Doing Donuts To Doo-Wop: Baby Driver’s Infinite Playlist
Baby is me. He can’t take his first step of the day without shoving earbuds in his ears and blasting a badass playlist that transforms any ride into a scene out of an action movie. I mean Baby does it a little better, considering he’s actually in an action movie, but I was sitting front row in the theater, never missing a beat.
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the story of a wild teen played by Ansel Elgort who fills the void left by his doting mother and abusive father with boosting cars and making playlists on countless first generation iPods. Owing a debt to a kingpin, Baby becomes a getaway driver, drifting robbers away from crime scenes as long he’s got a beat in his brain. It’s this little quirk that made me instantly connect with the character. Both of us are introverted as hell, and only open up to a few people we really trust. Just like Baby, I can’t function in my daily life without my favorite artists singing or rapping me to my destination.
Baby’s much older associates remind me of the adults in my high school days. They’d always ask me why I always had my earbuds in, why they were so loud while I was so quiet. It’s as simple as just wanting a place to escape. The right song can pluck you out of any room and place you down in a world you can make your own for the next 4 minutes and umpteen seconds.
Baby is shown syncing his daily stroll to the coffee shop to the tune of “Harlem Shuffle” by The Foundations. Now, I have the driving skills of a 70 year old bag lady so I will never in my life drive like Baby, but I always loved to direct my own music videos in my head. I listened to a lot of rap, so I imagined all my friends behind me in the obligatory crew shot.
One of the few people Baby shares his love of music with is his foster father Joseph, played by CJ Jones. Joseph is deaf, so he feels Baby’s music through his wild dance moves and the vibrations in his speakers. There’s also Debora, Baby’s love interest played by Lily James who can step toe to toe with him when it comes to music knowledge. She envies his name because damn near every song is about a “Baby,” but he shows her a song by T. Rex that she can call her own.
I’ve never really thought finding my name in a song was that important, but I do get a little jolt when I hear Ludacris talk about Lorenzo kits in “Rollout” or when I pretend that the Lorenzo Childish Gambino mentions in “3005” is me (Donald and I text each other on the reg frfr).
Another interesting quirk of Baby’s is that he secretly records the speech of people he encounters throughout his day. When he gets home, he uses old school recording equipment to make mixtapes out of his soundbites. He records music on actual tapes, forgoing DatPiff for a box in his room. Additionally, the movie manages to present itself as a modern film without much reference to new age technology. An; an iPhone isn’t even seen until close to the end of the movie. There’s a very nostalgic vibe throughout the film, from the songs he listens to to the way he listens to them. He’s on the move a lot, so he makes sure his music can easily move with him, no matter what they were originally recorded on.
And boy, does this kid love to move. In the very first scene, before we even see him do car stunts that would make Dominic Toretto call him “family,” he’s jamming in the getaway car while waiting for the robbers to get the loot. He turns on “Bell Bottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, mouthing the intro perfectly. He turns the windshield wipers on and sways along with them, he drums on the dashboard right up until the robbers get back…and then he hits the gas- on beat. This is the first heist movie I’ve seen where the focus is shifted to the person waiting in the car, not the ones stealing the money. But the gangsters get in on the vibe as well, each gunshot in sync with the beat of the music. There’s very little background music in this film that doesn’t come directly from Baby’s personal playlist.
Baby listens to a lot of older songs in honor of his mother, a recording artist with a beautiful voice who kickstarted his love of music by giving him his first iPod. Baby’s flashbacks of his mother are bittersweet; he remembers the joy in her voice and the pain in her relationship with his father, which ultimately caused their untimely death. The accident that killed his parents left him with severe tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ear. It’s downright poetic; he uses his main source of joy given to him by his mother to quell the constant pain given to him by the event that took her away.
Now my mother is still alive, but we live on different continents and can’t see each other as often as we want. So every once in a while when the world’s got me down, I’ll put on some Brownstone, Sade, Jill Scott, Anita Baker or Toni Braxton. My mom introduced me to countless R&B artists, singing along to Unbreak My Heart in the car running errands on a Saturday or when she was home, cooking up a mean pot o’ pepper soup. I listen to the songs my mom played for me and suddenly she’s right next to me, singing with that beautiful voice our family members always ask her to bless them with at every wedding and funeral.
There’s something special about hearing the woman who raised you sing her heart out, which is why Baby’s most prized possession was a tape of his mother singing “Easy” by the Commodores. We don’t know what’s on the tape until after the big climax scene, so the change in tone from intense to soothing was really well done. By the end of the movie, Baby’s got all he wants right where he wants it; his girl, his mom’s heart, his car and his music. The world broke his innocence and made him do awful things but in the end the thingseverything wthat made him so innocent in the first place saved himbrought him back from the darkness.
My ending won’t be quite like Baby’s, but I fully enjoyed being a passenger on his thrill ride. The movie had big sound (a link to all the music featured in the songfilm can be found here) and an even bigger heart.
So next time you see your quiet friend in the hall or on the street with histheir head down, music blasting…ask them what they’re listening to. You might take a trip that could change your life.
Author: Lorenzo Simpson
Editor: Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi