November 4, 2008: Barack Obama becomes the first black President of the United States. And if you’re a teenage girl, something else exciting happens: the first Twilight soundtrack finally hits stores.
It was an event that sent many of Twilight‘s young, female fans — the kind of fans who would be first in line at midnight screenings and mall events — running to the nearest Hot Topic. But the soundtrack also reached Twihards of all ages — and even those indifferent to the franchise — no matter where they were.
Thanks to contributions from the likes of Linkin Park, Muse, and the movie’s own Robert Pattinson, the Twilight: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 1, and it went on to spend 20 weeks in the Top 10. It also cemented Twilight as a tastemaking force, paving the way not just for four more Twilights soundtracks loaded with original material, but also future blockbuster series like The Hunger Games, which similarly used acclaimed artists to widen its appeal beyond the YA crowd.
A decade after the Cullen family played baseball to Muse’s thundering “Supermassive Black Hole” and Bella and Edward danced to Iron & Wine’s “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” Billboard looks back on the soundtrack — and the artists’ whose careers it changed — with the help of those who made it happen.
“EVERYTHING WAS ORCHESTRATED BY A BUNCH OF WOMEN”
Alexandra Patsavas, music supervisor and producer: At that time, I had done some features, but a lot of my work had been in television. I remember reading the script and getting hired for the project after interviewing with [director] Catherine Hardwicke and Summit [Entertainment], then diving into the books. Not all of them were published at that point, so I just remember going as far as I could.
Livia Tortella, former executive vp/gm at Atlantic Records: Alex was talking to us [at Atlantic], because we were partners in [her label] Chop Shop Records, letting me know, “I’m really into these books, and I’m talking to Summit.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, I love those books, too!” Being an ex-goth, you know, to be able to do Twilight at 40? [Laughs] It was insane! You never lose certain things in your life. I was like, “Okay, we gotta do this, we gotta do this.”
Nancy Kirkpatrick, former president of worldwide marketing, Summit Entertainment: I always look at all the different ways you can touch the audience. And when you are talking about young females — which was [whom] we had to get worked into a frenzy — the music they listen to was really important. So, to me, the soundtrack had to not just be an extension of the movie, but it also needed to create an extension of the marketing and the audience.
Tortella: Not only did I know a producer of the movie [Gillian Bohrer], but I also knew the president of marketing [Nancy] and the music supervisor [Alex] months in advance! So what that does is it allows you to really pinpoint what the right musical experiences could be. Everything was orchestrated by a bunch of women who were so passionate about it and wanted to get it right.
Patsavas: It was really interesting to delve into Stephenie’s characters, and the Pacific Northwest had such a lush feel. Throughout the entire series, that soundscape was so important: [It’s] haunting and a little bit otherworldly, sometimes tough, sometimes soft. It was really all about the feel of the music.
Kirkpatrick: For me, as a true fan, to get to be in charge of a lot of that stuff was super fun, because, like, what would I want?
“MUSIC WAS GOING TO BE USED AS A CHARACTER”
Tortella: I think it was very important to Alex to represent Stephenie’s vision of the music, so there was a lot of Muse, Radiohead, Linkin Park — everything that Stephenie Meyer loved was there.
Patsavas: The clearing process is incredibly specific, so [artists are given] a scene description and an exact timing, and they are certainly aware when they give permission of exactly how that song is going to be used. The easiest way to approach the bands was setting up an environment that was just artist-to-artist. Catherine [the director] was able to speak with these bands, and we were able to send footage and explain how music was going to be used as a character. Muse was huge, and it was such a get to be able to get that track [“Supermassive Black Hole”] specifically for the baseball scene.
Kirkpatrick: Alex would send us these listening tapes of, let’s say, 30 bands. She was preparing it for [Catherine], but I’d get to listen to it in case there was something I felt really strongly pro or against, like, “Oh, my God, I could cut the most amazing trailer to this, please make this work in the movie.”
Patsavas: The Iron & Wine track “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” was sort of an iconic moment [in the movie].
Sam Ervin Beam, Iron & Wine: The way the song got picked up for the movie was kind of a fluke. The story that I’ve heard was that they were blocking the prom scene, and I don’t know whether the music they were using wasn’t working, but for some reason, Kristen Stewart was listening to that song, and she suggested that they just play it over the loudspeakers so they could get a rhythm going. I guess it was just a thing where they heard it so many times in that scene, they couldn’t imagine it [being] something else. [Laughs]
Patsavas: Kristen knew what would best evoke the feeling of that scene [when Bella and Edward are at prom]. I think she came up with that possibly before the movie even shot. I’m not actually sure of that, but by the time we were in post, that song was already living in the cut.
Kirkpatrick: “Flightless Bird” was my favorite Twilight song.
Beam: To this day, people still call that song out in concerts. That’s the biggest, widest handshake I’ve ever made with the public, piggybacking on the back of this giant movie.
