The Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack is out, and it wants to be cool. Super-producer and Taylor Swift friend Jack Antonoff “produced and curated” the album, which the press release refers to as a “sun-soaked 70’s [sic] inspired soundtrack.” It features staples of the current “famous at liberal-arts colleges but unknown to moms” scene like Phoebe Bridgers, Brockhampton, and Tame Impala plus actual ’70s artists Diana Ross and Earth, Wind & Fire member Verdine White, and it is clearly intended to provoke the reaction “Phoebe Bridgers is on a Minions album? Wow!” Yet its surface-level prestige makes it more annoying than enjoyable. The entire project seems like something that sounded really cool in a boardroom. Still, uncool didn’t stop Pharrell’s Despicable Me 2 song “Happy” from dominating the airwaves on real actual pop stations for an interminable length of time, which means we still have to take Minions music (somewhat) seriously.
With that in mind, we decided to rank the songs on the soundtrack with the hope of finding what’s good, what’s bad, and what “Cecilia” covered by the Minions sounds like. Questions that were asked during this ranking include: Does the song fit into the overall “sun-soaked 70’s [sic]” vibe? Does the cover reinterpret the original? And, most importantly, is it worth looking at Minions: The Rise of Gru cover art to listen to it?
19. “Cecilia,” The Minions
The press release referred to this song by saying, “And of course, Illumination’s Minions themselves star on the album, with their distinctive performance of the classic Simon and Garfunkel 1970s favorite, ‘Cecilia.’” Distinctive is definitely one word for it. Obviously, it’s terrible. It’s a joke cover performed by Minions but mostly a screeching cacophony of nonsense sounds that only feels stupider in the context of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic tune. Next!
18 and 17. “Kung Fu Suite,” RZA; “Minions: The Rise of Gru Score Suite,” Heitor Pereira
It’s almost impossible to rank these two against the other songs, seeing as they are part of the score, not the soundtrack. I can say that they’re both better than the Minions’ “Cecilia,” though.
16. “Cool,” Verdine White
The bass is unsurprisingly great given White’s pedigree, and its funk is likely to get your head bopping. Unfortunately, in the context of this album, an original instrumental interlude is just not what we came here for, so we had to rank this pretty low (but above “Cecilia”).
15. “Funkytown,” St. Vincent
The worst cover done by an actual artist on the soundtrack; this one flat out doesn’t work. The vocal effects are turned up to 100 to the point of annoyance, and, for a version of one of the most buoyant songs ever written, it drags. The St. Vincent Minion above though? Top marks!
14. “Turn Up the Sunshine,” Diana Ross and Tame Impala
By far the biggest disappointment here, the soundtrack’s leadoff and only original single just never comes together. Perhaps it’s suffering by comparison to Pharrell’s “Happy,” but the biggest problem is that the hook isn’t hooking. There was no way to get “Happy” out of your head. “Turn Up the Sunshine,” on the other hand, won’t get in your head.
13. “Dance to the Music,” H.E.R.
H.E.R. might have had the biggest barrier to entry for her song to feel fun in the same way some of these collaborations do since she does this type of cover at, like, every other Grammy Awards. Her take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” is yet another technically proficient performance from H.E.R., but it doesn’t have a sense of fun to it. Some spontaneity would go a long way in this cover.
12. “Instant Karma!” Bleachers
Jack Antonoff’s own band took on a completely unnecessary challenge by covering a timeless John Lennon–Yoko Ono track. This cover has big “the straight guys at theater camp have a sing-along” energy, and we’re only mildly here for that. It does have an almost charming lack of vocal polish, especially in line with the original. Unfortunately, asking “Why in the world are we here? Sure not to live in pain and fear” while mimicking John Lennon on the Minions soundtrack causes too much full-body cringe for this to be ranked any higher.
11. “Fly Like an Eagle,” Thundercat
A totally blissed-out shimmer of a song that just kinda vibes over the course of its run time. There’s a place for that, and here that place is on the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack. Does it work? Sure! Is it worth seeing that cover art on my phone? Eh.
