Music of The Great Gatsby: Hip Hop in the Jazz Age

The Music of The Great Gatsby movie has been met with critical acclaim and with criticism. Many have questioned the choice to use contemporary music.

The newest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby directed by extravagant film maker Baz Luhrmann has generated a lot of buzz in the cinematic and literary worlds. The movie has been greatly discussed, with conversations ranging from the stylistic visual choices to the casting. Particularly  the music of the Great Gatsby has been acclaimed and criticized.

The music of The Great Gatsby is one of the main elements that has been discussed and speculated about. Luhrmann made the choice to feature non-period music in the movie, rather using contemporary artists such as Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Gotye, and Beyonce, among others. Many have criticized this decision because they feel that it does not fit with the movie, which takes place in the early 1920’s.

The songs included in the soundtrack may be by famous contemporary artists, but they are not all just the most notable pieces from those artists. The specific songs chosen for the movie were not random, they were chosen because their content fits into the atmosphere of the movie and reflect the themes in a contemporary sense. Some demonstrate the decadence of the age, which is a major theme in Fitzgerald’s original novel. What is really captured well in the movie is that the luxurious lifestyle of the 1920s was not as we often think of it- sterile and somehow more wholesome that the partying of today. The movie, partly with the help of the soundtrack, brought a sort of gritty reality to the partying of the time. The contemporary music helped to remind the audience that things have perhaps not changed as much as we think that they have.

Also, some of the songs, for example “Young and Beautiful” by Lana del Rey reflect the tragic romance that permeates throughout the movie. Gatsby’s life revolves around the fact that he is a hopeless romantic, or perhaps better said a hopeful romantic. He seems to always have hope that he will be with Daisy, his one true love. He constructs an entire new identity and life around her, even though in the end it ends in tragedy. The music really captures the sadness and gives emotional depth to the movie.

Lastly, many have bemoaned the use of contemporary music for this movie because it is a waste to not use the great classical jazz of the time period. However, the movie does include music that is of the time period, where appropriate, such as well known jazz standards such as “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, “Rhapsody in Blue”, and “New Orleans Bump”. Although, it is true that some of these songs were not written until after 1922, the date of the action in the movie, and as such are still not appropriate to use. It is all to easy for us to forget as a culture that accepts jazz (often as “old people” music) that the genre was very controversial during this time, in a way that is not so different than the way that hip hop is viewed today. Both have been criticized as enticing inappropriate behavior in listeners and promoting questionable values, despite popularity with the youth of each time.

Overall, it seems that the main goal of blending contemporary music and music of the 1920’s is to connect the past and the present. Luhrmann and Jay-Z did not create a soundtrack that is historically accurate because that was not their goal. They were trying to show the universality of the human experience, that things really don’t change as much as we sometimes think they do, just because of time. They were striving to bring a beloved classic alive and give it a new twist.

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