devoted fans and industry tastemakers. It’s no wonder Karen O chose to broadcast a short set (taped by Jonze and the film’s production designer, K.K. Barrett) for KCRW’s popular Morning Becomes Eclectic program, the video of which has been posted by Pitchfork and other music sites.
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Having an original song nominee perform during an Oscar campaign was a first for KCRW. The idea started with Warner Bros. pitching KCRW producer Ariana Morgenstern on the idea of a Jonze-Karen O segment. “Knowing the aesthetic of the film and the history of Spike Jonze and Karen O, we felt we could create something that resonates with our audience,” says KCRW music director and Morning Becomes Eclectic host Jason Bentley. “There’s a value in [the appearance] that goes beyond winning an Oscar. It’s about building a foundation for the future, whether it’s more projects or getting more fans.” Multiple critics-group citations for Jonze’s screenplay have paid off in bringing attention to “Moon Song,” and the past two months have seen Her blossom to become the smartest of the Oscar nominees.
Driving the song to an even deeper impact is its significance during a key scene that serves a writerly function in the script. As Phoenix and Johansson exchange verses while a guitar plays wistfully in the background, they create the song from scratch.
FOR IT: The hipster set is represented by "Her"’s five Oscar nominations.
AGAINST IT: Minimal campaigning and a downtempo song.