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How the Twilight soundtracks defined a generation’s music taste

15 years after the Twilight films first premiered, the impact of their soundtracks remains – here, Lindsay Thomaston examines the saga’s musical legacy

On Christmas Day 2009, I no longer believed in Santa Claus, though for my parents’ sake I did feign belief that it was indeed he who came down from his workshop all the way in the North Pole to deposit The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack underneath our tree. The final gift of the morning had hardly been fully unwrapped before I was ripping the CD to my parents’ desktop computer. On a road trip the next day, my childhood friend Michelle and I sat shoulder to shoulder, a headphone splitter (the only luxury greater than a pink Motorola Razr) dividing the space between us. With the warbled bass of Thom Yorke’s “Hearing Damage” buzzing through our brains, the dreary lifelessness of rural Georgia took on a blue-filtered immortal magic. Although I did not know who the hell Radiohead were, I was certain a portal had opened.

There are few music compilations, let alone multiple within the same franchise, that conjure as cohesive and as formative a feeling as the sonic stylings of The Twilight Saga. Birthed on the cusp of broadband’s widespread enjoyment, but still a year shy of the smartphone takeover, these soundtracks served as a formidable gold rush of alternative sounds for their impressionable target audience of young millennials and zoomers, even foretelling the next generation of musical mainstays in the process. With direction from music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas (somewhat of a portal-opening diviner in the world of music curation), the musical legacy of Twilight’s ambitious soundscape reached beyond the Hot Topic-clad appeal of YA interest, and challenged the high-low divide of its teenybopper damnations. 15 years later, its impact remains.

Before Best Buy announced that it would no longer be stocking CDs, and before Thom Yorke referred to quickly growing streaming platform Spotify as “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”, the purchase of a soundtrack practically guaranteed its buyer discovery of an impressive new roster of up-and-coming acts. While the MP3 was positioned to obliterate the physical sale, those for whom the family computer could not be risked to Limewire found that the album purchase – whether in-store or on iTunes – was still a safe bet, and a well-curated soundtrack was the most revelatory trove of them all. With its inaugural album opening at number one on the Billboard chart two and a half weeks ahead of the first film’s release, Twilight was no exception, and neither were any of its subsequent four soundtracks which all charted within the top five slots. Google search queries for each of the 17 artists featured on The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack increased by 5,000 per cent in the months following the movie’s release, and bands like Muse enjoyed what music and theatre critic Jed Gottlieb described as the “Twilight bump” with its newfound fanbase of eager tweens.

For the generation whose relationship to musical exposure had rapidly shifted from rewinding cassettes with pencils to syncing an iTunes account – all in the span of prepubescence – such compilations offered a wide-eyed opportunity for exciting new sounds, and The Twilight Saga franchise would savour this rapport to the very last drop. Certainly, a middle schooler’s YouTube search history was just as likely to include the Annoying Orange as it was a broodingly folk Iron & Wine music video. And let’s be real: what young person didn’t attempt to play Bella’s Lullaby on a piano at least once?

Though Twilight’s musical instalments have seen the lasting appeal of everything from Paramore’s anthemic “Decode” and Muse’s lovingly memeable “Supermassive Black Hole”, to the radio successes of Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” and Christina Perri’s now Diamond-certified wedding crasher, “A Thousand Years”, it’s the noncommercial sleepers that carry the franchise’s musical atmosphere most enduringly. Consider for instance, the spectral fuzz-jam of The Joy Formidable’s “Endtapes” and the slinky tantrum of The Belle Brigade’s “I Didn’t Mean It” (Breaking Dawn Part 1), or Eclipse’s goth-twinged Beck x Bat For Lashes collaboration “Let’s Get Lost” – such gems have held their own through all these years, ageing gracefully (even immortally) beyond indie pop’s mid-2000s reign. It is, however, The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack that seems to have garnered the most persistent cult following for the experience of the compilation as a whole.

“I was too young to really have a music taste of my own,” reflects Ivy, a poet. “I listened to the radio, what my parents played in the car, what my friends played on YouTube when I was at their houses. But somehow, the stars aligned in such a way that I kickstarted a hipster phase at ten years old with the help of the New Moon soundtrack.”

