Baz Luhrmann’s soundtracks have always been as central to his style as screenwriting or wardrobe: Just think about the mid-’90s mixtape of Romeo + Juliet or the hot-jazz/rap hybrid of The Great Gatsby, whose clever recontextualizations made remote-seeming texts feel pertinent and new. Moulin Rouge is filled with Luhrmann moments: a drag-ready take on LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” (courtesy of Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and P!nk), Nicole Kidman with an innocence-free “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (“Sparkling Diamonds”), The Police’s “Roxanne” as a tango (“El Tango de Roxanne”).
But the soundtrack’s cornerstone is the “Elephant Love Medley,” which strings together a series of pop classics—“All You Need Is Love,” Bowie’s “Heroes,” “I Will Always Love You”—in a Broadway-style extravaganza. At first, Luhrmann faced pushback from the songs’ publishers, who said it couldn’t be done. But Luhrmann, undaunted, reached out to the artists directly and managed to pull it together. “I think for artists who live in the pop lane or the popular music lane, the idea that their music’s going to be used dramatically, for a drama—they find that thrilling,” he tells Apple Music. “It’s a kind of enthusiasm to be involved.”