Movie Songs

Why Is the ‘Mean Girls’ Movie Music So Different?

January 24, 20245 Mins Read

Since the musical take on Mean Girls released in theaters, it has dominated the box office. While this show has promise and I was excited to see this adaptation (of an adaptation of adaptation of an adaptation), clips comparing the movie to the musical have created overnight hesitation.

The last few years featured a slew of school-related musicals on TV and film. This includes movies like Netflix’s PROM and Matilda the Musical, as well as Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Even though it bombed, Dear Evan Hansen was set in high school, even if that five o’clock shadow says otherwise.

Recordings of shows like Hamilton and Come From Away are excellent, but rare. This makes the choice to adapt stage shows for theaters and home viewing special for the average musical lover. The latest school-era musical to get this treatment is Mean Girls. The Broadway musical garnered a mixed-positive response and ran for three years before the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down permanently.

Because the Mean Girls musical ran for a fair amount of time, bootlegs and the cast album are widely accessible online. This also means the 2024 movie has the unfortunate situation of being compared to the 2004 film and the musical. Music-inclined algorithms have made videos comparing tracks from the movie and stage versions go viral. Hearing the difference has tanked my interest in this film, at least in theaters.

Mean Girls musical versus the movie

The risk of this stark difference alienating fans of the stage production might be the reason the trailer didn’t feature any musical tracks. Instead, the first Mean Girls trailers from November featured Olivia Rodrigo’s “get him back!” This song a bop and adds to the Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter (who starred in the Mean Girls on Broadway) love triangle rumor. However, the musical has several tracks they could pull from. This choice also didn’t help against the accusations of Paramount hiding that this adaptation even is a musical.

There are lots of theories as to why this change was so stark and so underwhelming. Theater lovers half-heartedly joke that too many of the cast weren’t theater kids and it showed. Others feel like this change came from a desire to set the movie apart from the stage version in another way. Some, like the TikTok above, have pointed to an octave change of the performers. This change isn’t just the individual performances. The compositions are drastically changed to sound like different genres by leaning into a more pop and talking-singing style. The scoring has different musical highs and lows.

Before the TikToks flooded my FYP, my friend Emily left lengthy voice memos in our group chat with her own theory. She pointed to the different vocal styles between pop music and the average Broadway tunes. Emily argued that maybe not everyone in the cast can do both. Reneé Rapp (who plays Regina), Ashley Park (Madame Park), Jaquel Spivey, (Damian), and Auli’i Cravalho (Janis) have experience with this musical style. The first two women appeared in the stage production, and Rapp makes R&B/pop music. However, it’s not clear with the rest of the cast. Angourie Rice (Cady) is getting the most ire from the music changes, and the lack of a music or musical background isn’t helping.

We don’t know yet what happened, and at the moment, the “why” is just speculation. However, these flat renditions are likely a combination of many things. Unfortunately, this talk-singing when bringing a stage musical to the screen isn’t just limited to Mean Girls. As Mina Le and Sideways have pointed out, 2012’s Les Misérables did this, too. The film prioritized realism in the performances over keeping to the musical. That can—and did, in the case of Les Misérables—undercut musical themes.

To be fair, some people who criticized of the differences have recounted their criticism after watching the film. Across the trailer comment section on YouTube and some TikToks, people have stated that it didn’t bother them as much while taking in the whole scene rather than just the audio. That being said, I’m still not excited to see this in theaters. I’ll probably wait to the last second to purchase a ticket if I don’t just wait for streaming.

(via TikTok, featured image: Paramount Pictures)

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