How the badass, all-female Birds of Prey soundtrack came together
The candy-colored, R-rated new entry in the DC Extended Universe, Birds of Prey, subverts a lot of expectations for the genre, but it does honor a classic superhero movie tradition: Having an irresistible soundtrack.
“Music was super important,” says director Cathy Yan. “It motivates me, and it kind of helps me create the characters.” She and the production team worked closely with Atlantic Records to assemble a “sort of musical girl gang,” she says, and create an all-female soundtrack for this women-powered world.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) begins with the end of Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) relationship with Joker (Jared Leto, last seen in 2016’s Suicide Squad), and follows her journey to discovering herself as her very own kind of antiheroine, undefined by being the Clown Prince of Crime’s better (worse?) half. No longer benefiting from the protections of Mr. J, she finds herself in hot water with crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and ultimately teams up with Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) to create an unconventional girl gang taking on the sadistic Gotham baddie.
“I was looking for a female, badass sensibility to tie directly back to Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey characters,” says Kevin Weaver, President, Atlantic Records West Coast of the soundtrack. “I wanted to mirror [Harley’s journey] with a music sensibility that kind of spoke to those same themes and through-lines.”
Produced and overseen by Weaver, Birds of Prey: The Album includes 15 exclusive new tracks, all from female artists. Having previously worked on the 2x platinum Suicide Squad: The Album, which yielded hits like Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” and the Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, and Imagine Dragons with Logic and Ty Dolla $ign (feat. X Ambassadors) collaboration “Sucker for Pain,” Weaver and his team “were drafting the success of Suicide Squad to a certain extent, because it is another iteration of that brand,” he tells EW. But at the same time, “I wanted this album and these songs to feel like they had their own unique voice, they had their own unique POV, that they were uniquely tied to the aesthetic of the picture, the feel of the story.”
In his early meetings with the film’s producers and music supervisors Gabe Hilfer and Season Kent, Weaver pitched Birds of Prey as an all-female album. He created a talent wish list early in the process and was able to get some of his top picks on board. “I brought Halsey in very early in the creative process and showed her a bunch of the scenes with [the production team],” he says as an example.
“We had a really great, in-depth conversation, kicking off from that point, about Harley Quinn, her emotional journey, how that tied back to things that really connected to Halsey personally. Then [we started] to hone in creatively on the process of what a dope Halsey song would be that spoke to all of that stuff but also felt unique and different and special and something tailor-made for Birds of Prey.” That song became “Experiment on Me,” which would be the fifth single off the album.
Weaver’s lineup of dream artists also included Maisie Peters, a developing artist over at Atlantic UK. “I thought this was a great platform, an opportunity for her,” he says. “So I gave her some direction, she gave me her song “Smile” and immediately I was like, ‘this s— is amazing for this project, and I love it.’”
It became a priority for Weaver to include a lot of emerging talents in the project, like Peters, Galaxara, and Charlotte Lawrence, whose track “Joke’s on You” was the second single off the album. In the spirit of Harley and the Birds, “I wanted to give female artists a voice and a platform, and it was very important to me to include some more developing female artists,” he says. “I felt like [they] could utilize this to express their voice as young, important, powerful women.”
One of the crown jewels (sorry) of the album is lead single “Diamonds,” a collaboration between Megan Thee Stallion (another one of Weaver’s initial picks) and Normani. Weaver knew early on that he wanted a diamond-themed song, since a precious diamond is essentially the film’s MacGuffin and Harley Quinn has a dream sequence mirroring Marilyn Monroe’s iconic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
“Diamonds” is the first song to ever sample Monroe’s recording of the track (you can hear her crying “Tiffany!” and “Cartier!” throughout, as well as the original horns and some other elements from the original master recording). “We got the Marilyn Monroe estate and the publishing on the sample and interpolation to grant us the rights to interpolate the original master and composition, which they’ve never done before — it was a tough process,” Weaver admits.
Meanwhile, “I had a lot of different versions of, people trying to crack the code on, a new flip of the original Marilyn ‘Diamonds.’ [When I] got this version of ‘Diamonds’ in a very raw, early form and immediately felt like this is the one, then at that point really leaned into the A&R and the creative.” It wasn’t hard to pick the artists for it. “It always felt like the two of them on the right record would be a moment,” Weaver says. Throughout the process, “I continued to go back to wanting Megan to do the verses, feeling like Normani was the best artist to perform the hook and the bridge and the alignment of the two of them just being potentially very magical and powerful — which it ended up becoming.”
The album concludes with three new covers: Jurnee Smollett-Bell on “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (which she performs in the film), Summer Walker’s cover of “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” and ADONA’s new version of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Barry White’s original version of “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” actually appears in Birds of Prey, so Weaver sought to record a new version. The original stayed in the film, but Walker’s cover made the soundtrack — a lesson Weaver took from Suicide Squad, which used the original “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the film but included a Panic! at the Disco cover on the album.
“It just felt like a really good way to have a great young, relevant, contemporary female artist doing a song that’s in the picture but with a contemporary twist and take on it,” he says. It’s the only song on the soundtrack that doesn’t appear directly in the film; “every other song is featured in the movie, and not only featured in the movie, featured very significantly and prominently,” he says. “I work on a lot of movies and I see a lot of movies that have soundtracks, and a lot of time the songs don’t really get their shine in the film. We were really fortunate to get incredibly featured uses for the majority of these songs in the picture, and I think that that is very rare and special too, and part of the magic of all of this.”
Birds of Prey: The Album is out now. Birds of Prey is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Birds of Prey (2020 movie)