"It's my party, my body, my business."
"I'm crazy, b*tch," screams Jucee Froot on "Danger," the ninth song on the Birds of Prey soundtrack. "But I'm that b*tch."
That could be the central mantra of Birds of Prey's companion album, which features fifteen sparkling, saccharine, vicious pop songs from some of pop's brightest anti-popstars. These songs are aggressive, feminine, sugary, vicious, and off the rails, just like the movie promises to be.
The film—full title Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn—debuted this Friday night. It tells the story of Harley Quinn, finally freed from her abusive relationship with the Joker, as she heals from the breakup and develops her own super-villain identity.
Harley Quinn's cinematic emancipation has received mixed reviews. "Birds of Prey is happy to play at provocation with swear words and violence while carefully declining to provoke anything like a thought," writes A. O. Scott in The New York Times. Anthony Lane called the film "unholy and sadistic mess" in The New Yorker.
For others, the film's fizzy brutality is exactly the point, and many argued that the film provides a welcome change from both the self-serious superhero machismo that tanked Suicide Squad and the idealized kind of femininity that defines Hollywood's movement towards corporate feminism. "In a world gone mad, the catharsis of Prey's twisted sisterhood doesn't just read as pandemonium for its own sake; it's actually pretty damn sweet," writes Leah Greenblatt for Entertainment Weekly. "Theirs is a contemporary verve that offers a glimpse of something heartening: a future in which all kinds of people get to tell these stories, and we're all the better off for it," writes Richard Lawson for Variety.
As the reviews roll in, certainly more debates will ensue. But if Birds of Prey companion soundtrack is any indication, the movie will inspire a whole host of women to take their power back by any means necessary—most likely while wearing glitter.
The all-female soundtrack is brutally empowering in every sense. It's the sound of sweetness in a world gone mad, of lady mad hatters sitting around and cutting their losses over egg and bacon sandwiches. It's the sound of women relishing in the tropes of pop music and popular femininity while spinning them on their heads. It's a triumph and a delight in the sweetest, bloodiest of ways.
Highlights include Doja Cat's utterly unhinged "Boss Bitch," which leans into archetypical empowerment and breakup narratives so hard that it shatters and becomes something almost mutated and definitely dangerous. Megan Thee Stallion and Normani do something similar with their aggressive riff on "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend."
Halsey's "Experiment On Me" is probably the most aggressive track on the album; it's also one of the hardest to listen to. It's a yowling, overwhelming tune that layers Halsey's shrill screams over punk-inflected guitar.
Charlotte Lawrence's "Joke's On You" is more palatable and just as powerful, leaning into the darkness and complexity of Harley Quinn's story (and of the idea of female redemption through violence on the whole) while layering sultry vocal lines over a tense beat. "We've had our fun; now your sugar makes me sick," she sings. "My makeup's ruined, and now I'm laughing through my tears." All the world's part-time Harley Quinns are, undoubtedly, feeling seen.
True to form, the songs are gleeful, dark, celebratory, and free. They're embroiled in the business of shaking up existing power structures; and as the voices grow hoarse and furious, their beats resist pleasantness and neutrality, instead leaning towards hyperactive mania. Perhaps because this is a revenge story, there's a sense of perpetual bittersweetness. Lauren Jauregri's "Invisible Chains" dives deeper into the pain and struggle that accompanies Harley Quinn's liberation from the Joker.
There's also a deeper sense of bittersweetness to the whole project, which celebrates Harley Quinn's story as a clear tale of feminist liberation. When women free themselves from men and take power, only togo ahead and commit evil acts and relish in all of capitalism's and the patriarchy's bitterest signifiers of victory, is that something to celebrate? Are we really looking for female villains who kill others and hoard wealth and don't support others, just like men always have?
Perhaps not, but watching these narratives play out often offers catharsis, providing a fulfilling revenge fantasy for anyone who's ever been in an abusive relationship or who's seen others affected by them. We'll see how the movie ends up, but for now, the soundtrack provides an excuse to celebrate rage and revenge without thinking too hard about what it means.
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