LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Just in case you’ve been in a sight-, sound- and Twitter-deprivation tank for the past two years, here’s the lowdown on the “Twilight” franchise: It’s a series of four books written by Stephenie Meyer about Bella, a human girl who hearts Edward, a vampire boy. This is awkward, due to Edward’s predilection for snacking on platelets, but also because high school relationships are invariably angsty and messy.
The first of the series, “Twilight,” became a feature film starring bed-headed porcelain heartthrob Robert Pattinson, and made almost $400 million last year at box offices around the world for its fledgling movie studio, Summit Entertainment. The accompanying soundtrack, featuring Paramore, Muse, Linkin Park
-- and a rather lovely track by Pattinson himself -- sold 2.2 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
On November 20, the adaptation of the second book in the series, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” hits theaters. The companion soundtrack claimed the top spot on the Billboard 200 last week.
For the next three months, Atlantic wants to make the soundtrack inescapable. The label is teaming with teen lifestyle all-stars to promote the album: Hot Topic, MTV and MySpace. For those too old to wear black nail polish, the soundtrack also will be sold at Whole Foods, Nordstrom‘s, Hallmark and Hollywood Video.
But besides its omnipresence, there’s a secret weapon the label is deploying for “New Moon.” The soundtrack features tracks from Thom Yorke, Bon Iver & St. Vincent, Lykke Li and Sea Wolf, among others -- and they’re all exclusive to the album.
“We had offers from artists that were incredibly wonderful and incredibly commercial, and it would have been easy to say, ‘Oh, let’s go for it because we’ll sell more records’ -- but it wouldn’t have been true to the project,” says Paul Katz, founder/CEO of Eye2Ear Music, which consults with Summit Entertainment on music; Katz produced the soundtrack album and has been involved since the script stage to determine where music could fit into the film.
The track list mediates the one bit of risk to the “Twilight” series: So far, the franchise owes its popularity to the capricious crushes of teenage girls. Getting “Twihards” who love virtuous vampires to buy the soundtrack is easy -- but getting Radiohead fans to plunk down cash for a little bit of the “New Moon” universe will be a coup.
“Keeping it as a combination of obviously great artists -- but making it interesting for people to discover -- was a very carefully considered view,” Katz says.
As “New Moon” opens, there’s a complication in the story of our star-crossed lovers: While Bella may love Edward forever and ever -- eh, Edward thinks it’s best to take a break. Enter boy-next-door Jacob, who -- in the grand narrative tradition of mystical Native Americans -- is a werewolf.
This love triangle forms the plot of “New Moon,” and accordingly the soundtrack is moody and wistful, but with an undercurrent of strum und drang machismo. Each song is exclusive to the soundtrack, as-yet-unreleased, and most were written specifically for the movie, remixed or given new lyrics to fit the film’s themes.
“I was very inspired by the John Hughes movies of the ‘80s, which made me listen to indie rock bands that probably weren’t meant for 13-year-olds: Yello, the Psychedelic Furs, New Order,” says music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, who also produced the album, as she did for the soundtrack to “Twilight.” “Hopefully we can create a similar moment in time for 2009 teenagers.”
Patsavas received coffins and Dracula pictures in her South Pasadena, Calif., office from bands trying to get her to listen to their tracks for inclusion on the “New Moon” soundtrack.
“The big difference between the last album and this album is that the last album we really had to go out there and beg and plead for the first album and for this one, it was completely the reverse,” Katz says.
The first single is Death Cab for Cutie’s “Meet Me on the Equinox,” which debuted on MTV.com September 13 in tandem with the network’s Video Music Awards; the music video, a sepia-toned intermingling of the band with footage from the movie, debuted October 7.
“With Death Cab we felt like they were hip enough, they were cool enough, and they were musical enough and broad enough without being super commercial super pop,” Katz says. “And one thing Summit is cognizant of, when we choose an artist --and they choose us, it’s a mutual thing -- is that we want enthusiasm.”
