Give yourself time to sit down and close your eyes for while. Now imagine you’re back in the late 2000’s. The age of Hannah Montana, Xbox Live, and the Plain White T’s. Say you were in middle school during that period, and as you get dropped off by your mom who blasts I Gotta Feeling with windows wide open, you start to hear murmurs of vampires and werewolves as you walk to your first class. Perhaps Bela Lugosi or Lon Chaney pop up in your head if you’re familiar with the movie monsters of old, but there’s a good chance of you slowly noticing a certain cultural shift in how your peers view those monsters. As you play Line Rider on the library computers during lunch, you see your crush from algebra reading a book by one Stephanie Meyer. On the cover is a delicious-looking apple being held by two very pale hands. Suddenly, those murmurs you heard in the morning of who is Team Edward or Team Jacob suddenly begin to add up, and bellowing deep in your gut is the realization that she may always find herself luring after those fictional heartthrobs before ever even knowing your name.
Luckily this story is fictional. I personally preferred to wait to get my heart broken until after high school. But perhaps this is a narrative shared by those who spent that period hating the Twilight Saga with the utmost, often-homophobic fury. After all, the idea of vampires that sparkle and feel burdened by the emotional weight of living for an eternity while stuck in a teenage form, instead of, y’know, sleeping in coffins or turning into a little bat that flies around, was probably too new of an idea for those insecure enough to dismiss the saga in the most immature of ways. The kind of people who probably spent way too much time playing Modern Warfare 2. But as Susan Sontag wrote, “Time eventually positions […], even the most amateurish, at the level of art”. I don’t have as big a gall as I would hope to say that Twilight now qualifies as high art, but there’s a preciousness to it all that has certainly grown with the flow of time. To be among an age group that experienced the peak of their adolescence alongside the annual release of a new film in this series now feels like something akin to a once-in-a lifetime privilege. There’s no feeling quite like it, even if the indifference I initially had with the series was still very much there. But with Twilight, I think of middle school courtyards, sitting at lunch with your friends who recommend anime that you will never watch, and the all-nighters I would have to myself on weekends. For me, a link to those memories becoming far more tangible rests on the soundtrack for each film. Running through the veins of them is pure unfiltered adolescent angst, and with those sounds is a tether that can immediately transport me to a time where you were merely confused, emotional and pimply, yet somehow reassured that being an adult was still the farthest possible thing. But now, there’s no better time to look back and see what made each one work; from the least to the most. Cue Paramore. Because who else?
5) BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 (2011)
As petty as it may be to start the lowest choice in a ranked list with “nowhere to go but up”, I unfortunately can’t help but apply that here. In the vast realm of Twilight soundtrack openers, Endtapes by The Joy Formidables is a melody too derivative to truly latch onto, and the leeway into the rest of it isn’t too strong either. Love Will Take You, its second track provided by Angus and Julia Stone, is above all very pretty folk, but not quite enough to tell it apart from anything I could hear from The Lumineers or Mumford and his fraudulent sons. Ultimately, it’s too lightweight of a collection, with an uninspired single from Bruno Mars seemingly made only for radio play. But Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years is the single that’s closest to saving the day here – in the form of a chamber-folk ballad that bleeds itself well into the story of the newlywed couple found in Bella and Edward, and their animatronic infant soon-to-come. The only other noteworthy song is one that was originally within the soundtrack of the first film. Iron and Wine rework the gorgeous Flightless Bird, American Mouth into an even softer version of itself for the opening where Bella and Edward tie the knot. But y’know, highlighting a song that was from another soundtrack isn’t quite a testament to the rest of it, which only amounts to what feels like a bridge to a better collection of songs in Part 2. Hopefully by now, you can guess what the next one will be.
4) BREAKING DAWN – PART 2 (2012)
You can imagine in some way that the music supervisor for these movies may have attempted to steer a metaphorical ship in a more proper path before this franchise ended. Where Breaking Dawn – Part 1 comprised mostly of pop-oriented singles that sounded disposable enough to sound nearly the same as the other, Part 2 would nearly work as a return to the more out-there’iness of the first three soundtracks, if there wasn’t like, a mere 12-month wait between each film. But man, remember synth-pop? Passion Pit is certainly there to show you if not, in the form of its opening track Where I Come From. It is potentially the brightest sound you’ll get on any of these soundtracks, with cheery synths, bouncy beats, and Michael Angelakos’ trademark howl. But suddenly, you hear Ellie Goulding’s Bittersweet possibly begin what may be a mostly electronic affair this time around, and then surprise! Green Day shows up with The Forgotten. You may think of it as an unexpected 180 if it weren’t for hearing Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals alongside melancholy piano and strings, which winds up a welcome detour from the processed beats that came before. Feist brings a callback to that familiar Twilight angst with Fire in the Water, and St. Vincent shreds onto the scene with a bluesy track called The Antidote. It ends up becoming a soundtrack tonally at war with its own tender moodiness and rowdy rock; all-the more appropriate considering the climactic war of the film itself. I’ll have to assume that’s a deliberate decision and that the music supervisor is more than likely a genius.
