Are Minions a Cornerstone of Music Education?

Just how important are Minions to music?EXPAND
Just how important are Minions to music?

As of last Friday, July 10th, Minions is in theaters. The lovable yellow overall-clad henchmen of Steve Carrell's "Gru" character from the first two Despicable Me films finally have a motion picture to call their own. Minions have become a ubiquitous part of society, popping up in commercials across multiple brands, dominating any and every advertising space all with a giggle, a barely understandable language and a chinlock on the children of today. It's easy to get why kids would like them: they're cute, make funny noises and are prone to slapstick. But while children are enamored with the sight gags and fart sounds, they're not-so-secretly being slipped quite a range of music.
I didn't really notice it myself at first. By being in a city full of glowing screens, I've inadvertently seen the trailer for Minions quite a bit, so much so that just typing the word "Minions" has be fighting every urge to not immediately follow it with "In Theaters July 10." Speaking of which, were you aware that Minions is in theaters July 10th? I can't stress this enough. Minions in theaters July 10.

The trailer for Minions alone boasts, among other songs, Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," The Doors' "Break On Through (To the Other Side)" and Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure." All classic singles that every warm-blooded mammal needs to identify, what was once the soundtrack to a counter-culture or the preferred oldies of the burgeoning adolescent music fan is now hitting every child as soon as they pop out of the womb and get the opportunity to see Minions, which is in theaters July 10th.

Now, contemporary or "classic contemporary" music like this particular catalog titles in a children's movie is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking. The core of animated singing and dancing penguin franchise Happy Feet is found in its utilizing of decades of pop music to tell a heartwarming tale about penguins. Shrek used Smash Mouth's "All Star" just as the song was becoming two years old and establishing itself as a cliche. Even The Lion King has ensured an entire generation forever only knows the first three lines of "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." Whether these nods are from a face value place of love of how they sound from the director or meant to give the adults a little joke/relief from the kiddie-content, it's still rare enough in kids movies to really make an impression when it happens.

I was still pretty surprised when I was visiting Minnesota over Fourth of July weekend and scrolled through the Comcast on demand options to find The Minions had their own music page, presumably to promote their movie Minions, in theaters July 10th. I was mostly expecting the music Pharrell scored for the first two Despicable Me films, especially the second one which gave the world "Happy." But as I scrolled through, I found some interesting choices, namely The Bee Gee's "Jive Talking." Now, imagine you've let your little one go through his Minions menu on the remote control for a while and they want to hear all the Minions' songs (as children tend to do). Thanks to the Minions, you are now in possession of a five-year-old Bee Gees fan. Kind of cool, right?
The constant promotion for Minions inspired me to watch Despicable Me 2 this week. While I'd seen the original, the second had eluded me, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw, at one of the movie's big moments, The Minions performing a rendition of All-4-One's "I Swear."

Funny as it is, it's kind of a tricky tightrope to walk with children's impressionable minds being introduced to songs a certain way. The effects can be seen in millenials who've grown up with Marvin Gaye's classic "Let's Get It On" as more of a nudge-nudge punchline than an actual musical masterpiece of sensuality. "Baby Got Back" has become a go-to reference in kids films because, allegedly, butts are funny. Many of us hear Isaac Hayes' revolutionary "Theme from Shaft" and are instead transported back to the late '90s with Mr. Potato Head hawking Burger King's new french fries.

Of course, this is a problematic line of thinking as it suggests there's somehow a "wrong way" to enjoy a song. If a composition is heard at any age and delights the listener, is it really fair to criticize what introduced them to the song in the first place? Sixties avant garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger is credited by many as the first to use music ironically in American cinema. The score became something of a gag. 50 years later is it suitable to attempt the same type of jokes with children? Movies like Minions, in theaters July 10th, in a way keep these songs' legacies alive, as well as put more money in the pocket and expand the listenership of the original artists involved. With music classes in schools continuing to struggle, but the desire of the new generation to log on dive into music to their hearts' content, children having a few more reasons to smile thanks to their ears is always a good thing.


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