Jonah Hill’s Rap and Punk Bias
Actor Jonah Hill, for his feature directorial and screenwriting debut Mid90s, recently collaborated with Spotify to create an official “motion picture playlist” for the film. What’s unusual about this featured playlist, which Spotify calls “the first of its kind,” is that it includes both music from the film and other tracks not featured in film from the same era.
Hill was personally involved in selecting the tracks, telling Spotify, “I was always a diehard fan of classic movie soundtracks… I couldn’t have been more thrilled to collaborate with Spotify on such a new and exciting concept that I think reinvents what movie soundtracks can be going forward.”
Hill added that many of the film’s scenes “[were] written and shot to these specific tracks,” similar to Edgar Wright’s 2017 film Baby Driver. While Baby Driver’s action sequences involve bank heists and car chases, Mid90s is about a group of Los Angeles teenagers and features multiple skateboarding sequences. Hill even cast a group of experienced young skateboarders as the teens for authenticity.
The 1990s were a notably erratic era for popular music, featuring everything from grunge to bubblegum pop. For listeners who, like current pop star Halsey, were “raised on Biggie and Nirvana,” the film’s music probably evokes their personal 90’s childhood experience. Nirvana’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is on the playlist, and while The Notorious B.I.G. isn’t featured, other rap artists, like Wu-Tang Clan and GZA, are.
There are a couple tracks that are strangely jarring on a playlist that usually alternates between rap, punk, and alternative rock tracks. For example, Ginuwine’s “Pony,” which today is probably most commonly associated with the Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike, feels laughably out of place. Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” also tends to be associated with adult “easy-listening” radio stations instead of teenagers. Perhaps for someone who has seen the film, both these track choices make sense, but out of context, they seem like bizarre editions. Hill is also friends with Tatum from their work on 21 Jump Street, so it’s possible “Pony” is included as an inside joke.
There is a notable absence of other 90’s music genres, like ska, R&B, and interestingly, female-centric tracks. It’s understandable that a film about teenage boys doesn’t feature the Spice Girls, but Orange County band No Doubt’s music, with lead singer Gwen Stefani, probably would have fit with the Southern California setting.
In this sense, the Mid90s playlist isn’t so much evoking a universal experience of the mid-1990s but rather Hill’s interpretation of the era. Greta Gerwig did something similar with the soundtrack for 2017’s Lady Bird, selecting many of her personal favorite tracks from her high school years. It’s similarly odd that Gerwig’s film is set in the early 2000s, but the soundtrack is absent of hip-hop artists like Outkast, though at least in Gerwig’s case, the film is titled Lady Bird and not Early 2000s.
To be fair to Hill, even if the music from Mid90s doesn’t convey a quintessential 90s experience, the tracks selected are very reminiscent of the era. There probably will be plenty of millennial listeners for whom these tracks do evoke their personal coming-of-age experience.