“PARAMORE WAS ALMOST LIKE A VOICE TO THE READER”
Kirkpatrick: Every band was so unbelievably cool. I was cooler than my kids for a few years because of Alex Patsavas making me listen to this incredible music. Alex was very truthful to the tone of everything having to do with Twilight. It was an amazing collaboration, right down to the choice of the first single, which was Paramore’s “Decode.”
Patsavas: I remember early conversations with [Hayley Williams] before she saw the film.
Tortella: Paramore was building at the time. Atlantic was starting to break [them], and I was speaking to Hayley when she came by the office at one point. I had stacks of the books, because I was basically giving them to everybody who walked into my office like a crazy person. I was like, “Hayley, you’ve gotta read this.” And she started reading it that day and started tweeting about it immediately.
Patsavas: Hayley came into the cutting room. We screened the movie for her and the band, and she went away and wrote those songs [“Decode” and “I Caught Myself”]. That first experience formed how we handled making sure that artists were really writing for a scene or to the spirit of the film itself. Over the course of the rest of the movies, we had many, many artists in the cutting room.
Tortella: Paramore was chosen because it was the epicenter — the key demographic that would be drawn to the movie. Paramore was almost like a voice to the reader of this book as well, because we saw an immediate reaction. They were on the brink. They weren’t broken by any strategy. That song, that movie — all of that just catapulted them.
Kirkpatrick: Hayley [first] came into my office with her mother. She was a girl with a guitar. And by the time the movie came out, you know, she was Paramore.
“THEY HAD, LIKE, 70,000 PEOPLE SHOW UP”
Tortella: I said, “You know, I want to do different covers [for the album] — Bella, Edward — and really focus on an image.” Everybody was like, “Huh, what? You want to do a physical piece? And you want to do three versions of it?” I said, “This is going to be a collectable merch item, and I promise you, people will collect it.” I wanted people to feel like part of the whole [phenomenon] when they were going into Hot Topic, which was a really key partner for Twilight .
Kirkpatrick: The Hot Topic partnership was just perfect. It spoke so well to this property. They did those mall events — I think we had bands play in a couple of the mall events. At the first mall event in a suburb of San Francisco, they had to close the mall because there were so many people there.
Patsavas: You could feel the presence of the movie before it was released. I attended the [fan events] in L.A. It was palpable, the excitement for the movie.
Kirkpatrick: The next [fan event] was in Dallas, and I called the Dallas field rep and said, “This is out of control — we need to talk about this with your security people and the local police.” So I get on the phone with the local police guy, and he’s going, “No, no, we do mall events all the time,” and I’m like, “You have no idea what I’m talking about.” And they had, like, 70,000 people show up. It was just insanity.
Tortella: The Twilight soundtrack entered at No. 1 [on the Billboard 200], and a lot of people were just like, “Holy shit!” And this was before the movie came out. The books were very popular, and I always knew that if we got it right and made the music in sync, [it would] open up the series. I knew it would do well.
Kirkpatrick: We didn’t know it would be No. 1, but we knew we had a really good soundtrack. I mean, those songs are good! You know, even if it hadn’t had anything to do with Twilight, if it had been a compilation for something, it would’ve still done really well.
Tortella: [The first compilation] laid the groundwork for Alex to put exclusive material on each of the soundtracks. So from that point onward, when I was talking to Lykke Li for the second one, there was already a track record. Alex set the stage for volumes two, three and four to be all-exclusive material.
Patsavas: I remember Bruno Mars watching the [first] film. I remember getting a confirmation that Thom Yorke was going to contribute [to New Moon]. I remember hearing the Bon Iver and St. Vincent duet [for New Moon] — and that was their idea, to do a duet. That’s really what I remember, watching the director put these songs so artfully in certain spots of the movie to highlight the drama.
Beam: Later, Bill Condon, the Breaking Dawn director, asked me to re-do [“Flightless Bird”], so we totally recorded a whole new version of it with the string section — that was super fun. It’s one of those things where, as an artist, you put your work into the world, and sometimes it finds nooks and crannies that you would never imagine it would find. [Twilight] was just a giant train that was unstoppable.
“THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN MUSIC AND YOUNG ADULTS IS SUCH A POWERFUL CONNECTION”
Tortella: Ten years makes me feel like I’m old. It’s just one of those things where I feel like it was yesterday — it had such a huge impact.
Patsavas: It was a wonderful time. It was a little bit unusual — there was a TV strike, and Twilight was my life. It was such a wonderful ride, it is hard to believe [it’s been 10 years]. It feels like it just happened.
Kirkpatrick: I was in the entertainment industry for a long time, but [the Twilight soundtrack] is by far the most fun thing I’ve ever got to work on. This was so special, because it was really a franchise driven by women, and it proved that a giant franchise could be driven by women. That was just thrilling.
Tortella: It just launched a whole [phenomenon with] young adult culture. It started a whole trend, which is also pretty exciting. The marriage between music and young adults is such a powerful connection. When I was reading the book, I knew what it felt like to be that age again. Just reading the book — and I think pop music does this so well too — it just puts you in that place of what it’s like to be this young person experiencing all of this stuff for the first time and experiencing it just as intensely. That’s what I think is so beautiful about it.