3) ECLIPSE (2010)
It’s right around here where we start to reach a perfect middle ground between the more radio-friendly vibes of the Breaking Dawn soundtracks, and the more eclectic variety of the first two. From the start, if you’re anything like me, you’re a tad bit taken aback by how Metric has only contributed one song to any of these movies. I’d certainly say that between Eclipse and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 2010 had to be the year that Metric’s floodgates burst with a surplus of new fans. But Eclipse (All Yours) provides a heavy lead-in for the bombast that follows, in the form of Muse’s Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever), but it’s the double-decker combo of Florence + the Machine and Sia that really hits. Heavy in Your Arms and My Love, consecutively – both such achingly romantic ballads that are able to really extend themselves to the story. Like,
will Bella truly allow herself to become a vampire by marrying Edward? I personally don’t know. I stopped at New Moon. But alas! It’s in the second half where we go for some genuinely out-of-left-field appearances from Jack White, The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, UNKLE, and Cee Lo Green himself with What Part of Forever. There’s a far more energetic pacing to be found here, compared to the softness that truly complements the moodiness of this saga, but for what it’s worth, there’s still enough here to imagine yourself in those Washington woods, in a tense love triangle between vampires who climb trees and werewolves who ride motorcycles.
2) TWILIGHT (2008)
At first glance, I had nearly zero engagement in the story of Twilight when I accompanied far more eager family members to see it on opening weekend, but somehow I felt just a glimmer of resonance with 15 Step, the opening track of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, being the very first song we hear as the credits rolled. I didn’t quite fully delve into Radiohead until I was in high school, but I knew there was something to latch onto with that song choice, which may have informed the obsession I’d have with them later on. In an unexpected discovery, it seems to be that 15 Step is not on the actual soundtrack, but that doesn’t at all obscure the inherent bangers to be found here. There’s no better way to say “welcome to 2008, baby” than opening your soundtrack with Muse, who continues their apparent outer space fetish with Supermassive Black Hole, which plays during the film’s (in)famous baseball scene. Following that is Hayley Williams – a most prominent mainstay of late-2000’s emo, popping off on Decode by Paramore. And Linkin Park stopping by in-between inserting theme songs for two consecutive Transformers movies with Leave Out All the Rest. It’s a collection to truly get lost in; from the melancholy loudness of Mutemath, to the gentleness that Iron & Wine brings to Flightless Bird, American Mouth, and a reminder that the legendary Carter Burwell scored not one, not two, but three of these movies. The only thing more iconic than that is including an additional Paramore song in your soundtrack, in this case I Caught Myself. The cherry on top, of course, which really cements this soundtrack as more of a capsule of those late-aughts vibes than any of its companions.
1) NEW MOON (2009)
We made it, folks. And to be honest, for me at least, it wasn’t even a close call. This baby is a bounty. A full relic of what ultimately summarizes the sound of these films; from brooding alternative to the up-and-coming indie rock that Pitchfork would throw themselves at in 2009. If getting hit with an opening triple-decker combo of Death Cab for Cutie, Band of Skulls, and the sinister synths of Thom Yorke doesn’t do anything for you, then perhaps some wonderful collaborative tracks between the finest of that era certainly will. The Twilight saga seems ingrained in a feeling one gets during the time of autumn, and above all, that feeling is strengthened here to a high degree. Even in the hardest tracks is an airy melancholy that suits the general vibe, if you will, but the beauty is best found in the softness. Specifically, Done All Wrong by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Possibility by Lykke Li bring their own sense of intimacy to the melodrama of it all. Though two other tracks in particular ring especially effective, to where they could easily exist apart from the world of Twilight, but just as much as they do service to it. Rosyln – a collab track between Bon Iver and St. Vincent, is one such track. In this song are two artists, fresh off their own breakthrough success, channeling a beautifully muted folk sound; all with a sincerity that feels nothing but aching. Following near the end is Slow Life – a song by Grizzly Bear with vocals by Victoria Legrand of Beach House fame, who lends a bold, dreamy closeness to round out the entirety of what came before in a very perfect way. Songs like these come as reminders that in spite of the brooding heartthrobs, the high school drama, and at times the general silliness that this franchise has become known for, within its core are the building blocks of a love story, which more than anything was put together by the musicians who lent it a heart that very much bleeds.