The sultry tones of Beyoncé singing “Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, no no no” are familiar to any early-aughts pop music fan. But even those who’ve been listening to “Crazy in Love” for over a decade were likely surprised to hear the singer’s new twist in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailer.
News that pop music’s reigning queen recorded a new version of her first solo smash for the film adaptation of E.L. James’s novel was the first hint that the soundtrack would be special. Since then, released tracks from The Weeknd, Sia, Ellie Goulding and others have affirmed that Grey’s music can stand tall beside star-studded soundtracks for films like The Hunger Games and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
Released by Republic Records, the soundtrack is a mix of the old (the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden”), the updated (a remix of Beyoncé’s “Haunted”), the covered (Annie Lennox’s version of “I Put a Spell on You”), and the new, with some additional scoring by composer Danny Elfman. Beyond already heard tracks by Sia and Ellie Goulding, two other pop singer-songwriters lent their pens and voices to the film: Jessie Ware and Skylar Grey.
“It's the biggest and most talked about film in ages,” Ware told The Daily Beast about joining the project. “As soon as I heard the Beyoncé ‘Crazy in Love’ remix, I knew the soundtrack was going to be massive.”
In Ware’s case, her contribution “Meet Me in the Middle” was written with her partner Dave Okumu prior to coming aboard. But according to the British soul singer, Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson, a fan of the genre, liked Ware’s track. Fifty Shades represents a broader audience for Ware, who released her critically acclaimed sophomore effort Tough Love in 2014.
“It's vulnerable and honest and hopefully a little sexy,” Ware said of “Meet Me in the Middle”—much like the movie song she said she wished she had written: Des’ree’s “Kissing You,” from Romeo + Juliet. “That soundtrack was so, so brilliant,” she said. “A total masterpiece.”
Ware’s fellow scribe on the Fifty Shades soundtrack, Skylar Grey, fancies herself a bit darker. She wishes American Beauty had featured a few songs written by her, and one of her favorite film songs is the Michael Andrews and Gary Jules cover of “Mad World” from Donnie Darko. But when writing “I Know You” (specifically for the Grey soundtrack) with pianist Stephan Moccio, Grey aimed to tap into a more emotional place in the narrative.
“Even though the story is known for its erotic sex scenes and stuff, I tried to dig deeper into the emotion of the characters, and I kind of put myself in her shoes and try to know what she’d feel,” said Grey, who read the Fifty Shades series’ first installment after learning she’d be part of the soundtrack. But though the song is from a place of passion, there is a chilliness to it. “He’s this mysterious kind of guy she can’t figure out. To me, that’s just a naturally cold feeling,” Grey added.
Though she didn’t hear any of the other selections for the soundtrack ahead of time, Grey said she’s pleased with how the final product turned out. “There’s a lot of different artists and different styles on it, yet it sounds the same because pretty much everyone was inspired by the same story,” she said. “It all works together.”
Since “I Know You” was released ahead of the soundtrack’s Feb. 10 debut, it, like the other cuts before it, has performed well. “The song came out a few days ago and jumped to number one,” Grey said. “I’ve never had a song be number one on iTunes before, and this was in the top three in, like, 60 countries. That’s a really cool experience. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the movie, and how big a brand Fifty Shades is.”
It’s a sentiment Ware echoes—that it feels “pretty bloody fantastic” to be part of what’s set to be a movie event. Like the Hunger Games soundtracks before it (which Ware said she’d love to be a part of, saying she “loved what Lorde did on the [third] film,” the Fifty Shades soundtrack is set to be yet another key part of the franchise’s massive success.
For Grey, Fifty Shades is a launching pad into the movie world. “I’d love to get into actual storytelling at some point,” she said, adding that she’s interested in writing her own indie films—specifically writing dark, “mind-bending,” emotional stories.
“I believe that movies are the ultimate art form,” she continued. “You’re combining so many different art forms together into one masterpiece: the acting, the screenwriting, the cinematography, and the music. … To be able to work on a movie is definitely my dream.”