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Leonardo DiCaprio in director Baz Luhrmann's take on "The Great Gatsby"

Jay-Z, Lana Del Ray Make ‘Gatsby’ Pop

written by: on May 15, 2013

Using modern rap and hip-hop music to score The Great Gatsby, a great American classic rooted in the roaring ’20s, sounds like sacrilege. But when paired with a raucous party scene at the Gatsby mansion or a seedy underground club of Manhattan’s high-rollers, songs like Jay-Z’s “100$ Bill” are ingeniously appropriate.

While the latest film adaptation of Gatsby (directed by Baz Luhrmann of Moulin Rouge! fame and starring the orange-tinted but still very dapper Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role) lacks the depth and feeling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, the Gatsby soundtrack provides some bright spots in the beautiful mess.

Still, unlike the soundtrack from executive producer Jay-Z, the real emotional fireworks in Luhrmann’s Gatsby are sorely lacking.

Though the film is often visually mind-blowing, DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan have zero detectable chemistry as Gatsby and Daisy, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway appears stoned throughout the whole affair, and big revelations (save a climactic slow-motion car crash and Gatsby’s unveiling to the grand crescendo of “Rhapsody in Blue”) too often fall flat.

Thankfully, the music steps in during key moments to bring sometimes wooden characters and distractingly fake CGI backdrops to more vivid life.

Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” is the film’s unofficial anthem, serving as both Daisy’s theme and a lyrical farewell to the memories Gatsby can’t bring himself to forget. Jack White’s “Love is Blindness” is another highlight, with the requisite angst to fuel Gatsby, Nick, Daisy’s husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) and the husband of Tom’s mistress (a creepily unhinged Jason Clarke) on their downward spiral towards the film’s end.

As for the many  “love” songs that Luhrmann cultivated in Romeo + Juliet, bashed audiences over the head with in Moulin Rouge! and toned down ever so slightly here, two covers in particular stand out.

Emeli Sande and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra produce a more jazzed-up version of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” which still work deliriously well for the second party scene at Gatsby’s. Beyoncé also contributes a cover— “Back to Black” by the late Amy Winehouse—with seductive, scuzzy beats from André 3000 to aid in the enchantment. Even when DiCaprio and Mulligan don’t quite click, the music always does.

To critics who disbaraged the modern soundtrack before even hearing it, Luhrmann had this to say:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is peppered with contemporary music references specific to the story’s setting of 1922.  While we acknowledge, as Fitzgerald phrased it, ‘the Jazz Age,’ and this is the period represented on screen, we—our audience—are living in the ‘hip-hop age’ and want our viewers to feel the impact of modern-day music the way Fitzgerald did for the readers of his novel at the time of its publication.”

Lurhmann’s very right about Gatsby being ripe for interpretation in the millennial age; however, he may also have created a monster: the Gatsby soundtrack is better than the movie.

Various Artists – The Great Gatsby tracklist:

  1. “100$ Bill” – Jay Z
  2. “Back to Black” – Beyoncé and André 3000
  3. “Bang Bang” – will.i.am
  4. “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” – Fergie
  5. “Young and Beautiful” – Lana Del Ray
  6. “Love is The Drug” – Bryan Ferry with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
  7. “Over the Love” – Florence + The Machine
  8. “Where The Wind Blows” – Coco O. of Quadron
  9. “Crazy in Love” – Emelí Sande and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
  10. “Together” – The xx
  11. “Hearts a Mess” – Gotye
  12. “Love is Blindness” – Jack White
  13. “Into the Past” – Nero
  14. “Kill in the Run” – Sia