Harmony Korine’s 2013 film Spring Breakers opens with a haze of coeds in bright bikinis and board shorts partying on the Florida coast while Skrillex’s mystic EDM hit “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” blares. We’re instantly under the influence of the film’s boozy, neon-tinged world — but as soon as the beat drops, the dubstep song and Spring Breakers has you feeling white girl wasted. The bikini tops come off, the lewd behavior explodes, and there’s a shot of girls sucking on red-white-and-blue popsicles. This is the American dream, and all you need is the right drug and beat drop to make it come true.
It’s one of many scenes centered around music in Spring Breakers. At times, more than plot or even character, the film about four college students’, Brit, Faith, Candy, Cotti (Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine), trip to Florida gone awry is driven by its soundtrack and score. They dance to Britney Spears in the street while reminiscing about committing a felony and later sing her deep cut “Everytime” in front of a poolside piano with the drug dealer/rapper (James Franco) they become involved with; Skrillex and rap stars (like Gucci Mane, who is among the cast) fuel the many MTV Spring Break-like party and trap-house scenes. And then there’s Cliff Martinez’s (Drive, Sex, Lies, and Videotape) frenetic synth-pop score, which serves as both the foreboding tone and key to sobering up.
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But the music was always supposed to drive the narrative. In fact, when Spring Breakers debuted, writer/director Harmony Korine called it a “pop poem.” Then and still today, as the film celebrates its 10th anniversary on March 15, the soundtrack encompassed the rowdiness of the Girls Gone Wild crime drama about excess and pressures of 2010s teen culture. Utilizing dominant teen genres of the early 2010s, especially EDM as it was booming, the soundtrack perfectly mirrored a party drug trip Brit and Candy may have taken at some point on the beach. Like the film itself, it’s at first chaotic and freewheeling, while never shying from encapsulating the whiplash of the inevitable, horrible comedown.
[Courtesy of A24]
The music from Spring Breakers feels even stronger a decade later and is worth being remembered as one of the great contemporary soundtracks. But more than that, it arguably helped to launch a new era of soundtracks. That goes hand-in-hand with the Korine joint being the first-ever release from A24 when it was still a humble indie company and not the industry powerhouse it is today. Regardless, like the potency of that Skrillex needle drop, its influence can’t be overstated.
That stemmed from its influential list of collaborators: music supervisor Randall Poster, who’d worked together with Korine since Kids, veteran score composer (and former Red Hot Chili Peppers member) Cliff Martinez, and Skrillex. Because of how essential music was to Korine from the film’s genesis, he reached out to Skrillex himself, asking him to come on board — his bombastic sound was critical to the vision. And though it was Skrillex’s first attempt at scoring a project, once Martinez (who had just come off the release of the instantly iconic Drive score) saw the already completed opening sequence featuring “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” he felt ” that was the essence of the film, musically that was the blueprint” and was off to the races.
In many ways, Spring Breakers set the tone for what we’ve come to expect from an A24 release: exceedingly stylish, at times boundary-pushing, cinematography fit for the Instagram age, and utilizing rising talent. In terms of soundtracks specifically, it feels like it ushered in a new era of cohesive curation in both A24 movies and beyond. For instance, many cite the ’90s as a period of incredible soundtracks — which is no wonder, since labels often partnered with studios to help put out releases or license music and star musicians often worked on projects — but it seems there was a lull in stellar soundtracks for much of the 2000s. (Look at any list rounding up great ones, you’ll only find a handful of entries from the 2000s, let alone the 2010s.) But with Spring Breakers, it helped to solidify the subgenre of soundtracks and movies all about vibes.
[Courtesy of A24]
On one hand, it set off A24’s Floridian cinematic universe — from Waves, which is to Frank Ocean’s discography as Spring Breakers is to Skrillex, to Zola, which similarly centers itself around pop culture, with Migos needle drops indicating its mid-2010s setting. And with its atmospheric, electronic score, it also rivals the Safdie Brothers’ work with Oneohtrixxpointnever on Good Time and Uncut Gems. The music’s omnipresence and the way it encompasses the plot even legitimizes its own “pop poem” label, which you could call any number of indie films nowadays.
By the end, we’re met with an orchestral version of the very Skrillex song that opens the film, as the girls proceed to go out with their own Scarface blaze and infiltrate a drug dealer’s mansion. Driving away in a stolen Lamborghini, they’ve taken control of their hedonistic impulses and found out who they really are in that “beautiful place,” as the final voiceover describes. And from that captivating, reckless opening sequence to the finale, Spring Breakers‘ soundtrack proves it did for a certain millennial teendom what the soundtracks Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You did to generations before. Even if you couldn’t get behind all of the film’s brash choices, the next banger on the tracklist was there to encourage you to take another shot, put on the hot pink balaclava, and roll with the punches — and its score was there to sober you right back up. Spring break, Spring break, spring break fo’ever.