“Here was a movie that male-dominated media discourse targeted as unworthy of exploration married with a truly kickass soundtrack, filled with the bands that the same people lauded” – Grace

A minor key-laden underdog with more indie acts than its predecessor, it’s not the established Pitchfork darlings of the compilation that make the album so ahead of its time (though these selections are impressive beyond their name-drop), but the prophetic pairings of songs like “Slow Life” which see Beach House’s Victoria Legrand in gossamer-light dialogue with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. Equally rainy day-appropriate is “Roslyn”, which slated Bon Iver (fresh off the success of his 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago) for a melancholic duet with St Vincent some six years ahead of her first Grammy win. Perhaps the most prolific of them all is Lykke Li’s near-gospel “Possibility” – a sparse piano arrangement whose tactful placement sees main character Bella Swan through the dissociative aftermath of a blindsiding heartbreak. “Possibility” solidified Lykke Li as an artist to look out for, though critics at the time lamented that something so good might be wasted on something as lowbrow as a vampire love triangle, and moreover, that its calibre would most certainly be lost on the pop-rotted ears of its young target audience.

There’s no doubt that The Twilight Saga is currently enjoying a renaissance, and at the helm of its revival are those original Twihards, all grown up and ready to induct the next phase of curious fanpires. TikTok hosts swarms of rainy West Coast travel vlogs scored by “Roslyn” and The Black Ghosts’ “Full Moon”. When the temperature drops, vinyl collectors proudly hold up their original pressings of the New Moon soundtrack and hit record, with good reason – at the time of this writing, the going eBay rate for the LP is $1,000. In Atlanta, longtime music venue The Masquerade hosts Twilight-themed dance parties where attendees sip glittery drinks and shout memorised lines at a projector screen like some 21st-century Rocky Horror Picture Show. Lykke Li’s “Possibility” has been recently reissued with an alternative edit – extra slowed down for your moping pleasure. For $89.99, you can own a miniature bag with Bella and Edward’s face emblazoned on it.

This comeback can be attributed to several things, one of the easier answers being that Netflix availability and extra couch time amid the earlier half of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in the streaming of the five films. The second answer is the nostalgia economy. The franchise’s original core fandom – a mix of younger millennials and Gen-Z tweens – have all reached adulthood, their inquisitiveness of pop culture from their youth coinciding with the simultaneous revival of y2k and indie sleaze. The third answer gets a bit more complicated.

Grace, a Seattle-based writer who was a freshman in high school at the time of the franchise’s peak, recalls indulging her love for the series in private so as to be taken seriously by her male peers – then, she got invited to join a group of girls to the midnight premiere of New Moon. “It was one of the first times that I can remember unabashedly professing love for books, movies and music with a group of girls and bonding together over it as we did our makeup, donned our merch, squealed with excitement and blasted the soundtrack,” she explains. “Here was a movie that male-dominated media discourse targeted as unworthy of exploration married with a truly kickass soundtrack, filled with the bands that the same people lauded.”

From the Beatles to Britney Spears, Grace’s experience is just one in a decades-spanning tradition of belittling the interests of young girls. As critical conversations on the intersection of gender and the perceived meaningfulness of various pop cultural aspects become more widespread, there seems to be a celebratory push from young women and queer folk alike who wish to revisit their inner child with a postmodern embrace, sans knee-jerk mockery. Sam, the event coordinator for The Masquerade’s Twilight-themed dance parties (which are largely femme and queer in their attendance) cosigns this observation, noting that Twilight’s mainstream resurgence comes from a place of both comfort and matured appreciation. “We as a generation are now able to reclaim how it makes us feel,” she explains.

While many fans return to the Twilight franchise through nuanced lenses of campy humour and a more critical understanding of healthy relationship dynamics (rightfully so), there remains an indebted fondness for the things the franchise did so well: big feelings, whimsy, introducing seventh-graders to Radiohead. “So often my friends and I say we wish we felt more empowered to loudly love what we loved when we were teens,” Grace continues. Sonically returning to the drizzly daze of Forks, Washington is “more than just a nostalgic listen,” she says. “It’s giving my younger self space to geek out on something that I love and build community through it.”

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