And Death Cab is nothing if not enthusiastic about discussing the travails of Bella, Edward and Jacob. It can follow in the footsteps of the singer of the “Twilight” soundtrack’s first single: Paramore’s Hayley Williams, who blogged relentlessly about the series on the band’s Web site, posting pictures of herself holding the books and attending the movie’s premiere. Her fan-girl joy caught on; the “Twilight” soundtrack significantly boosted Paramore’s profile with its single from the album, “Decode,” selling 927,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“Paramore did a fantastic job for us -- and for them,” Katz says. “We want somebody who will feel really good about being involved in the project and talk it up.”
But the plan is to work “New Moon” like a traditional album, with several singles being released. Two contenders for the next single slot are Lykke Li’s “Possibility,” which is the longest musical take in the movie and played over a pivotal scene in the film as Bella pines for Edward, or the Killers’ “A White Demon Love Song.”
The Yorke track came about after Patsavas licensed the Radiohead track “15 Step” for the end credits of “Twilight.”
“Early on in the summer I was speaking quite a bit to (Bryce Edge, Yorke’s manager) and he said Thom had something already recorded that would be appropriate for the movie,” Patsavas says. “I was thrilled.”
The music for the “Twilight” series also receives invaluable support from Meyer, the books’ author. The fourth novel in the series, “Breaking Dawn,” is dedicated to Muse, which appears on both soundtracks. “They are super important to the ‘Twilight’ family,” Patsavas says.
Meyer writes on her blog at StephenieMeyer.com about what music she listened to while writing the novels. Her site now includes streams of her suggested songs, as well as links to purchase ringtones.
Since Meyer wrote “Twilight” in 2005 and started singing the praises of Muse, the band has seen steady sales in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan; when the track “Supermassive Black Hole” was placed on the “Twilight” soundtrack, the band’s popularity jumped. In the six months leading up to the release of “Twilight,” Muse’s 2006 album “Black Holes and Revelations” sold 41,000 copies, according to SoundScan. In the six months following the film’s U.S. bow, the set sold 73,000 -- up 78.5 percent compared with the pre-“Twilight” week.
“Supermassive Black Hole” had already peaked on the Alternative radio airplay chart at No. 6 in September 2007. In the track’s two-and-a-half years of release before the “Twilight” film’s debut, it had sold 154,000 downloads. In the 11 months since the film hit screens, the track sold another 310,000.
“Some time ago, when the band was playing in Arizona, we invited (Meyer) to a show,” says Muse’s manager, Q Prime’s Cliff Burnstein. “‘Twilight’ director Catherine Hardwicke wanted to use ‘Supermassive’ in a very long scene, with not a lot of dialogue in the foreground. We thought, ‘This is fun; this is a nice woman who writes these books, she’s a fan of ours, let’s get involved in this.’ No one was really thinking at the time, ‘This is a huge opportunity.'”
The “New Moon” soundtrack features a remix of Muse’s “I Belong to You” that was rerecorded to emphasize the track’s guitars and takes out the French opera interlude in the original version.
So to address the question fluttering in a million teenage girl hearts: Why does Pattinson not make an appearance on the second soundtrack?
The answer: He didn’t want to. (Sorry, girls.) “We asked if Rob wanted to do it, but his music is kind of his private stuff in a way -- as opposed to this huge public dazzle on him on the moment,” Katz says. “We wanted to respect that. If he comes to us on the third one and he wants to do something, then we would obviously be delighted.”
Right now Pattinson is filming “Eclipse” -- the third book in the “Twilight” series --in Canada in preparation for a release in summer 2010. Katz and Patsavas are back onboard for the soundtrack album, and while a deal with a record label isn’t finalized yet, Katz says, “We would like to work with Atlantic again.”
The plot of “Eclipse” provides more rich sonic territory, including a vampire versus werewolf battle and lots of chaste “ragged breathing” between Bella and her supernatural boy toys. In other words, it adheres to the same formula that has sold 70 million copies of Meyer’s books worldwide, according to the publisher, Hachette Book Group -- an alchemy of hormones and horror that spawned films and soundtracks to feed off the stories’ success.
“There’s no illusion that it wasn’t the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon that helped make it so successful,” Katz says. “While the music is great, if it came out by itself, it wouldn’t have the same impact at all.”