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These days, Scarlett Johansson is mostly recognized as Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow in Marvel’s Avengers franchise. While the actress recently made a special appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live to promote Infinity War, that’s not the only project that she has on the table right now. Today, ScarJo is releasing a new collaborative EP with singer-songwriter Pete Yorn titled Apart on Capitol Records. While it may seem like this is all coming out of nowhere, this actually isn’t the first time that the movie star has swerved into the music lane.
During the 2000s, Johansson became all the rage in Hollywood. In the early stages, she was introduced on the scene as an indie darling that broke out with a lead role in the 2001 cult classic Ghost World. Two years later, Johansson’s acting career took off after she starred alongside Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Stills from this cinematic treasure would go on to be preserved as the ultimate micro-romance goals for the Tumblr generation.
Since then, the former “it” girl has gone on to play pivotal parts in major motion pictures like Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Black Dahlia and He’s Just Not That Into You to name a few. Most notably, she made the world fall in love with the sound of her sexy voice as Samantha in Spike Jonze’s award-winning film Her. And let’s not forget that time when she randomly appeared in Justin Timberlake’s music video for his karma anthem “What Goes Around… Comes Around”.
However, unbeknownst to most people, ScarJo made an official effort to woo the world with her pipes back in 2008 with the release of her debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head. The record was a body of Tom Waits covers produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek and included features from the late David Bowie and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. It peaked at No. 126 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Pitchfork rated the album a five and a half out of 10 and saluted Johansson’s attempt at dabbling with a commercial art form, hailing it as “comically ambitious, an endeavor that even most non-actress musicians couldn’t pull off” and a modest reinterpretation of a legendary artist that she clearly admired. There’s only one original track on the album, called “Song for Jo”, and it sort of gives listeners a better idea of Johannson’s raw, natural ability as a singer.
The following year, she teamed up with Yorn to put out a Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot-inspired project titled Break Up. (In the midst of this, she also had a brief stint on Broadway in the revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). This time around, she nearly broke the top 40 with the No. 41 spot on the Billboard 200.
Fast forward to a 2012 interview for Interview magazine where Johansson briefly outlined the humble beginnings of her musical journey. As a child, she participated in musical theater, but supposedly felt discouraged because of her deep voice and hated all the dancing and choreography associated with it. During her pre-teens, Johansson became obsessed with Waits and her love for the musician’s work would eventually lead to honoring him the only way she knew how – by recording a collection of covers. All of this came to fruition after the label Rhino suggested she record an album upon hearing her cover of George Gershwin’s 1934 hit “Summertime” for a benefit album.
“I was never looking to make a pop album,” she said. “It’s not to say that there’s not a place for pop – it’s just not my cup of tea. When I first started working on the album, I got some great jazz musicians together and we recorded a bunch of rough tracks, but it all sounded awful. I realized that trying to recreate Tom Waits’s sound with my voice… it just sounded really camp. I knew what kind of sound I wanted in my head, but I realized that I needed someone to help me get there”.
Whereas she spoke with an air of warmth and seduction that caused Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her to completely self-destruct, there’s a slight lack of emotional depth when she sings which can make it tricky to connect with her. In the previous review mentioned above, Pitchfork described Johansson’s voice as “limited” with a shaky pitch, but noted that she has “a wide textural range, spanning from low, smooth, and melancholy”.
ScarJo once said, “I think that I use music more as a way to kind of pump myself up or wind down, as opposed to associating specific songs with certain moments or trying to inspire an emotion through a song,” which sort of makes sense of her sound. Convincing a man to fall in love with your speaking voice seems satisfying enough if you ask me, but it’s painfully obvious that Johansson’s craves something more deep down.
Ten years later, the actress has returned to the mic with Yorn by her side once again for the Apart EP. Overall, it’s pretty mellow music that doesn’t particularly draw in listeners on an emotional level because Johansson refrains from evoking any strong feelings – it’s the type of generic stuff that blends in the background at chain coffehouses like Starbucks. The opening track “Iguana Bird” is a charming duet carried by a wave of crashing guitars while Johansson does that speak-singing thing and softly coos “La la la la la love you.” ScarJo finally starts to break out of her shell a little bit on “Bad Dreams”, but then things get a bit stale on the next song “Movies”. Yorn takes the lead on “Cigarillo” and it’s actually the perfect balance of both of their voices before closing out with a remix of “Tomorrow” from his 2016 album ArrangingTime.
Johansson once claimed that music serves as an escape from work, so these albums could be categorized as personal passion projects, but the fact that she has spent an ample amount of time writing and recording so many songs makes me think that she does take it seriously. Given that Johansson recently overcame a fair share of controversies as well—being a The Fappening victim in 2010, participating in cultural appropriation with her 2017 role in Ghost in the Shell, and being criticized for wearing Marchesa to this year’s Met Gala – it’s easy to see why she might turn to a recording studio as a refuge.
At this point, Johansson is 33 years old and while it’s not too late to revamp her music career, there’s no reasoning behind why it’s been such a long and ongoing process. Despite being ranked as one of the highest-paid actresses from 2014 to 2016 with a net worth of $100 million, she refuses to have a presence on social media – so there’s been little to no promotion for all of her musical endeavors. She never performs her music live, none of her singles have ever charted, and it can be assumed that she hasn’t gained exposure on the radio either. (The music videos could also benefit from a major upgrade in terms of quality). With the way things have been dragging along for the past decade, we may honestly never know her full potential as a singer because she’s never seems to prioritize it. Regardless of how people feel about ScarJo, there’s no denying that she possess many talents – singing just might not be one of them.
Listen for yourself and stream the entire Apart EP below.
In related news, Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani are the ultimate BFFs in their video for “What I Need”.