In the new documentary, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song, directors Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine trace the history of the song that took 26 years to become Leonard Cohen’s most famous composition. The film doubles as a biography of Cohen, using “Hallelujah” as a way to explore his life and creative process, but it also works as a cautionary tale. Originally included on the little-heard 1984 album Various Positions, “Hallelujah” seemed destined for obscurity until the massive success of 2001’s Shrek, when John Cale’s cover appeared in the film and Rufus Wainwright’s version was featured on its best-selling soundtrack. From there, “Hallelujah” took on a life of its own, becoming a staple of weddings, funerals and reality shows. Too, too many reality shows.In a dizzying montage, the documentary mixes clips of singing-competition contestants emoting “Hallelujah” on American Idol, The Voice, The X Factor and other similar shows, a trend that helped snowball the song’s popularity in the ’00s. This time-lapse survey of overuse concludes with a 2008 interview with Cohen himself at the height of “Hallelujah”-mania, when his version simultaneously appeared on the UK charts along with renditions by Jeff Buckley and X Factor contestant Alexandre Burke. Cohen’s dry comment: “I think people should stop singing it for a little while.”It’s hard not to agree. It’s not that the song isn’t great: Its greatness is part of the problem. Even the most powerful song can be overexposed, particularly when used as a shortcut to unearned profundity. (The documentary thankfully omits “Hallelujah”’s awkward use in a sex scene from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, and Kate McKinnon’s baffling rendition in character as Hillary Clinton on SNL after Trump’s 2016 election.)Fortunately, Hollywood’s reflexive overuse of “Hallelujah” seems to have passed: Overplayed songs have seasons, and seasons fade. Since the Cohen overdose, music coordinators in Hollywood moved on to other tunes, falling in and out of love with such too-oft-heard songs as Band of Horses’ slow-burning “The Funeral,” Arvo Pärt’s mournful, classical “Spiegel Im Spiegel,” and Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” to name just a few.But what tracks are in danger of being worn out in 2022? Here are a handful of today’s “Hallelujah”s.“Best Friend,” Saweetie feat. Doja CatA kind of swaggering successor to Icona Pop and Charli XCX’s once-inescapable mid-’10s staple “I Love It” (made famous by Girls, then recycled by Superstore, Lucifer, Pretty Little Liars, etc., etc.), “Best Friend” instantly summons up a sense of rebellion…but not so much rebellion that it couldn’t be used in the trailer to Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (with some creative bleeping). Released in January 2021, the song has been a soundtrack staple ever since, turning up in Inventing Anna, The Bold Type, Doogie Kamealoha M.D., Single Drunk Female, and Head of the Class. And it’s destined to keep turning up until another song with a similar vibe replaces it.
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