Every year, I implement the “chicken or the egg” paradox to my music composition class and ask my students: What came first, the melody or the lyric?
It is astounding how each student works differently at combining a seamless scansion of syllables and rhymes per note value and pitch. Some write down their lyrics first and pluck out a tune later while others head straight for the melody and add words to the music afterwards. Sometimes, it all happens simultaneously, and it’s truly a sublime experience. Add your personal story and inner feelings to the mix, and you’re in heaven on earth.
The Beatles not only perfected the art of songwriting, they gifted us with some of the most catchy, reiterated, and beloved music of our time.
So, when Jack – a struggling musician of Suffolk, England – wakes up after a freak global blackout and performs songs by The Beatles to a world that has never heard them before, it’s no surprise he becomes an instant god.
This is an outrageously fun scenario, tailored made for the movies, but it is so rich in setup and promise that it cannot sustain itself for two hours. The real question is – What came first, the music or the inspiration?
Actor Himesh Patel is likable enough to play Jack Malik, who is desperate enough to claim Beatles’ hits off the top of his head as his own. His manager and best friend who truly loves him, Ellie (Lily James), wants Jack to reach the acclamation she thinks he deserves. The world, of course, wants more and more of “Jack’s” music, and with the help of talented ear, Ed Sheeran, and the greedy music industry business, Jack inevitably faces a moral dilemma.
What’s noteworthy in this plotline is how little Ellie and the world question Jack’s inspiration behind songs that mention “Strawberry Fields,” “Long and Winding Roads,” and some “Eleanor Rigby” person. Actually, only Ed Sheeran raises an eyebrow to “Hey, Jude.” Who is Jude, and why not change it to “Dude?”
Half of mainstream film critics panned the movie for not having its characters question the journey it must have taken to create such extraordinary music, and I think that half completely missed the point of the movie.
Unfortunately, most of our music today is packaged – swiftly “composed” by four or more arrangers in a studio with an auto-tune button to correct singers’ lack of tonality, and in some cases, the image of the musician receives more attention than the music itself.
In other words, like our world, the world in Yesterday, eats up Jack’s hit after hit because it resembles dollar bill after dollar bill. Without The Beatles context, the songs are still catchy, reiterated, and made beloved by more social media exposure. Who needs context or sources of inspiration when the lyrics and melodies are this good and made instantly popular? I’m not saying this is right or good, I’m saying this is today’s music industry.
The world without The (real) Beatles isn’t explored much in the movie, so I can understand some of the criticism. However, for all it’s worth, Jack’s solo renditions of The Beatles’ hits are a blast of nostalgia, and Danny Boyle’s constantly moving camera of the live concert performances resuscitates the legendary music of John, Paul, George, and Ringo to a fresh, new level.
True, the second half of the movie panders to predictable rom-com obligation and loses steam because of it. But, my oh my, there is a sweet twist at the end, and the optimist in me overrules the cynic.
It’s summertime. It’s The Beatles. It’s a fun movie.
***1/2 out of *****