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2016’s best pop music moments in cult film

It’s been an incredible year for arthouse films – here we look at the best times that the charts infiltrated the cinema

Unless you were smart enough to live under a rock for the past year, 2016 has been depressing from start to finish. Trump, Brexit, the ongoing Syrian crisis – need I go on? The antidote to all this pain could be found at the cinema, the one place where everything’s OK or, at worse, two hours with a Marvel movie. And when it comes to emotional cocktails, little compares to the healing powers of pop music combined with film. Just as Song of the Year differs from Album of the Year, certain onscreen earworms deserve to be celebrated and watched on a loop. So yes, it’s been an unforgettable year for god-awful reasons. Still, it wasn’t all bad. I can think of ten positives – and they’re all embeddable on YouTube. Grab some popcorn and a pair of headphones; these are the best music scenes of 2016.


It’s early on that Sasha Lane finds love in a hopeless place – or Walmart, as it’s officially called. In the movie’s Magic Mike XXL moment, a supermarket stereo blasts some Rihanna and Shia LaBeouf instinctively leaps onto a checkout counter for a mini-rave. The giddy anthem is so emblematic of Andrea Arnold’s road trip epic, it reappears in full, two hours later. If you’re cynical, it’s like Len playing your Student’s Union and doing “Steal My Sunshine” twice in one setlist. But when it’s this catchy and symbolic, you have to surrender to the chorus. Forget John Cusack with a boombox; it’s all about Shia getting loose in the bagging area.


A fuckboy jam like “Classic Man” isn’t the obvious backdrop for a pivotal romantic scene. But Chiron, driving Kevin back to his pad, queues up the chopped-and-screwed remix and slides up the volume. “Chiron’s trying to project his identity into the world,” director Barry Jenkins tells Dazed in an upcoming interview. “You lower the register, and it’s like a hyper-masculine version of hip hop.” Aside from sounding less like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, the decelerated version of the tune peels away Jidenna’s “you can be mean when you look this clean” exterior to reveal the vulnerability underneath. Some emotions are only audible at a lower octave.


If you haven’t seen the film, you’ve stared in awe at the GIFs: Ralph Fiennes unleashing some dad-dancing to impress his former fling, a mute rock star played by Tilda Swinton. On one hand, it’s exhilarating; Fiennes is reliving his youth (his character produced the Rolling Stones) by dancing as if simultaneously nobody and everybody is watching. But then again, it’s so painful to watch, you wish he’d slip and crash headfirst into the pool. Remember, Luca Guadagnino is helming the Suspiria remake – let’s see what moves go down at the witches’ ballet academy.


An infectious beat – crafted by Korean musician DJ Soulscape – accompanies an outdoors fitness class and kids optimistically playing football around mounds of dirt. Despite Thailand’s military past literally haunting a village, the locals persevere and ignore the sleepwalking ghosts. Not even a crane digging up the ground can obstruct a five-a-side match. Apichatpong Weerasethakul allows and even encourages viewers to doze off during his films, and it’s the groovy catharsis of “Love is a Song” that’ll softly wake up any sleepyheads. For kinetic finales, it’s up there with Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee. An emphatic soundtrack for when everyone around you may as well be dead.


Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused lies somewhere between a film and mixtape. So it’s no surprise the centrepiece involves an instance of four-wheeled karaoke, in which the baseball bros rap along to whatever “old school” hip-hop was called in 1980. And Jake, a nervous freshman stepping up to the plate, impresses the guys by reciting every single word to “Rapper’s Delight”. (They didn’t even have back then.) Singing in cars – enjoy it now before James Corden ruins it forever. Special shout-out to the lengthy post-credits rap sequence that impatient cinemagoers missed.


Explosive thriller Nocturama, originally titled Paris Is Burning, spent the year wowing festival audiences and scaring off distributors. You can guess why. Pissed-off youths take aim at capitalism by successfully setting off bombs around Paris. Laying low in a shopping centre and slipping into designer outfits, the teen terrorists are oblivious to the irony – and in a cruel dig at Willow Smith, they’re more enthusiastic about “Whip My Hair” than political discourse. Are they slaves to pop culture? When Chief Keef comes on the speakers, it is, of course, the censored version without the swearing. That’s the kind of shit nobody likes.


Among the umpteen musical pleasures of Youth, a criminally underrated slice of Sorrentino weirdness, is Mark Kozelek in the role of, presumably, ‘Mark Kozelek’. The character has one duty: lounge around in the background while finger-picking an acoustic and reciting overly worded verses. So, in numerous sequences, Mr Sun Kil Moon himself is just sort of there like an overqualified extra. Why? Maybe it’s explained in a deleted scene. Not only did the shoot inspire lyrics for two albums, he’s teased an unreleased song called “The Only Affection I Received On Set Was a Mediocre Handjob From an Extra Who Kept Asking Me About Paul Dano”.


My petty grudge against Justin Timberlake dates back to when I learned how to spell *NSYNC. But after this concert film, I’m a reluctant fan. Timberlake – who’s always struck me as fake in a Tom Cruise way – gets Jonathan Demme to apply the Stop Making Sense treatment to his 20/20 tour. And wow. Whereas Demme restricts the camera movement in Stop Making Sense, he shoots JT+TTK as a 360-degree extravaganza, swooping from one stage performance intricacy to the next. Obviously the songs don’t match up to Talking Heads, but JT’s an elastic, charismatic frontman who sings the hell out of tracks I’d otherwise switch off. Fellow Timberlake skeptics, it’s on Netflix – give it a go.



Jeremy Saulnier’s ‘Nazis vs. indie rockers’ horror-thriller is a tough watch, especially in the aftermath of Anton Yelchin’s tragic death. Nevertheless, the inciting incident – a gnarly example of art as protest – goes down rather nicely. A punk band called the Ain’t Rights (not to be confused with the Alt-Right) find themselves performing for an audience of white supremacists (should be confused with the Alt-Right). Shaking up the setlist, the four-piece rattle through a Dead Kennedys cover and welcome bottles chucked at the stage. As for how they make it out alive? That’s in the nail-biting encore backstage.