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When you're setting up an All-Star Cast, who says you have to stop at actors?
The Pop Star Composer is a famous musical figure, known primarily for their work with, well, popular music, who is hired by a movie or video game studio to provide music and songs for their latest work. Think partially-or-completely washed-up rock stars and dueling divas. This is especially common for animated musicals--lyrics and music by a famous songwriter seems a good way to draw audiences. If they already like Songwriter X, then they'll probably like the movie! Or so one hopes. Despite what you might think, the songwriter in question doesn't necessarily have to be an alumnus of the "pop" music genre--they just have to be known for something besides movie scores.
This particular practice has been somewhat all-over-the-place since it first began. Earlier, Trope Making examples sprouted up in The Eighties with examples such as David Bowie doing the songs for Labyrinth and Queen doing the music for movies such as Flash Gordon and Highlander. But animated movies in The Nineties really codified this trope, with examples such as Elton John doing the songs for The Lion King. In particular, animated movies with this kind of musical casting are prone to Award Bait Songs and composers/performers who used to be kind of cool once.
Anime & Manga
- Yuki Kajiura, maker of many soundtracks for various anime series, is one of the two members of famous Japanese pop duo See-Saw (disbanded), and regularly contributes to Japanese music through the solo project Fiction Junction and the band Kalafina.
- Susumu Hirasawa, a pop star during the 80s and 90s, experienced something of a second coming as a composer of anime soundtracks, notably Berserk and the works of Satoshi Kon.
- Ai Maeda is a film actress and singer, and provides the distinctive voice of the main character in Kino's Journey. Naturally, she also sings the ending theme song. (Relatedly, the ending theme lyrics were written by the original book's novelist.)
- US popstar Neil Sedaka composed the opening and ending themes for the series Zeta Gundam. Ironically however, this resulted in the openings not being used in the US DVD release.
- From what the rumors say, they tried to do this to Bone, with famous pop songs and a plot changed to be more "teen friendly." Jeff Smith was not pleased and shot it down, hard.
Films — Animated
- Disney uses this trope every once in a while:
- A surprisingly early example: Peggy Lee wrote (with Sonny Burke) the songs for Lady and the Tramp and sang most of them.
- Country singer Roger Miller wrote and performed "Oo-de-lally", "Not In Nottingham", and "Whistle-Stop" for Disney's Robin Hood.
- The Lion King, with songs by Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), popularized this trope in animated features.
- Phil Collins of Genesis wrote the songs for Tarzan. A few years later, he also did the songs for Brother Bear, which then is lampshaded in the DVD Commentary:
Rutt: Phil Collins, Phil Collins, Phil Collins... He's everywhere.
- The Emperor's New Groove was originally set to feature a whole arsenal of songs by Sting, but due to the movie undergoing a massive plot-shift in development, only two songs remain in the movie: Kuzco's facetiously-used theme song, and the end credits Award Bait Song, "My Funny Friend and Me." The rest of the songs can still be heard on the soundtrack album.
- Elton John also wrote and sang most of the songs in The Road to El Dorado, though unlike The Lion King, that wasn't a Disney movie.
- While Peter Gabriel's main contribution to Pixar's WALL-E was the end credit song "Down to Earth", he also co-wrote EVE's theme with underscore composer Thomas Newman.
- While most of the Newman family is known for film soundtracks, Randy Newman had a career as a singer-songwriter before (and while) working on films. He's been doing this for quite some time too, including six Pixar movies and The Princess and the Frog.
- Cars, along with pre-existing songs and Newman's score and "Our Town", also had original songs by Sheryl Crow and Brad Paisley.
- will.i.am performed and co-wrote with composer Hans Zimmer music for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
- Despicable Me had original songs by Pharell Williams, who was also credited for the underscore along with Heitor Pereira.
- Originally, Coraline was set to have a whole arsenal of songs by They Might Be Giants. However, they ended up not fitting with the tone of the film, and mostly getting cut. One short song, sung by Other Father, does remain in the film.
- Plan on watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron? Hope you like Bryan Adams!
- The animated Curious George movie has songs by Jack Johnson.
- Animalympics has songs written and performed by Graham Gouldman of 10cc.
- Jimmy Webb, best known for "Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park", wrote the underscore and songs for The Last Unicorn; the group America performed some of the songs.
- Roger Waters composed the music to When the Wind Blows, with David Bowie contributing the title song.
