Pixar’s Crafty Skills Convinced Billie Eilish and Finneas
To Write Songs for “Turning Red”
Pixar’s “Turning Red” can best be described as a nostalgic trip for those who grew up during the late 90s and early 2000s. It was a time when its pop culture was defined by confidence dorkiness, as well as Tamagotchis and boy bands. That last bit is significant considering how the lead character is entirely head-over-heels for the animation studio’s fictional boy band 4*Town.
In “Turning Red,” Mei Lee (Rosaling Cheng) and her four friends are desperate to see their all-time favorite boy band, 4*Town. But being the dutiful daughter that she is, Mei Lee hides her love for the band from her well-intentioned helicopter mother (Sandra Oh), who doesn’t understand the boy band or why they are so popular. And when Mei’s mother embarrasses her in front of her friends, she wakes up to find out that her family can transform into a giant red panda whenever they get too excited or stressed.
While this causes a great deal of confusion for the young protagonist, she comes to embrace her newfound powers. She devises a plan to get into the 4*Town concert while also finding her identity and being a dutiful daughter to her mother.
During the long lead presentation for “Turning Red,” director Domee Shi and producer Lindsey Collins talked to journalists about Pixar’s first animated boy band and how they convinced Grammy-winner Billie Eilish and Finneas to create the songs 4*Town sings.
“Boy bands have often by ridiculed by the media, as most things that teen girls are obsessed with are, and we really wanted to pay tribute to this cultural phenomenon in the film, and not just make fun of it,” Shi said. “Make fun of it a little bit, but mostly honor it.”
“I loved growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, like Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, O-Town, and 98 Degrees. We really wanted them to also feel multicultural, even though they are like a homage to the boy bands of that
era, and wanted to bring a little bit of a modern touch to them,” Shi said. “One of the boy band members, Tae Young, he’s definitely a homage to the K- pop, uh, boy bands that I got into in college.”
And like all boy bands, each member has a distinct personality, purpose, and style. “I mean, all of us, I think, have such deep knowledge of boy bands from our own kind of fandom that we were able to come to a quick
consensus about the different types of members we wanted in the band,” Collins said.
The whole idea was to acknowledge how many girls’ and boys’ lives were shaped by their first musical obsessions. “Boy bands represent for many girls this first foray into adolescence. Into music, fashion, pop culture, and they offer a safe, soft, and non-threatening introduction to subjects like love and relationships and sex,” Shi said. “I specifically remember being
11 and horrifying my parents by belting out the lyrics to the Spice Girls song When 2 Become 1, completely oblivious to what it actually meant.”
But for Mei, 4*Town represents “a new alluring world that is the total opposite of her mom and her home life, a world that she’s been pushing away until the red panda arrives and brings her passions to the
And to understand that mother and daughter dynamic, Collins brought her experience as a mother to three kids to the film. One of the singers constantly playing at her house was an unknown Billie Eilish. “When we started thinking about songwriters who could capture the early
2000s sound and bring something fresh to it, Billie’s name came up. Um, and after further research with the Disney music team, we had a better sense of Finneas and Billie and their influences, their style, and figured, you know, why not start with our dream choice,” Collins asked.
While deciding on Billie Eilish was one thing, convincing her to write the music was another challenge. So the creative team got creative and made a scrapbook made entirely of fake ticket stubs, doodles, and we cut out Billie and Finneas’s heads and put them on characters. “Basically, it was a glimpse inside Mei’s character and her obsession with this fictitious boy band, 4*Town.”
And it was a plan that worked as Billie Eilish, and Finneas agreed to be a part of the music team. Of course, this being a film about a girl’s love for boy bands, they would need some original songs. So Collins gave the two three song ideas that many fans of boy bands would be familiar with. According to Collins, they were looking for the confidence booster, the kind of song you sing to one of your friends when they’re feeling down. She was also looking for the hit song, the one earworm beat that everyone knows. And finally, they wanted the love ballad, the type of song that “makes you feel like you’ve just had your heartbroken, even if you’re 13-years-old and have never been on a date.”
“Those were the kind of the direction we gave them, and they more than delivered,” Collins said.
“Turning Red” launches exclusively on Disney+ on March 11, 2022.