Do Soundtracks Really Play a Big Role?
Everybody loves to pass time by binging tv shows, but how often do you recognize the music in the background?
Music is the underrated backbone of television as it helps bridge the gap between seeing and feeling scenes. For example (SPOILER ALERT), season 3 of Grey’s Anatomy featured one of Sandra Oh’s most praised performances as doctor Cristina Yang. At the end of the season, Dr Burke left Yang at the altar leaving her torn. Anybody who watches the following scene where she comes to terms with her new reality can’t help but get emotional. The song playing in the background, “Keeping Breathing” by Ingrid Michaelson, is integral to the scene because it helps the viewer connect with the emotions felt by Yang. In fact, without this supporting music, I argue this scene would still be great, but would fail to invoke such a strong emotional response from the audience. It is in this way that the music connects and draws viewers to the scenes they are watching.
With this in mind, I evaluated the following popular TV shows and how they wouldn’t be the same without their soundtracks.
The Scandalous Peaky Blinders
The hit TV show, Peaky Blinders, is about a British Gang in the 1920s who commits criminal acts all while battling against their inner moral reasoning. Their ability to commit outrageous crimes in plain sight is what makes the characters so edgy and wildly fun. While the storyline itself is a masterpiece, the music gives the show its sneaky allure that makes this show so engaging.
One of the best tunes from this show is its theme song, “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. One of the reasons why this song is so great is because its devious tone and catchy lyrics make it fun to sing along with. The lead singer, Nick Cave, has a deep baritone voice that flawlessly embodies this ominous and sinister gang. While the lyrics fit the plot of the show perfectly, it surprisingly predates the show. Rather than Peaky Blinders itself, this track references John Milton’s poem, “Paradise Lost”, with its title and hook, “red right hand”, a direct quote from the poem.
Additionally, unlike other English historical dramas, Peaky Blinders is set apart by its use of electric punk and rock as the backdrop to the eccentric plot. It integrates tracks from the Queens of the Stone Age, The Kills, Johnny Cash, and in some seasons, every episode features at least one song by the Arctic Monkeys. Need I say more?
The Badass Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad won the hearts of its viewers when the protagonist, a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White, learns that he was terminally ill. As a result, he chooses to enter the drug trade to earn enough money for his family to be supported after he dies. What makes the Breaking Bad soundtrack particularly interesting is that it cannot be characterized. Nonetheless, the music selection in Breaking Bad is nothing short of brilliant. The music’s variability sets the tone for all of Walter’s dangerous dealings. This is seen through the range in music from Los Cuates de Sinaloa’s regional Mexican music to Gnarls Barkley’s alternative rock to The Black Seed’s reggae.
What I find particularly interesting about this series is how the various elements of the show work together. One of the best aspects of the show is its cutting-edge cinematography. Rather than include music that competes with epic shots of suspenseful drug deals, the music is arranged to complement the scenes, not take away from them. The success in how producers have chosen to intertwine various elements of the show partly explains why it is one of the most critically acclaimed shows in television history.
Strange(r Things) Goosebumps
Stranger Things fascinates its viewers with its focus on supernatural phenomena and the exploration of various realities and dimensions. It is known for its nostalgic 80s landscape that is crucial in creating a mysterious, uneasy feel to the series. The music in Stranger Things is imperative to establishing and facilitating it’s signature nostalgic feel. It features throwbacks from Bon Jovi, The Clash, The Police, and Toto, all acting as a time machine to bring you back to the featured era. While the music is meant to portray both risk and peril, it also embodies a child-like fun that is a fundamental element of the show. Afte rall, while this show is about dangerous adventures, the characters are still only in high school.
Retro-chic Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies tells the story of five women who become entangled with a murder investigation that takes place in their town. The music supervisor of Big Little Lies, Susan Jacobs, unsurprisingly won the first Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision. Big Little Lies skillfully places its music to allow viewers to draw a musical association to characters. In turn, this causes the audience to become more immersed in the show for they feel as though the music is directly part of the story.
What makes this soundtrack especially unique is its use of pop music in reflecting the music taste of Chloe, Madeline’s daughter. It must be noted that Chloe has a better taste in music than most people (including myself), which is a big deal considering she’s only six years old. It features music by Elvis, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Ocean, Alabama Shakes and Otis Redding. These artists in addition to others ultimately contribute to this show having one of the all-time greatest soundtracks with Chloe’s favourite songs becoming some of the most played on Spotify.
Top New York corporate lawyer Harvey Specter hires Mike Ross to work for him despite Ross never attending law school. As the show progresses, Mike’s secret becomes increasingly troubling and eventually takes over the main plotline. What makes Suits so fantastic is its clever wit and class that would be expected of top lawyers. The soundtrack of Suits is pivotal in supplementing this attitude as it uses contemporary jazz music and rock-indie tracks to reinforce the class and style that is central to the show. These tunes include those by Miles Davis, Amy Winehouse, John Coltrane, The Black Keys, The Heavy, and Charles Bradley.
The music in this show reminds us that these characters are more than brilliant minds with a slick walk and talk. Rather, Harvey’s bluesy jazz records remind us that they are people too. The soulful soundtrack establishes a melancholic ambience reflecting the recurring themes of disorder and misfortune. In turn, this adds a soft but powerful touch of personhood.
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