Films — Live-Action
- Labyrinth featured a song score by David Bowie, who also played the main antagonist, the Goblin King. Ten years prior, he worked on a score with Paul Buckmaster for his first Non Actor Vehicle, The Man Who Fell to Earth, but it went unused and has never seen the light of day save for a snippet of backwards bass that appears on the Low track "Subterraneans". Various explanations and theories have been given and floated as to why it didn't pan out, ranging from contractual issues to the director wanting a more American sound. Another popular musician, John Phillips (of The Mamas and the Papas), was hired to write part of the score instead.
- Queen provided the music for FLASH! AH-AAAH-- ...er, we mean Flash Gordon. Sorry about that.
- Queen also were "born to be princes of the universe" with Highlander.
- Roger Waters of Pink Floyd wrote a song for The Last Mimzy called "Hello (I Love You).
- There Will Be Blood has a soundtrack by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.
- Notably, it sounds nothing like Radiohead - but includes part of Greenwood's modernist orchestral work "Popcorn Superhet Receiver". He played the viola and studied classical composition years before becoming a guitarist, and it shows.
- Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam did the soundtrack for Into the Wild, which also doubled as his solo debut.
- Stewart Copeland of The Police wrote the music for Rumble Fish.
- Bob Dylan composed a number of original songs for the Sam Peckinpah western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He also appears in a minor role. One of the songs from the film, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," is one of his greatest hits, recorded by (among others) Guns N' Roses.
- Neil Young improvised the electric guitar soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's acid western Deadman while watching the film alone in a studio.
- Jack White of The White Stripes performed five songs in the film Cold Mountain and appeared in a minor role.
- Kill Bill Vol. 1 features original music by The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.
- Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra recorded the soundtrack for Xanadu.
- Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
- Clint Mansell, former vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock-rap-techno-industrial-grebo band Pop Will Eat Itself, moved into film scores after the band disbanded in 1996. Nowadays he's most famous for writing the scores for every single Darren Aronofsky film.
- Peter Gabriel of 'In Your Eyes' and 'Solsbury Hill' fame composed the music for The Last Temptation of Christ.
- He'd actually done another soundtrack before then — the smaller film Birdy, although half of the score was reworked instrumental versions of songs from his album Security. Since then he's done the score for Rabbit Proof Fence.
- Paul McCartney as solo artist composed music for several films, including Spies Like Us, Father's Day, Vanilla Sky, and the American versions of The Lake House and The In Laws. For some reason, films that use his music tend to get too philosophical or too Fauxlosophical for the intended audiences and achieve limited success.
- Cameron Crowe's film Singles features songs from bands in the Seattle grunge scene, which had just started to explode. Pearl Jam wrote two original songs, "Breath" and "State of Love and Trust," for the film. Soundgarden created an acoustic track for use in the background ambience of a scene. The song was "Spoonman," which was later re-recorded and became Soundgarden's breakout single.
- Mark Knopfler composed a number of scores for movies, such as Local Hero and The Princess Bride.
- Paramount and Disney's Popeye Live Action Adaptation was a musical with songs written by Harry Nilsson.
- Daft Punk composed the music for Tron: Legacy.
- Horror film Trick of Treat from 1986 had all its songs written by Hard Rock band Fastway.
- The Residents, of all people, performed the soundtrack to little-known Eighties black comedy The Census Taker (although about half of the soundtrack was previously released material).
- Mark Oliver Everett of Eels composed the soundtrack to Levity.
- Shudder To Think released two soundtracks in 1998 that were notable for being Something Completely Different from their normal alternative/art-punk sound: the score to High Art was a mixture of ambient music and instrumental trip-hop, while First Love Last Rites was a Retraux 50's and early 60's pastiche with loads and loads of guest vocalists such as Billy Corgan, Robin Zander, Liz Phair, and Jeff Buckley. Members Nathan Larson and Craig Wedren now both do soundtrack work from time to time.
- Yo La Tengo scored Adventureland.
- Dave Priner of Soul Asylum scored Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy.
- ACDC made the soundtrack of Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive.
- R.E.M. wrote the underscore for Man on the Moon, which was titled after their hit song about the movie's subject, Andy Kaufman. They also contributed a new song in "The Great Beyond".
- The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan has also written film scores, most recently for trashy auteur features like Jonas Akerlund's Spun, and Asia Argento's adaptation of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, though his first entrances into the genre involved more mainstream fare like Ransom and Stigmata.
- Anne Dudley, composer of the scores for (among many others) American History X, The Full Monty and The Crying Game (as well as the TV series The Tenth Kingdom) first became famous as a member of experimental electronica group Art Of Noise, as well as a prolific string arranger for many, many songs. She more or less moved into this full time - what she's done since leaving the band couldn't rationally be described as "pop".
- In 2004, Pet Shop Boys composed a score for the 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin, and performed it live with the Dresdner Sinfoniker in Trafalgar Square.
