Among the questions moviegoers asked after seeing Marvel’s latest summer blockbuster, “Black Widow,” is who sang that rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to open the movie?” The answer: Hawaii-born singer-songwriter Malia J. It seems almost improbable that an unsigned, independent artist would be asked to provide a song for such a massive project, but Malia J’s cover fit the bill.
The track’s own origin story actually dates back to five years earlier.
“I created it as a fun thing with Think Up Anger [a project that makes music specifically for film] as an ode to Nirvana because I’m such a fan,” said Malia J, whose name is Malia Granite. “We ended up really loving it and thought we should pitch it to TV and film projects.”
The haunting piano-driven track ended up initially finding a home in the trailer 2015 horror film “The Gallows,” but that would be as far as the song went until the filmmakers of “Black Widow” reached out. The pandemic pushed the film’s release back from May 2020 to to this July and Malia J had to keep the song’s use a secret for more than a year and a half.
“It was so exciting for me to know about it and not necessarily everyone else knowing about it. It was a beautiful little secret I kept in my heart,” Malia J said. “It was such a cool celebration to finally be able to talk about it with people that love it as well.”
And resonate it did. The track vaulted to the top of the iTunes Alternative chart and No. 4 on the overall iTunes music chart. A video is now in the works, which included a 12-hour shoot in Los Angeles.
“My routine has been: wake up, check my phone, cry some happy tears, get back in the studio, then come back out and cry some more,” Malia J said. “I never expected Marvel fans would rally around this song the way they did.”
Along with “The Gallows,” Malia J’s music has also been featured in trailers for TV shows “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Gotham,” among others. It’s a style of writing for which she realizes she has a knack.
“Me and my producers Think Up Anger have started this new song style; we like to call it ‘cinepop,'” she said. “We’ve tried to make that a thing and I think it’s really working. It’s something that’s really resonated with people.”
She said the process is quite a bit different than a more traditional pop song. The emphasis is put on the dramatic, with arrangement that are made to sound big, strings and booming percussion at the forefront.
“You want to evoke a very intense kind of emotion,” Malia J said.
As interest grew for her music, the began to realize what worked and what didn’t and better tailored the songwriting for the material.
Malia J’s own musical upbringing began with her mother, who heard her sing in the car one day and immediately signed her up for singing lessons. The journey then became a little more unorthodox.
“As I got older, I ended up becoming a classically trained oboist—it’s basically a clarinet on SlimFast,” she said.
She toured with gospel musician Paul Wilbur, playing the obo in his band. A chance moment came when one of his lead vocalists got sick and she was asked to fill in, which became a turning point.
“After I sang on stage I realized that it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.,” she said.
Malia J will release her debut EP, Reflections, later this year, which will naturally feature her ode to Nirvana along with four new original tracks.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.