Movie trailers monopolize on classic songs

Why film trailers cover classics

Anyone who shows up to a movie on time to see the never-ending sequence of trailers will also notice a different, still never-ending  trend: taking a popular classic song and replacing it with a depressing version of the original. What many thought would be a momentary trend in 2010, these lackluster covers have clung on, continuing to confuse fans of the originals and distract younger generations with mediocre covers of classic songs.

This trend was jump-started with Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network eight years ago. The initial trailer for the film includes a cover of Radiohead’s most popular song, “Creep.” While the original isn’t by any means a chipper tune, the trailer’s cover band, Scala & Kolacny Brothers, decided to change the tone of the song from powerful to bleak by having it performed by a women’s choir. Other films have been piggybacking off of The Social Network’s trailer for years, and the trend has even rippled to trailers that have been released within the last few months. The only difference from then to now is the trend skews even more toward dreary tones.

The upcoming action remake, Tomb Raider, features a cover of “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child that fully embodies the dismal tone that has infected recent movie trailers. Cover band 2WEI transformed the upbeat, fast-paced, anthem song into a chanting echo that follows heroine Lara Croft through her exploits. Beyonce’s usual powerhouse vocals are replaced with an eerie, ethereal murmur on this version of the track.

While most cover songs in trailers sway towards sad renditions of songs, the one movie that decided to stand out from the pack is from the Justice League franchise. The trailer features a version of David Bowie’s seminal track, “Heroes.” Cover band Gang of Youths followed the same path as their predecessors with slowing the tempo of Bowie’s original version down to a near halt. But instead of making the song sound threatening with the typical chanting vocals and distant xylophone notes ringing—like in the Geostorm trailer with a breathy cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”—Gang of Youths used gritty vocals mixed with an overwhelming orchestral backing and powerful guitar riffs to distract from Bowie’s iconic words.

Why this trend has stuck so strongly to movie’s marketing departments, no one really knows, but Simon Heeger of 2WEI has a theory.

“I think covering a classic is always really helpful to transfer the emotion that you had with that specific song,” Heeger said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “And since the whole trailer world is really about creating a very specific emotion, covers paired with a big impact and big dark sounds, I think that’s a very well-functioning combination.”

The one trait all of the aforementioned trailers share is a strong emotional pull to them. The Justice League trailer leaves viewers feeling both inspired by Bowie’s lyrics and intimidated by the strong electric guitar riffs that echo through Gang of Youths’ rendition. 2WEI makes Tomb Raider feel mysterious and enthralling, and the chorus chanting the lyrics of “Creep” achieve the goal of making the mundane feel like a feat.

Movie trailers ultimately cover classic songs because it is simple and inexpensive for the film studios. US copy right laws state that the original artists permision is not necessary, as long as they aqcuire a license and pay the royalties.

Love it or hate it, this is the modern world of movie trailers. Despite these tracks only being in 3-minute movie trailers, they give a 21st-century homage to the past, for better or for worse.

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