The real story behind ‘Flashlight’ (the new ‘Cups’?) from Pitch Perfect 2
By now, you’ve seen Pitch Perfect 2 and, more likely than not, you haven’t been able to listen to much else besides the film’s beefed-up soundtrack. But after the film, there’s one song that’s just a bit different from the rest of the familiar mash-ups and covers.
It’s “Flashlight,” and it’s the big-ticket original song in the sequel, filling the void left by “Cups,” the surprise viral chart-topper from the first film. Although this new tune—written by red-hot singer-songwriter Sia—is sonically different from “Cups,” it’s still hoping to be the earworm you won’t be able to get rid of.
“Well, first, what could ever be ‘Cups’?” asks Jason Moore, who directed the first Pitch Perfect and returned to produce the sequel. “That was the most unusual history of a song and the most unusual song on radio in the last, like, 30 years. Does ‘Flashlight’ have the chance to capture people’s musical [imaginations]? It’s a song that will be new to audiences and we hope people will discover it. Will it be a sensation like ‘Cups’? You never know.”
When Pitch Perfect 2 began production, the script didn’t call for a new original song just for the sake it; rather, Kay Cannon’s script demanded a song that (spoiler!) was written by new Barden Bellas member, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). It’s not only her audition song, but it ends up saving the day when the Bellas use it to compete in the world championship.
Thus, “Flashlight” was born from a very specific songwriting brief that Moore and company put out to potential writer-musicians. “We knew it needed to have an emotional component about friendship; we wanted it to sound great in a big, gospel-type arrangement; and since we needed the audience to invest quickly, it had to create a hook that very instantly got inside your ear,” Moore explains. “Sia was the one who nailed it.”
Sia’s song “Titanium” got such good play in the first Pitch that she developed a friendship with Moore in the ensuing years. “Chandelier” hadn’t happened yet, but the singer was in the studio working on her 2014 album when Moore contacted her personally to gauge her interest in the songwriting challenge. With assistance from Sam Smith (who was still under-the-radar at this point) and Christian Guzman, she submitted “Flashlight”—and the filmmakers loved it.
“The original musical draft was the same, but the lyrics were quite dark,” Moore recalls. “But the lyric ‘Flashlight’ was always there, and I always liked that it was kind of a simple, sweet notion—it felt appropriate for the age group and that kind of friendship.”
To lighten the song, Moore suggested a few dummy lyrics—borne from his past in musical theater—and Sia tweaked them for the demo. By the time Banks signed off on the final song, Sia generously insisted that Moore get a lyric co-writing credit. (“I didn’t expect to add that to my Wikipedia page,” he jokes.)
The actual song itself appears in the film five times—during Emily’s first audition; in the studio, when Beca (Anna Kendrick) remixes it; during the riff-off, albeit briefly; in the world a cappella championships; and in the end credits, where audience members will hear Jessie J’s radio version (which also has a music video). Like Sia, Jessie J’s involvement came from her excitement over the first film.
“Sia actually approved a club version as well,” adds Moore. “We said we’d love this melody to also be remixed by a proper DJ.”
Whether or not the categorically different “Flashlight” does go on to enjoy the same success as “Cups” still remains to be seen, but the inclusion of two original songs in the first two films invites the question of whether original compositions are now a hallmark of the franchise. “If there’s a Pitch Perfect 3, will it have an original song?” Moore posits. “It’s too early to tell, but who knows? ‘Flashlight’ felt like a natural part of the story. Maybe there’s a new way that we try and integrate a new kind of song, if there’s another opportunity to do so.”
Nevertheless, one expectation has already been unintentionally set. Between cups and flashlights, must all Pitch Perfect originals be based on household objects? “Yeah,” Moore jokes, “Pitch Perfect 3, it’s going to be ‘Bicycle.’”
Pitch Perfect 2