Most critics disliked the movie, but they are just a minority among the masses who generally loved how they put together the movie with familiar-sounding yet lovable song tunes. Yes, the story line is extremely weak, but definitely because they intended to make the movie as easy to watch as possible, and to drive the audience to the songs and the choreography.
This post is not about my review on the movie or all the songs. It’s about one song.
There are many publicity efforts to make audiences love a few hit songs, like “This is Me”, “Rewrite the Stars”. But they are not my favourites. I am obsessed with “Never Enough”. It is technically the most boring song in the movie, and contains melodic lines that are somewhat referenced from other popular songs, which partly explains why the song is so familiar and yet original.
Here’s the official audio YouTube, please enjoy before proceeding the rest of the article:
I hear motifs of
Superman (It’s Not Easy) by Five for Fighting (“doh re mi soh” motif)
Halo by Beyonce (“mi re mi re” motif)
The chorus also uses the most popular chord progression, I – V – vi – IV. In fact, the first verse also uses the same progression with extension.
I – V – vi – – –
IV – I – V – – –
If I had heard this song without visuals, I would be less impressed, because it sounded too manufactured. It’s a lovable song, simple lyrics, repeated sections, emotional arrangement.
But the more important reason that I love this song is the context that it was sung in. Would you now proceed to watch this YouTube video of the movie excerpt of which the song was performed. This is the exact clip from the movie, minus the lyrics flashing across the screen. Also, this version has way better sound mixing than the official track above. This movie audio mix sounds more spacious, better instrumental dynamics. Pity the official soundtrack is mastered in heavily compressed quality.
This song is sung by the character Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who was arranged by P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), to perform in America for the first time.
See how the scenes are executed and the characters performed.
I’m trying to hold my breath
Then she took a quick heart-stopping breath.
As she sang
You set off a dream with me
She turned towards Barnum with a slight snigger, and at that moment, I could see that she had a crush/in love with him.
Then at the part
Take my hand
The character played by Zac Efron tries to reach his hand to touch the character played by Zendaya. She eventually accepts his advances. Don’t this teasing moment feel familiar to our adolescent lives?
Throughout the song, Barnum was dumbfounded by the sudden success that propelled as high as her voice. Running through his mind, as acted by Jackman in stellar expressions, was “Amazing voice!”, “The audience loves it”, “I cannot believe this is happening”, “I’ve made it big this time”. He looked at his harshest critic in the audience who was so drawn into her performance.
And the moment after he let go of his hand, that helpless expression on his face says it all: that he loves her but he struggles to go public.
Throughout the song, the most hardworking has got to be Ferguson, who lip-synced the song vocalised by Loren Allred. From the way she acted, the director wanted to show how much she yearns to attain something more than wealth and success, though I’m not too convinced that Barnum is worth all that emotions she belted out.
“Never Enough” a very simple song, but highly effective and inspirational, thanks to the mastery of clear lyrics, familiar melody, and soaring arrangements. Plus a well-edited movie scene context.
We need more feel-good movies like these, forget about realism, leave that to real life. Movies are where dreams are made to look realistic.
Behind the Scenes: Writing the Music
Here are some YouTube videos I found about how the songwriters, Pasek and Paul, came to write some of the songs.
The Art of the Musical
From Now On
This Is Me