Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: a showstopper from Sing Street that doesn’t stop the show, but deepens it.
Enjoyed on its own, “Drive It Like You Stole It” is a rollicking slice of 80s rock-tinged power pop, complete with an opening blast of synthesizers, a mid-song guitar breakdown and passionate vocals. It’s as catchy as actual songs from that time period, thanks in part to its credited writer Gary Clark, the frontman of 80s band Danny Wilson and a veteran producer.
Paired with visuals in writer-director John Carney’s exuberant musical Sing Street, the song takes on an even grander sweep. The scene pays loving homage to the finale of Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) straps on a guitar and introduces a crowd of unsuspecting 50s kids to the raw power of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” In this movie, lead singer and recent public school convert Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has a simpler goal in mind than reversing the decline of the time-space continuum: He wants to impress a girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton). The spectacle of Cosmo and his band of diminutive but prodigal teens seems like a no-brainer route to romance.
Except, as is abundantly clear within the first few notes, this isn’t the movie’s triumphant climax; it’s the dream sequence before the fall. Cosmo’s vision remains trapped in his head, and Raphina never appears. It’s the latest in a string of disappointments for a character whose most effective emotional outlet is the music videos he sees in his head.
Sing Street occasionally veers too close to the cliches of its genre — a shy teenager crushing on a mature, slightly older female classmate isn’t exactly groundbreaking story material. But Carney (Once, Begin Again) grounds Cosmo’s rocky journey in genuine disappointments: money troubles, fractured relationships, alcoholism and abuse. Music isn’t just a distraction for Cosmo. It’s his center, his livelihood and his sanctuary.
And “Drive It Like You Stole It” is his band’s crowning achievement. It doesn’t solve Cosmo’s problems or resolve the plot. But it provides a potent reminder that dreams and great music are far more than shallow diversions.
You can stream Sing Street on Netflix.