Composer Brian Tyler’s first impression of Crazy Rich Asians was that of a modern romantic comedy set in contemporary Singapore. However, after seeing the footage shot by director Jon Chu, he realized the story felt and looked much bigger. “The film was more of an old school Hollywood romance with social underpinnings and themes about family and who we are,” said Tyler.
Instead of a contemporary sound with guitars and other modern instruments using computers and digital recordings, the filmmakers decided to make the music more timeless. Tyler opted to conduct a live orchestra for a symphonic score with romantic strings and big band jazz pieces as if the music was recorded in 1950. The session was captured in analog, using microphones from the 1930s and ‘40s. In order to adhere to “those classic vibes,” he even wrote the whole score on paper.
Although Tyler is most known for super-hero movies, he has composed for a variety of genres. Some of his earliest projects had jazz scores. For Now You See Me 2, a previous collaboration with the director, he wrote a score with a jazz tone. “This is really taking me back to my roots and my love of classic scores from the past.” Tyler added, “That was the approach to infuse this with a very emotional core.”
Singapore itself, as well as the culture of the internationally renowned city, is a blend of old and new, so it was apropos for the composer to tap into music of past, but as opposed to licensing needle-drop jazz recordings from the era such as Benny Goodman, Tyler actually wrote new cues with the raucous big band sound for all the fun and adventure sequences in the film. He also incorporated Asian instruments, like Chinese flutes and violins, into both the jazz and orchestral compositions. “It was really a treat to be able to step out of the normal lane of 99% of film scoring and do something that was different for 2018,” commented Tyler.
As in traditional scoring, Tyler composed themes for the different characters, but the filmmakers never wanted to be “on the nose” with the music. Although they wanted a bit of an East meets West vibe, everything in the score needed to feel natural for each scene. There was a Chinese influence, but in essence the blend of global musical influences in Singapore, “is pretty much the balance of what was used in the score.”
Tyler noted that it was an interesting journey from a musicological perspective. At the end of the day, however, Chu asked for whatever sounded and felt right. Tyler created a musical tapestry that emotionally engages the audience with the story and the characters on their journey.