- Former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin has moved into writing soundtracks full-time since leaving the band in 1994.
- Tangerine Dream. And how. Well known in the 1970s for their experimental electronic sounds. 1970s output: 9 studio albums and 1 soundtrack. 1980s output: 6 studio albums and 13 soundtracks - including Thief, Risky Business and Legend.
- The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford both had soundtracks by Nick Cave and his bandmate Warren Ellis.
- Prog Metal band Mastodon composed the score for the 2010 film Jonah Hex.
- Batman had songs by Prince.
- The Sequels had Siouxsie and The Banshees,Nick Cave,Seal,U2 and the Smashing Pumpkins
- Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and his collaborator Atticus Ross did the soundtrack for The Social Network and won an Academy Award for their efforts. They worked together again on the score to the 2011 adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and also had Karen O contribute guest vocals for the Cover Version of "Immigrant Song" featured in the opening credits.
- BT scored the films Stealth, The Fast and the Furious, Catch And Release, Look and Monster, along with the Pixar short Tokyo Mater.
- Nick Cave and Warren Ellis created Beautiful scores for The Proposition,The Road and The Assassination of Jesse James
- The Zombies composed the soundtrack for Bunny Lake is Missing.
- Idiosyncratic acoustic guitar wizard Leo Kottke somehow did the soundtrack for a bottom-of-the-barrel Troma film, Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid.
- Attack the Block was scored by Basement Jaxx, known for their house music.
- Todd Rundgren did the score for Dumb and Dumber. The directors of that film later got Pete Yorn to do the music for Me Myself and Irene.
- Marilyn Manson did the score for the first Resident Evil film.
- U2 wrote and recorded several songs for the film The Million Dollar Hotel.
- Randy Edelman began his career as a musician who occasionally did film scores, recording a few albums in the process. Since the 1980's, he's recorded film scores full time.
- David Byrne, former lead singer of Talking Heads co-wrote the soundtrack for The Last Emperor with Ryuichi Sakamoto, who was the composer for Wings of Honneamise Royal Space Force. Sakamoto was also once the keyboardist for Yellow Magic Orchestra, a Japanese experimental electronica band, which means the Last Emperor has two pop star composers.
- The Polyphonic Spree performed the score to Thumbsucker. Before Author Existence Failure set in, Elliott Smith was going to score it instead. The songs Smith did complete for the film (two original songs and a Cover Version of Big Star's "Thirteen") were still included in the final product.
- Jeremy Barnes' first album as A Hawk and a Hacksaw provided the soundtrack for the documentary Zizek! AHAAH has also written an unofficial score that they perform live at showings of Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors.
- Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys provided five acoustic songs for the 2010 film Submarine, each used in memorable montages between the two main characters. One of them was even rerecorded for the Monkeys' fourth album.
- Two former members of Led Zeppelin did film scores. Jimmy page did the scores for Death Wish II and Death Wish 3, and John Paul Jones did the score for an obscure film called Scream For Help.
- While he didn't score the whole film, Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis composed and performed several short instrumental pieces for the independent film Gas Food Lodging.
- The score for Heroes is written by Wendy and Lisa, who scored Tim Kring's previous show, Crossing Jordan.
- Nelson Riddle, responsible for the jazzy Route 66 theme, moved into television and film scores but rose to fame as a popular band leader and arrangement artist for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole.
- Malcolm in the Middle was almost entirely scored by They Might Be Giants.
- Stewart Copeland of The Police was the composer for the pilot of Babylon 5; however, his techno score was not carried over to the series itself, where most of the music was done by Christopher Franke, formerly of Tangerine Dream.
- David Bowie (again) wrote the score for the BBC miniseries The Buddha of Suburbia.
- Elton John wrote two extra songs for the Screen to Stage Adaptation of The Lion King, and went on from there to write songs for Disney's Aida and the Screen to Stage Adaptation of Billy Elliot. Less successful was Lestat, a musical adaptation of The Vampire Chronicles.
- Rupert Holmes, best known for "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", wrote the songs for Drood, and later helped finish Curtains.
- Big River had songs by country singer Roger Miller.
- Jim Steinman composed the score for the musical adaptation of Tanz der Vampire.
- The French-language opera Prima Donna, composed by Rufus Wainwright.
- Duncan Sheik, a pop star in The Nineties, is probably better known as a Broadway composer nowadays, having won Tony Awards for Spring Awakening.
- Bono & The Edge composed the songs for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
- The Capeman by Paul Simon.
- Chess, by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA.
- Ca Ira, by Roger Waters. Yes, really.
