The Princess Diaries Soundtrack Captured Teen Pop's Golden Age

The #PrincessDiaries is turning 20, and it's time we recognize that 'Miracles Happen' is an eternal bop

7/31/2021 6:11:00 PM

The PrincessDiaries is turning 20, and it's time we recognize that 'Miracles Happen' is an eternal bop

Joyous, empowering songs by Myra, Krystal Peterson, and more crystallized the spirit of the time. The film's major players explain its legacy

Meanwhile, music supervisor Solér had previously assembled the iconic soundtrack for the coming-of-age dramaNow and Then, though her first of many films with director Garry Marshall came with some interesting conversations. “Garry was skeptical because he had worked with a couple of music supervisors prior,” Solér says over Zoom, speaking from her home in Thousand Oaks, California. “I'd say, ‘Oh, let's put some music here.’ And he'd be like, 'Dawn! When the actors are doing their job, no music!’ So, I watched all his previous movies, and the thing that I realized about him, when there was music, it was very, very intentional.”

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The soundtrack was crucial to Marshall.The Princess Diarieswas shown almost weekly to Girl Scouts and youth groups, which was an important step to see how the music resonated. “We would sit at the back of the theater and watch the audience and the movement of them and the feel,” Solér remembers. She pulled inspiration from a few things: “Thinking about Mia in San Francisco, being sort of a geek,” as well as what kind of music was popular with teens at the time.

Even though the original soundtrack is packed with great pop music, its power is in the sharp curation of the songs and subtlety of the placement, which collectively work to highlight Mia’s emotional touchstones, as well as the ebbs and flows of her journey. Take Hanson’s “Wake Up.” It’s the morning after Mia learns she’s a princess, and the camera flashes to her getting ready for school in the morning, slightly disheveled, cocking her eyebrows in her bedroom mirror. With the breezy guitar riff playing quietly in the background, the audience peeks in on a private moment. “We always approached the songs as if [the movie] was a musical, so that it would be the narrative in a person's head, which would make sense in the storyline,” Solér explains. “To me, I think that's what makes the best song use.”

Lyrics to “The Journey” by Mpulz, “You'll get your wings at the right time, even birds must learn how to fly,” follow Mia as she sprints, stomach turning, out of debate class. “Little Bitty Pretty One,” Aaron Carter’s sweet cover of Bobby Day’s ‘50s classic, plays as Mia frantically yanks on her pantyhose in the backseat of a limousine on her way to etiquette lessons. Nobody’s Angel, Tammy Phoenix, and Lil J’s rendition of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing” blasts as grandmother and granddaughter cruise over the Golden Gate Bridge during an outing that bonds them. “Crush” by 3G’s provides a dreamy backing for a slow dance between Mia and her longtime crush, popular Josh Bryant (Erik Von Detten).

Meanwhile, Robert Schwartzman, frontman for Rooney, handles the role of Michael Moscovitz, the brother of Mia’s best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo); former Rooney members Taylor Locke and Ned Brower also briefly appear as Michael's band Flypaper. They perform “

Blueside,” which would open Rooney’s 2003 self-titled studio debut. Another standout is “What Makes You Different (Makes You Beautiful)“ by Backstreet Boys, which scores the aftermath of the beach party. There’s a lot going on in that scene, including Moore’s iconic performance of “Stupid Cupid” and Mia’s eventual humiliation in front of eager paparazzi. As BSB’s ballad plays, a foil to the pep of “Stupid Cupid” earlier, its message serves as external reassurance that Mia doesn’t need to try to be someone she’s not to be cool or popular. Her power is within.

Moore recorded “Stupid Cupid,” the film’s second ‘50s pop cover, especially forThe Princess Diariesat Marshall’s suggestion. “When I talk about the things I learned from Garry Marshall, it was how to build the movie out: how to take moments in the script, flesh it out, elevate it, make it fun, and find ways to make it really pop,” Chase says. “This beach party was not originally scripted to have this musical number. But he saw an opportunity.”

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Solér says there weren’t really any label requirements from Disney to include artists from their in-house roster. That allowed Peterson, who cut her teeth as a young session singer in Indianapolis and had recently signed to Backstreet Boys’s K-BAHN label, to land a key spot on the soundtrack. Shortly after moving to Los Angeles and starting to record her debut,

Me & My Piano, “Supergirl!” was placed in the film. Peterson says being associated with BSB definitely helped open the doors to Disney. The boy band offered Peterson an opening slot on their internationalBlack & Bluetour — “Quite kind of them, really” — to help promote her record. “As the song became more popular, I would get up onstage and notice people were singing along with me,” Peterson says. “And that was the biggest impact to me, to be able to really experience that togetherness with people.”

