Hustlers Almost Didn’t Get Permission to Use ‘Criminal’ for That Iconic Scene

Every day may be a hustle, but good music can make it a fun hustle. And after we found the secrets behind the soundtrack of Jennifer Lopez’s Hustlers, we might have a new playlist to get us through the rest of the year. Lopez said learning to pole-dance for the movie was the hardest thing she ever physically had to do in her life, but that might be an exaggeration once you hear from director Lorene Scafaria about tracking down the rights to songs that ended up in the movie.

In an interview with Vulture, Scafaria and music supervisor Jason Markey discussed how they compiled every track utilized in the movie — and it was definitely an ordeal. The film, which follows a group of strippers who fleece wealthy businessmen, is a ton of fun, and the soundtrack makes it. It includes a bunch of classics you’ll be singing for days on end, starting with Janet Jackson’s “Control” from 1986. The song opens the film, introducing Destiny (Constance Wu) as she’s about to go on stage for the first time.

Scafaria said she envisioned nearly every song in her head when she started assembling the movie in 2016, and that without all of them, the movie would have been vastly different. This was most true with “Control,” which became central to the film’s theme. “There’s a theme of control that runs throughout the movie,” Scafaria said. “When we have it, when we don’t. Even when we’re empowered, it doesn’t mean we’re in control.”

The film takes place in 2007, and it wouldn’t be the year 2007 if you didn’t have a little Britney Spears — she’s “peak 2007,” according to Scafaria — and the use of her tune “Gimme More” is one of several musical highlights in Hustlers. Scafaria and Lopez both demanded that Spears’ song be a part of the film. “She’s one of those artists I have an incredible amount of respect for. She was put through the wringer and she’s on the other side of it,” Scafaria said. And Spears’ well-documented troubles as a mother and artist connected to the themes in Hustlers.

The same desire for authenticity also manifested in the use of Usher’s “Love in This Club,” which plays during the last good night the strippers have before the arrival of a recession that will change their lives. Scafaria said Usher initially suggested another song, “Bad Girl,” for the film, but it wasn’t an option. They had to have “Love in This Club.” The song plays to make it feel like “the sky was raining money, and we weren’t aware of what was right around the corner,” Scafaria said, and without it, the tone just wouldn’t feel right.

But what if an artist didn’t want to give over their song? The use of Bob Segar’s “Night Moves” required some finesse, but one of the toughest songs to settle on is the one the movie is receiving such praise for. When Lopez’s character, Ramona, is introduced, she does a powerhouse dance to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” At first, Lopez suggested a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” but Scafaria was so drawn to “the lyrics, the storytelling of it, the mood of it, the power of it, the seduction” of Apple’s song that she convinced Lopez to change her mind.

The problem was that Apple had never allowed the song to be used in a film. The director and leading lady put their heads together, and Lopez performed an edited routine to the song, so producers could show it to Apple. Markey is convinced Apple “liked the women empowerment involved, and is probably a fan of Jen’s, which helps.” She certainly has good taste, because that scene in Hustlers is the chef’s kiss of the entire feature. Hustlers is in theaters now, and if you haven’t seen it yet, go!

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