Why is "Rock and Roll Part 2" in Joker?
Set in 1981, Joker is filled with period-specific details, but its soundtrack largely resists using pop and rock songs of the era for much of its runtime. Besides the quoting of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, sung by a buffoonish Wall Street goon taunting Joker on the subway, the music in the film mostly consists of an eerie, atonal score from composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who also created the similarly unnerving music for HBO's Chernobyl. It's all slowly building dread and simmering tension -- no release.
But once Phoenix's Joker becomes more violent and out of control, the film's soundtrack shifts and makes room for "Rock and Roll Part 2." The steps moment, with its full view of Phoenix's awkward movements, feels designed to create a queasy sense of catharsis. Though it's clearly a troll-like choice on the part of Phillips and film's music supervisor to feature Glitter's music in the film, the juxtaposition of the overplayed song and the character's dancing does have a certain stomach-churning, eyebrow-raising potency. Like many scenes in Joker, the try-hard obviousness is itself the point.
In his slightly chaotic press tour for the film, director Todd Phillips has yet to comment on the song's usage. But it's worth keeping in mind that Phillips, a self-styled provocateur who began his career with 1993's Hated, a documentary about transgressive punk act GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, has a history of making controversial casting decisions in his Hollywood films. The first movie in The Hangover trilogy features a lengthy cameo from Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape in 1992, and the sequel was initially rumored to feature a cameo from actor Mel Gibson until the cast and crew vetoed the decision.
As audiences and commentators continue to criticize the Glitter needle-drop, the discussion has already shifted to the question of payment. How much could Glitter make from the placement of the song? In a Yahoo article, Ray Bush, the managing director of The Music Royalty Co., explained that Glitter was likely paid a one-off "synchronisation fee" for the song. “It can range from £500 for smaller acts up to £250,000-£500,000, depending on the artist and the importance to the narrative of the film," he explained. At the same time, the movie will also likely lead some new listeners to seek out the track on various streaming platforms. Currently, one of the top comments on the song's YouTube page reads, "I feel like I can dance to this going down some stairs."