Sweeping synths, bouncing drum kits, and tight, ornamental guitar riffs – moments into watching Love, Simon, I was immediately swept up in nostalgic memories from my teen years. The perfect movie soundtrack is something that I’ve been fascinated with since I was in middle school. Back when Tumblr was at its peak, I spent countless hours creating my own soundtracks to John Hughes’ movies with modern synth-pop songs. I would search the internet for the perfect beat or melody that I felt captured the same feeling as the original. The moment when Lloyd Dobler held the boombox above his head as a grand gesture to his girlfriend in Say Anything, when John Bender walks off the football field and first bumps victoriously in The Breakfast Club, the closing scene of Dirty Dancing, all of them were re-imagined and shared with strangers in my small corner of the internet. And the moment I heard “Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)” by Bleachers in Love, Simon, I couldn’t help but notice the reference its rhythm guitar line made to the classic ‘80s track “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
As I sat in the theater watching Love, Simon with my roommate, I noticed something else. This movie is much more than an homage to the type of teen movie soundtrack created by John Hughes. In Love, Simon, modern synth-pop masters like Jack Antonoff, The 1975, and Troye Sivan set the tone of the film. The ‘80s feel of the Love, Simon soundtrack is an homage to the golden age of teen films. While I was not yet born when movies like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Sixteen Candles first hit theaters, I have a special place in my heart for them because they captured the way a cinematic moment could be permanently tied to a song.
The songs in Love, Simon do a brilliant job of speaking to the uncertainty that accompanies our turbulent teen years. In one moment, Khalid is singing about wanting to know how someone feels and asking them for honesty in “Love Lies,” and only a couple songs later, Matty Healy of The 1975 is confident and cavalier when he tells his audience to love him “if that’s what you want to do” in the song “Love Me.” The teetering between the feelings I had when I was 16 and unsure of what I wanted yet in the next moment emboldened by the sense that I could take on the world is relatable. If you were anything like me as a teen, each of those emotions had a specific, extensively curated playlist. Khalid plays in the background when Simon needed reassurance when he wasn’t sure his mysterious love interest felt the same. I didn’t have Khalid, but I did have “Where Does The Good Go” by Tegan and Sara for the times when I wasn't sure someone “like liked” me and it was all I needed.
The soundtrack captures the excitement, anticipation, and the nervousness of falling in love for the first time, but unlike its predecessors, Love, Simon addresses another shared experience: coming out. Love, Simon is among the first widely released films to firmly place an LGBTQ teen love story at its center (There have been plenty of rom-coms influenced by ‘80s teen movies, but none have been about coming out.).
Love, Simon may be a celebration of young love in all forms, but the soundtrack of the coming-of-age story is an unabashed love letter to John Hughes and the youth-celebrating films of the 1980s. Hughes relied on pop music to help drive the plots of his movies. The Beatles’ cover of “Twist and Shout” made the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off a celebration of the freedom of youth. When “Rollercoaster” by Bleachers plays in Love, Simon, it complements the feeling of freedom I experienced when I was finally old to drive around with my friends, windows down and iced coffees in hand. Hughes also used songs to help the audience better understand the motives of a character. “Pretty In Pink” by the Psychedelic Furs serves as an anthem for the new wave-loving outsider Andie Walsh. Before the story of one of Molly Ringwald’s most iconic characters unfolds on screen, we feel like we already know her after hearing the song. The same goes for Simon. He hides so much of himself, but the audience gets an idea of what he is thinking through the music. We sense him holding his breath as he makes one of his first, major life choices on his own. The Bleachers’ track “Keep It A Secret” beckons back to the unignorable questioning and acts as an anthem for Simon in the same way “Left of Center” by Suzanne Vega gave us insight into the inner thoughts of Andie Walsh. In this way, Love, Simon differs from the John Hughes’ teen film format. Rather than the songs speaking as a narrator, the movie uses the music to get inside the character’s head more directly. By listening to “Keep It A Secret,” we are reminded of the precipice Simon is standing on. Before the first chorus of Bleachers’ “Wild Heart” is finished, we also get to share in his renewed sense of liberation and triumph.
One movie, TV show, and song at a time, we are redefining and reimagining the picture that comes to mind when we think of a love story or a coming-of-age experience. ‘80s-inspired synth-pop may always be the soundtrack we hear when we think of young love, but we know that young love doesn’t always look like it does in ‘80s teen movies. By positioning itself in the same way we were presented previous coming-of-age love stories, with characters we want to get to know and songs we will listen to on repeat, Love, Simon is subtle in its musical suggestion that a gay love story shouldn’t be looked at any differently.
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