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Jason King

Jason King, Ph.D is Associate Professor and the founding faculty member at New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. A journalist, musician, DJ and producer, he worked alongside music impresario Clive Davis to help build and develop the program and he served as the program's first Interim Chair, Associate Chair and Artistic Director.

Racking up top Grammys in 1995, Seal’s haunting and gallant “Kiss From a Rose” is the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful song from the pre Nolan 1980s/1990s Batman movie franchise. Once characterized as “celtic R&B,” “Kiss From a Rose” —with its unconventional harmonic leaps—remains a singular and deft confluence of pastoral folk-hero sensitivity and stadium rock bombast. Initially included on Seal’s 1994 Joni Mitchell-boosted sophomore set, the Trevor Horn produced track evaded chart success until its soundtrack appearance on Joel Schumacher’s 1995 Batman Forever.

What I want to do here is consider the under-researched entanglement between black eccentric / alternative musicians (like Seal) and Batman films. First comes Prince’s expressive studio album for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Nigerian- Brazilian-Brit black rocker Seal then collaborates with Prince and the Revolution alums Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman on “Kiss with a Rose,” and Batman Forever also includes Lenny Kravitz’s left-field and dark retro-funk production for then teen-sensation Brandy, “Where Are You Now.” 1997’s trainwreck Batman and Robin features the R. Kelly curiosity “Gotham City” (with a flossy video helmed by Hype Williams) as well as tracks by Eric Benet and Meshell Ndegeocello.

The 1990s all-markets Batman soundtracks took pains to include a sprawling range of ‘alternative’ music, shelving eccentric neo-soul and neo-soul adjacent sounds right alongside all manner of rock and electronica. The grab-bag soundtracks now suggest an evolving industry that stretched from Mayfield-esque compositional auteurism (Prince) to whatever-works curated music supervision and the late 90s rise of branded ‘ghettocentric’ entertainment (R. Kelly). In each case, the work of eccentric black musicians (Prince, Seal, Lenny) exceeds the films in terms of narrative and stylistic depth and complexity. It’s also notable how the fluorescent camp of the Schumacher films, taken in tandem with the Batman subtext/supertext about the closet, conjoins to neo-soul and black outer-pop’s novel, post-category 1990s expressions of masculinity: these artists do masking and unmasking well. We experience this mostly thrillingly in the form of Seal’s unmistakably idiosyncratic face, as the fey-boho fragile hunk croons to us while posing against the backdrop of the branded bat sign in the Joel Schumacher directed music video for “Kiss From a Rose.”