Pokemon’s relationship with huge pop music extends back to The First Movie’s licensed soundtrack. With names like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and NSYNC contributing to the album, it would define any late 90s Pokemon fan’s background music for at least a few months. A lot of those songs were just pulled from their artists’ latest records without much, if anything, that grounded them within Pokemon at all. With Pokemon 25: The Album, a compilation of songs meant to celebrate the series’ turning a quarter of a century, the franchise is finally getting an album that can not only bring in huge pop names like Katy Perry, Post Malone, and Lil Yachty, but also have music that pays tribute to the franchise’s 25-year history lyrically and musically.
Many of the tracks found within have direct callbacks to Pokemon, whether that be in a skillful name drop, a soundbite of a Game Boy powering on, or just lyrically delving into the series’ themes of believing in yourself and in others. Some of these songs have been rolling out over the course of the year, becoming the soundtrack to my Pokemon Unite matches. Katy Perry, whose contribution has acted as a headliner for the album since its reveal back in January, leads the show with the anthemic “Electric,” which plays on its connection to Pokemon and mascot Pikachu’s electric abilities. With similar lyrical themes of self-empowerment, it feels like a spiritual successor to her 2010 single “Firework” — one that showcases how Perry’s vocals still stand tall against much of her pop contemporaries.
Other songs, like Cyn’s “Wonderful,” also fall into the same camp as “Electric” in that they’re not necessarily brimming with overt references to Pokemon; instead, they capture an awestruck wonder that is ever-present in the series. It’s a world of endless possibilities, and “Wonderful” leans into the joy of discovering those possibilities together — all with a light vocal delivery over a sprawling pop backdrop.
While Perry and Cyn capture the adventurous tone of the Pokemon series, other artists on Pokemon 25: The Album are eager to draw from the source material. Lil Yachty’s “Believing” hits on the same lyrical notes of “Wonderful” as an earnest proclamation that the adventure is best taken when it’s with others, but makes calls to Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Charmander along the way. Vince Staples’ “Got ‘Em” is a dreamlike hip-hop song with direct references to several Pokemon (including my personal favorite Raichu, so it’s already earning points for itself). Closing track “Reconnect” by Yaffle, Daichi Yamato, and AAAMYYY goes harder than pretty much anything else on the album, leading with delightful samples of Pokemon Red & Blue’s main menu music and some sound effects while Yamato lays down some slick verses that lead into AAAMYYY’s melodic chorus.
Post Malone’s contribution, which led to him hosting a digital concert set in the Pokemon universe, is one of the stranger songs on the album. It’s a cover of Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Only Want to Be With You,” which is odd enough on its own because the original song isn’t connected to Pokemon. But it’s conceptually pretty divided, as well. However, Malone samples Pokemon Gold & Silver’s Ecruteak City music, which gives it that Pokemon touch. It’s a strong cover that fits Posty’s vocal style, but it’s still a little bit of an oddity in an album of otherwise original songs.
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There are a few straightforward pop selections that, if nothing else, capture the joyous side of the franchise even if they’re not lyrically or musically tied to the world. “Phases” by Jax Jones and Sinead Harnett is a danceable bop about a situationship juxtaposed by Mabel’s “Take it Home” (which has been my go-to Pokemon Unite song for months at this point), a song that is equally danceable but more emboldened in its loving declarations. Tierra Whack’s “Art Show” is delightful in its bouncy, minimalist arrangement and ecstatic vocal delivery about creative expression. Even when artists aren’t bringing songs that feel directly tied to Pokemon, everyone sounds happy to be there.
One thing I also appreciated about Pokemon 25: The Album is its acknowledgment that Pokemon isn’t something beloved only in English-speaking territories, even though the ratio of English/non-English is far from balanced. Reggaeton artist J. Balvin makes an appearance with “Ten Cuidado,” which is performed in Spanish and brings distinct energy not found elsewhere on the album. French artist Louane also contributes with pop pun-infused “Game Girl” as she sings a love song framed as a game between her and her Game Boy. Both tracks are standouts, but it did draw attention to just how English-centric the album is.
I still think back pretty fondly on that Pokemon: The First Movie soundtrack. But looking back, it was very clearly a movie marketing tie-in first, a tribute to Pokemon second despite some of its songs appearing in the movie. I see it all a bit more clearly now than I did as a child 20 years ago — and that clarity is why I appreciate Pokemon 25: The Album in a different way. Because it feels like more than several artists signing over a popular song to a big movie’s soundtrack. Instead, it feels like a collection of songs by artists who clearly cared about being part of something bigger that celebrates Pokemon’s beloved legacy. There’s a lot of heart in Pokemon 25, which is why it feels like something I’m going to play in the background of my Pokemon journeys for a long time.