While “Hannah Montana” has always had music, the film takes the music to another level. As the Stewarts travel from Los Angeles to Tennessee, the audience discovers how deeply the family’s lives are rooted in music.
“Peter Chelsom describes the Stewart family as a bilingual family whose second language is music, and that’s very true in this movie,” says Gough.
Chelsom says the film’s numerous songs are tightly woven into the fabric of the story and the characters, which is why he believes the film will feel like a musical without being one. “We continuously dance very close to the convention of a musical but are more integrated. Songs are going to sit within the film, not apart from the film. At times, you won’t notice the music is happening; it’ll just move the story along.”
An example is the song “The Climb.” After troubles with Lilly, her brother, her father, her grandmother and Travis, Miley begins to realize how much her secret impacts the relationships with the people whom she loves. Confused and contrite, she ends up expressing her emotions by writing a song, “The Climb.”
“The song is her journey, the lessons she’s learned in the movie,” says Gough. “It’s an epic song, written by a Nashville songwriter named Jesse Alexander with her partner, John Mabe. It’s a power ballad that encapsulates Miley’s journey and the message of the film.”
In total, Miley/Hannah performs 12 new songs in the film, including “Let’s Get Crazy,” “Butterfly Fly Away” and “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home.”
The innovative mix of music in the film includes pop, rock, country, hip hop and even a familiar Hawaiian-themed melody. “We realized this was an opportunity to move forward with the music, to update it and make it more sophisticated, to move with Miley’s age,” says Chelsom. “I’ve never had a better musical experience on any film.”
Another musical highpoint comes when Billy Ray Cyrus (as Robby Ray Stewart) performs “Back to Tennessee”—the title song of his latest album—at a fundraiser to save Crowley Meadows from developers. Written by Cyrus, Tamara Dunn and Matthew Wilder, it has as its inspiration Billy Ray’s longing to return to his roots and breathe the sweet southern air of his home state.
Hit singer-songwriter Taylor Swift became involved when the filmmakers approached her about using her music in the film. Swift not only said the filmmakers could use her music, but she’d be happy to perform a song in the movie.
“When I got an email from Disney saying they wanted a song that was perfect to fall in love to and sort of a country waltz, I sent them ‘Crazier’ and they loved it,” Swift says.
Swift also co-wrote the film’s closing musical number, “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home.”
Another song sure to inspire dancing is the “Hoedown Throwdown,” nicknamed “Miley’s Macarena” by the filmmakers, a hip-hop country fusion number in which Miley Stewart gets up on stage and teaches the dance steps to the audience with the song’s lyrics.
“We called it ‘The Project’ for the longest time,” says Chelsom. “I wanted a song that taught a dance in the lyrics of the song like the ‘Macarena’ or the ‘Funky Chicken.’ I wanted to maximize Miley’s real silliness physically. She’s physically funny and has great abandon, and I wanted to capture all of that.”
Because the dance steps are the song and the song is the dance steps, creating the musical number became an ongoing collaboration among the songwriters, the choreographer (Jamal Sims), Miley and the filmmakers. Chelsom’s determination to combine Miley Stewart’s L.A. hip-hop/pop style with her country roots in a seemingly improvised dance number eventually produced the show-stopping “Hoedown Throwdown.”