11. “Hollywood Swinging,” Brockhampton
In the context of this weird trip of a soundtrack, this Kool and the Gang cover is on the forgettable side. But it at least has an energy that’s missing from the songs lower down on this list. “Hollywood Swinging” is an inspired choice for a band best known for their hypercontemporary hip-hop style. This song’s biggest upside is that it’s the only one on the album with a full-on rap verse, something the other tracks could have used, to be honest.
9. “Shining Star,” Brittany Howard ft. Verdine White
“Shining Star” is one of the “straighter” covers here, which should be no surprise given the fact that Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White is on it. It’s a good approach, but performing a one-to-one take on a classic song will inevitably invite comparisons to the original, and the original is not to be beaten.
8 and 7. “Bang Bang” — Caroline Polachek or G.E.M.
These versions of “Bang Bang” are essentially the same, just with G.E.M., a singer originally from Shanghai, singing hers in Mandarin. They both have fantastic bridges, which make up two of the stronger moments on the album: Polachek belts out the word “sang” with all the delicate ferocity she can muster, and G.E.M. turns some of the lyrics into “lalala lalalila,” which is the kind of fun choice that fits in on a Minions soundtrack and forces you to sing along. Though they’re overall nice reinterpretations of the Nancy Sinatra classic — especially since they lack the type of histrionics Gaga does on her take — they could use a little bit of musical space to recapture the drama that is so inherent to the original.
6. “Black Magic Woman,” Tierra Whack
If this cover of the Peter Green original suffers from anything, it’s a guitar that feels unnecessarily compressed. Luckily, it has Tierra Whack, whose force of personality shines through the overproduced instrumentation. Even Whack’s presence on a gigantic film like this feels like a win for those of us who are rooting for the strangest woman in hip-hop (particularly since her personality makes it through the Hollywood machine intact). But would it be too much to ask for a rap verse? Brockhampton got one!
5. “Good-bye to Love,” Phoebe Bridgers
Yes, the Phoebe Bridgers industrial complex got me again. This stripped-down cover of the Carpenters’ lush original is the one moment on the album that might make you emotional. Bridgers eschewing the guitars of Punisher for a straight-up piano ballad is exciting, especially since she manages to evoke the soft, early-’70s feeling that is inherent to “Good-bye to Love” without losing the simple devastation that makes a Phoebe song a Phoebe song.
4. “Desafinado,” Kali Uchis
This one gets docked a few points because the original from Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto is technically from the ’50s, which goes against the whole late-’60s to ’70s thing the rest of the album is doing. (I was promised “sun-soaked 70’s [sic]” vibes!) Still, it’s one of the few covers on the soundtrack that invokes a smile on every listen. Uchis sounds great on bossa nova and glides along the single with ease.
3. “You’re No Good,” Weyes Blood
A softer version Linda Rondstadt’s “You’re No Good” should not work, seeing as the original is defined by its hard edge, but given that this is a Minions soundtrack, Weyes Blood deserves some leniency there. Otherwise, her twang slots effortlessly into Rondstadt’s shoes. The song builds to a climax that hits just after its halfway point then bleeds out for the rest of its run, giving it a sense of emotionality that the album unsurprisingly often lacks, given that it’s a Minions soundtrack album.
2. “Born to Be Alive,” Jackson Wang
Wang is one of the less obvious choices for the album, but when he starts rasping in Mandarin about 50 seconds in, there’s no question as to why he’s here. The real excitement of this song is best represented in the way Wang sings the word born, nearly moaning it. It’s legitimately sexy, and listening to that vocal performance is shocking in the context of what the album actually is. While the instrumental sections can be a bit cheesy, Wang’s seductive approach is what powers them through. This song — originally recorded by Patrick Hernandez — feels like a true reinterpretation while retaining the urgency of the original.
1. “Vehicle,” Gary Clark Jr.
It’s not really a surprise that Gary Clark Jr., who’s performed with the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, can nail a throwback jam. What is surprising: He throws his whole body into a cut off the Minions soundtrack. He makes “Vehicle” his bitch, to be frank, and sounds great doing it. This song is the only time I forgot I was listening to the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack, thanks largely to Clark’s singular rasp. While everybody else on this album seemed to be doing something for Minions, or, perhaps, in spite of Minions, Gary Clark Jr. just made a great cover of a great song.