It’s starting to feel—and sound—like Oscar season. Weeks ago, we put must-hear original tracks from two of the fall’s must-see original movies on our playlist (thanks, Phoenix and Travis Scott). Now that creative forces Janelle Monáe and Mary J. Blige have arrived with new soundtrack work, it’s in need of an update.
These days, it wouldn’t feel right if an Oscar year came and went without Janelle Monáe in the mix. Since her film debut in Moonlight, the multi-hyphenate artist has leaped back and forth between acting and singing/songwriting, sometimes doing both at once: In Hidden Figures, her charisma was visible onscreen and audible in the soundtrack. And just earlier this year—although doesn’t it feel like much longer?—she was the vibrant musical opener for the 92nd Oscars.
Now, she lends her singular energy to another film project. Her original track “Turntables” serves as the empowering closing song for All In: The Fight for Democracy, Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés’ urgent voter suppression doc. Monáe’s music video (or, as she appropriately calls it, “emotion picture”) is made up of evocative cross-cuts between footage of this summer’s #BLM demonstrations and of other key moments in U.S. civil rights history. It’s another welcome entry in the committed artist’s film-discography, all the more impressive because it’s just plain catchy, too.
All In: The Fight for Democracy is available on Prime Video now.
Also no stranger to rocking multiple hats is Mary J. Blige, who made Oscar history in 2018 by becoming the first person to be nominated for acting and songwriting—for her stirring Mudbound performances—in the same year.
In 2020, her new song “See What You’ve Done” adds to the year’s lineup of soundtrack-rich documentaries. Blige wrote the searing R&B track for Belly of the Beast, a sobering doc that confronts cases of illegal sterilizations in California women’s prisons. She calls the song “an indictment, a testimony, a call to be strong, and an anthem,” and that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Belly of the Beast is now playing in virtual cinemas, and premieres Nov. 23 on PBS.
While we can’t say a Phoenix and Sofia Coppola collaboration takes us by surprise (Coppola and the band’s frontman are married, after all), we also can’t say we’re getting tired of it. On the Rocks marks their fifth feature working together (ranging from a single Phoenix bop on the Lost in Translation soundtrack to the group composing the original scores for Somewhere and The Beguiled), and things are better than ever: The band’s new song “Identical” gives On the Rocks’ first trailer all the endearing indie energy we could ask for.
On the Rocks is now playing in theaters, and also available on AppleTV+
It was a little harder to foresee Travis Scott and Christopher Nolan’s partnership. Although the high-concept filmmaker has incorporated songs into his work before (the entire Inception score is built on notes from Édith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien”), his movies have never featured an original track. But Scott’s “The Plan” worked so well for Tenet that it could be the start of a new tradition. Nolan tells GQ: “[Scott’s] voice became the final piece of a yearlong puzzle. His insights into the musical and narrative mechanism [composer] Ludwig Göransson and I were building were immediate and profound.” Unsurprisingly, “The Plan” doesn’t reveal many secrets about the time-bending thriller, but Scott’s track does take the intrigue around Tenet to an unexpected, exhilarating pop culture dimension.
Tenet is now playing in theaters.