Music tie ins to movies have always had a weird relationship. Remember when songs could be released alongside the biggest movies, and have basically nothing to do with them? It's easy to forget that Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" was a tie in for Batman Forever! Goddamn Batman! What?
Fast forward a few years, and skip the awkward years where Linkin Park were using environmental ballads to complement the Transformers Franchise, and we have works like Eminem's "Phenomenal" practically scoring the movie Southpaw. Seriously, watch the trailer, and tell me the song that comes in about half way through doesn't sound almost like it was written on set.
Southpaw appears to be your usual boxing movie fare. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a boxer who was disgraced both in his family and professional life. He must, as is always the case, work his way back to the top, culminating in one fight against all the odds. It appears strangely more brutal than many other boxing movies, which is difficult to do, given how quick and seemingly imprecise real boxing looks.
What's curious is that such a clear cut genre movie would contract Eminem to write a song for them. He's not even in the movie, while, strangely enough, 50 Cent is. It almost seems as if Eminem has been called in for this movie purely because his style fits the subject matter.
This song is no doubt a return to Eminem's more aggressive, bitter and almost dangerous style of his earlier career. For what's essentially a sports movie song, he's not invoking ideals of climbing to the top and achieving your dreams, but more touting the inherent viciousness within him, much like Gyllenhaal's character in the movie.
Despite this, the song isn't exactly heavy or oppressive. The beat has a distinct lack of bass, and hinges on an a veritable drone of percussion that is persistent yet distant. It's almost like the listener themselves has been hit so many times that the sounds from the outer world are now muffled, and they're left alone with their own identity. This is why the (thankfully only slightly melodic) chorus seems much more present and clean. The song is about at once relishing in your own confidence, and displaying it to the rest of the world.
The song then switches, and what was initially an ethereal clamor of tangible instruments becomes a focused synth beat, with an almost 80s vibe. If Eminem's vocals weren't over this, you could almost imagine ninjas fighting drug dealers to it. The vocals take a shift too, with Eminem losing that jaded growl that persists throughout the first half of the song. He's suddenly on point and razor sharp before slowly moving to a fierce crescendo where he mentions the words "knowing what it's like to be Southpaw".
What is Southpaw?
Southpaw references a stance in boxing, involving the fighter having their right hand and right foot forward. With enough courage and skill, a right handed boxer can adopt this stance to throw their opponent off, but only with the will to fight with a stance that doesn't come naturally to them. When it works, it really works, and it likely ties in to Gyllenhaal's Billy Hope's own almost self destructive approach to his art. And what do you know? Eminem rolls with this theme, positing himself as almost having the Southpaw stance of rapping.
Could this be a reference to him being the most prominent white rapper of our time? Think about it. A guy diving into this genre from the start could be akin to fighting left handed. If it doesn't work, you get completely trashed, but that one time in a million that it does, you become that tenacious fighter who's nigh on impossible to get around. It's that willingness to put yourself out there that Eminem suggests makes he, and Jake Gyllenhaal's character in the movie, phenomenal.
So what did you think of Phenomenal, and what are your hopes for Southpaw when it's released on July 24th? Write your own article here on Moviepilot, and get your thoughts heard!