The Key’s Year-End Mania: Mariah Hall’s Top 7 TV Soundtracks of 2018
Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key contributor Mariah Hall recaps seven of her favorite television soundtracks from 2018.
I don’t watch movies anymore. I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater, and there’s something about a two hour running time that makes me want to scroll past— maybe it’s an underlying fear of commitment, or the fact that my iPhone has destroyed my attention span. TV shows are so much easier to invest in, and Netflix has made them abundantly accessible. Click on a promising pilot and six hours later you’ve finished an entire season and all of the munchies in your kitchen cabinet. The only way to escape that nagging hole in your chest is to start the next show, and one session of binge watching has turned into a full-blown addiction. Welcome to the Golden Age of Television. Here is my roundup of best binge-worthy shows with killer soundtracks of 2018.
The End of the F***ng World
This British dark comedy is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Charles Forsman. The show follows James, a 17-year-old psychopath, who grows bored of killing animals and plans to kill his classmate Alyssa. The two run away from their hometown and gradually develop a friendship, naturally getting into some dangerous situations along the way. For the soundtrack, director Jonathan Entwistle purposely avoided anything contemporary, turning to the doo-wop of the 50’s and 60’s to capture that sad/creepy suburban vibe. Graham Coxon of Blur composed the score, the songs ranging from the campy acoustic “Walking All Day” to the ominous, twanging “The Beach” to the punk rock “On The Prowl.” This was by far the most twisted soundtrack/show of 2018.
Get out those leg warmers and shoulder pads— the 80’s are back, baby! Set in 1985 in Los Angeles, GLOW is based on Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the real-life league and TV wrestle-mania promotion. This show is moving pop art, full of melodrama, ridiculous punchlines and a lovable ensemble cast of unconventional women. The soundtrack compiles all of your nostalgic 80’s throwbacks: Madonna, Pat Benatar, Genesis, Cyndi Lauper, The Police— you get the picture. (Seriously though, we can all agree perms were a mistake, right?)
Dear White People
Dear White People is witty, satirical, entertaining and above all, woke as hell. The Netflix series follows the lives of black students at an Ivy League institution, commenting on modern issues of race relations. The soundtrack elegantly pairs jazz with hip-hop bangers, featuring tracks by the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Erykah Badu and Jaden Smith alongside the ambient jazz compositions of pianist Kris Bowers. In such a daring, provocative show, it’s no surprise the soundtrack is equally unrestrained.
It’s impossible to talk about modern television without mentioning the genius that is Atlanta, the brainchild of Donald Glover and Hiro Murai. The surrealist comedy is focused on the Atlanta rap scene, following protagonist Earn (Glover) who manages his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) aka “Paper Boi.” The show grapples with themes of community, power, racial identity, and family. The soundtrack highlights some local Atlanta artists like Yung Bans, as well as the bigger names you’d expect like Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Kodak Black. There are nods to old-school hip-hop of the 70’s, and season two has the occasional indie and hardcore tracks thrown in, featuring King Krule, Tame Impala and Death Grips.
Maniac will leave your head spinning. The psychological drama follows two strangers, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, who connect during a pharmaceutical drug trial. The technology is borrowed from the early 80’s— green-on-black computer monitors feel especially Matrix. Facebook has been replaced by Friend Proxy, and pop-ups by a program called Ad Buddies. Oh, and there’s a glitch that allows computers to feel human emotions, like depression and heartbreak. The music is a mashup of genres, as the show moves through different eras in hallucinations. Dan Romer composed the dreamy score that perfectly accompanies every vibrant, pastel-lit frame.
Ryan Murphy’s Pose draws its influence from the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, but there is no precedent or comparison in modern television. Acclaimed for its majority transgender cast, the show depicts the lives of drag queens thriving in the 80’s New York ballroom scenes. The costumes are grand, the plot complex and dramatic, and the music pops off. Spotlighted are all the most iconic powerhouses: Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner. You don’t need to have lived through the 80’s to be dancing along every episode.
Marvel’s Luke Cage recreates the unique cultural identity of Harlem, following a former convict with superhuman strength who fights crime in the community. Music is integral to forming this atmosphere, and several episodes featured live performances by artists such as Rakim and Stephen Marley. (Kind of like what The OC and One Tree Hill did for indie acts The Killers and Death Cab for Cutie.) Former A Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad composed the score. The rest of the soundtrack juxtaposes soul singers like Nina Simone, Charles Bradley and Raphael Saadiq with hip-hop artists like Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G. The show was recently canceled, but remains loved and culturally influential.