One artist directly connected to Disney was Myra, the first teen signed to Walt Disney Records, before Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez. “I’m Hispanic,” Solér adds. “Trying to find opportunities for Hispanic women has been something that has always been important to me, because I think it's a very, very underserved market.”

After making a name for herself singing Mariachi around Sonoma County, Myra signed to Disney and released her first single, “Magic Carpet Ride,” on theLa Vida Mickeycompilation. Shortly after, “Dancing in the Street” was featured inRecess: School’s Out

. “It was so cool to see how it all came about,” she says. “And a lot of work. I had a great team. I actually still have a few friends up at Disney Records, and it's so nice to be in touch after all these years. There are good things about the industry.”

When she heard “Miracles Happen (When You Believe)” — written by Pam Sheyne and Eliot Kennedy, songwriters behind hits for S Club 7, Spice Girls, and Christina Aguilera — it resonated immediately. “I always wanted to do something to touch lives and touch hearts and make a difference, and that song was just up my alley completely,” Myra says.

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The song was nominated for an American Latino Media Arts (ALMA) Award for Outstanding Song in a Motion Picture Soundtrack and was promoted as the theme song ofThe Princess Diaries. “Supergirl!” became an unofficial theme for the film, too, and its music video features Anne Hathaway serving burgers with Peterson in a diner dubbed the Super Girl Grill.“It really didn't even feel like work,” Peterson says of the diner scene. “It just felt like joy.” Backstreet Boys Kevin Richardson and Howie Dorough have sneaky cameos, too. “It's one thing to have artists support you, it's another thing to have them show up in your video. It was a really, really thoughtful thing for them to do for me.”

One of the biggest highlights that day was meeting Houston, who dropped by the set. “She put her arm around me and was just such an encourager. I was feeling insecure around that time, probably for one of the first times in my life, as a singer or an artist. She was like, ‘This is great, you sound great.’ And I was like, ‘OK! Whitney says I'm all right, so I'm fine!”

Pop music has always made a defining impact on youth culture, but at the turn of the new millennium, teen pop’s boom made it more prevalent than ever. “It was all about romance and love and feeling good about yourself,” describes Chase, who also produced

The Cheetah Girls, the Disney Channel’s first musical, in 2003. “It was upbeat. It was positive. There was an innocence and a freshness to it.” Myra, too, associates teen pop with an all-around wholesomeness: “Everything down from the clothing to the style to the lyric to the music to how you presented yourself.”

Right on the cusp of Napster and ascendent MP3 downloads, the teenage listening experience was still largely curated by select radio stations (like Radio Disney, which catered to its young audience), labels, and magazines. Today’s sweeping accessibility thanks to streaming services actually obscures how teen pop is defined. “If you look at teens today, because they have unlimited access, I don't think teen pop has a chance because teens are listening to everything,” Solér says. “My [16-year-old] daughter rarely listens to what you'd classify as teen pop. But she loves Backstreet Boys; she loves the throwback music because she has access. And kids are very curious and they want to discover.”

Courtesy Dawn SolérMusic supervisor Dawn Solér with star Julie AndrewsFor Peterson, the pop-music world didn’t feel authentic to who she wanted to be as an artist. She eventually found herself toeing the line between what she hoped to create and what was happening in the business of her music. “I think a lot of the kids that were in the industry at that time were wrestling with that, actually,” she adds. It’s a sentiment echoed by Jessica Simpson in her memoir,

Open Book, which candidly details the pressures and demands female pop stars often faced in the industry, and Hanson, who, as documented in their 2005 filmStrong Enough To Break, also left a major label to make music independently on their own terms.In the end, Peterson chose to walk away from Hollywood. She dealt with an “existential crisis” about singing — “Why all of a sudden do I love and hate something that has been such an amazing, magical gift?” — but took a long break and eventually started attending local live shows and giving voice lessons. Today, she lives in Cincinnati and performs with the Queen City Band, a jazz sextet, and as a solo artist. She has a new single,

“Abundantly,”and, as she turns 40, she’s more excited than ever about the music she’s making. “Teaching helped me heal, also, because I realized again that music has power,” she says. “And I did learn how to save me, for what it's worth,” Peterson adds, referencing the lyrics to “Supergirl!”

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