- David Eugene Edwards of Woven Hand was commissioned by the Ultima Vez Dance Company to create soundtracks for their Blush and Puur shows. The soundtracks were partly original songs, and partly rearranged versions of prior Woven Hand songs.
- Masato Nakamura from the J-pop band Dreams Come True wrote the soundtracks for Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
- Michael Jackson was reportedly hired to compose for Sonic 3. Some members of Sonic Team claim Jackson's involvement was unofficial and happened without Sega's knowledge, if it happened at all; others claim to have possession of a complete soundtrack's worth of demos from Jackson. How much of his work actually made it into the finished game is unknown. Rumors abound, though, about Jimmy Hart versions, stolen beats, and whole messes of trouble relating to the situation.
- Trent Reznor (from Nine Inch Nails) composed the score for Quake. His contributes are noted by the "NIN" logos on the nail packs, which are used as ammo for the nail gun.
- Reznor's drummer buddy, Chris Vrenna also supplied the score for American McGee's Alice.
- The first three Spyro the Dragon games had their soundtrack composed by Stewart Copeland of the famous 80s band The Police.
- Utada Hikaru, a Japanese-American singer, writes the theme music for the Kingdom Hearts series.
- Legendary Thrash Metal band Megadeth is composing the soundtrack for the game "Never Dead," and judging from the comments on the Youtube pages the fans are just there for Megadeth
- The overarching Leitmotif in Tales of the Abyss is derived from the theme music, composed by BUMP OF CHICKEN, called "Karma".
- The God of War Blood & Metal EP by Roadrunner Records was made with this in mind: includes appearances by Trivium, Killswitch Engage, Opeth and Dream Theater, all writing original material.
- David Bowie co-wrote and performed the songs of Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and appears as two different characters in-game. Several of the songs made it onto his album hours...
- BT produced the soundtrack of Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005. One of the songs in DHT 2(the intro and the second Hoover Dam level) was a remix of his own "Mad Skillz (Mic Chekka)".
- Descent II had three of its songs produced by Ogre of Skinny Puppy, and an instrumental remix of "Haunted" by Type O Negative.
- Iron Helix's soundtrack was produced by Peter Stone of Xorcist.
- IDM / trip-hop artist Amon Tobin composed/produced the soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
- Techno DJ Sasha produced several exclusive songs for Wipeout 3, as well as including his single "Xpander".
- Halo 2 has "Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin, "The Odyssey" by Incubus, and "Connected" by Hoobastank, although the last isn't used in the game.
- The title theme to WRC, "Speed", was produced by Rollo & Sister Bliss, the duo behind Faithless.
- Sonic Mayhem (aka Sascha Dikiciyan aka Toksin) produced the music to Quake II, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Hellgate London, as well as half the music to Quake III Arena, the rest of which was done by Front Line Assembly.
- Indie pop musician Owen Pallett (session violinist / string arranger on albums by Arcade Fire and others, and has some solo albums) composed part of the music to Traffic Department 2192 (specifically, the songs "Menu", "Vulture", "Intro 2", and "Death"), about 8 years before his earliest recorded music.
- Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, from the bands System 7 and Gong, composed the music for a few games: the Xbox 360 port of Centipede & Millipede (2007), and the Full Motion Video game based on The Lawnmower Man (1993) and its sequel Cyberwar (1994).
- Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and Myst IV: Revelation both featured songs by Peter Gabriel.
- Rez includes original and pre-existing songs by musicians such as Ken Ishii, Jojouka, Adam Freeland, Coldcut, and Oval.
- The soundtracks to Mirror's Edge and Capsized were produced by Solar Fields, aka Magnus Birgersson.
- No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle has a soundtrack largely made by various J-rock bands such as Neutrino, Missile Chewbacca and HONDALADY.
- Test Drive 4 featured the Younger Younger 28's and Orbital. The track "Runnin' Out of Time" is actually the same as "Out There Somewhere Part 2" from Orbital's In Sides album.
- Clone High features music by singer-songwriter Tommy Walter, performed by his alternative rock band Abandoned Pools, including several songs that would later appear on the band's first album.
- Several Cartoon Network series, including Ben10, Teen Titans, and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi featured music by Andy Sturmer, former frontman of early-90s power-pop band Jellyfish. Notably, the latter featured an actual cover of Jellyfish's "Joining A Fan Club". Sturmer's an unusual example though - nowadays he's almost as well known as one of Puffy AmiYumi's songwriter/producers as he is for his former band.
- The Raccoons had several songs by Lisa Lougheed (the voice of the character Lisa), which also appeared on her Evergreen Nights album.
- The second season recording of the Rocko's Modern Life theme was performed by The B-52s.
- this one is only by Hillage, according to the credits