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The Musical Relevance of Black Mirror

Behind the Soundtrack

Science fiction meets reality in the Netflix series Black Mirror, an anthology of unrelated tales created by British screenwriter Charlie Brooker, which take a close look at some of the ways society has become dependent on technology and what it could mean for the not-so-distant future.

The series first premiered on BBC Channel 4 from 2011 – 2013, before being picked up by Netflix in 2015, which commissioned 12 more episodes to be released exclusively for the digital streaming service.

Similar in many ways to The Twilight Zone, Brooker’s vision mixes elements of different genres, including fantasy, horror, suspense, and drama, to take viewers to some rather uncomfortable and seemingly realistic places from the very beginning. And not every episode provides a conflict resolution.

Each individual vignette tells an entirely different story. Nearly every episode features a different guest director and an original soundtrack, however, there have been many musical moments that have played an integral theme in the series.

That is why Salute Magazine decided to take a deeper look into the musical relevance of the Netflix series Black Mirror.

SERIES ONE

The first season of Black Mirror was a short three-episodes long, but the impact of each one is something to be remembered. The series begins with “The National Anthem,” an episode about a politician whose daughter has been kidnapped by a terrorist cell and has been given a series of demands in order to get her back safe. It appropriately features songs from Massive Attack and British composer Max Richter.

“Fifteen Million Merits” stars Daniel Kaluuya in a role which very likely helped land him the lead role in the 2017 horror film, Get Out. It takes place in a universe where screens occupy the majority of a person’s daily life and provides a satirical look at televised talent competitions, genetically modified foods, and how money is spent in the future. It is also the first time we hear Abi Khan, portrayed by Jessica Brown Findlay, perform the classic, “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas.

The final episode “The Entire History of You” was written by British comedy writer Jesse Armstrong and was so well received that actor Robert Downey Jr. optioned the episode to be made into a movie by Warner Brothers. Unlike the two prior episodes, it featured an original score by composer Stuart Earl.

SERIES TWO

We watch as two young lovers are preparing to move when a sudden accident claims the life of the boyfriend. Alone and confused, “Be Right Back,” takes a look at the futuristic technology that claims it can allow you to stay in touch with the deceased using past communications, social media, and voicemail. While it is an emotionally difficult episode to watch, the music more than makes up for it, with a predominantly upbeat ‘70s disco theme, featuring Yvonne Elliman, Heatwave, and the Bee-Gees.

Although there is very little music featured in episodes “White Bear” and “The Waldo Moment,” however they do take viewers from a dark and sadistic future to one sprinkled in politics and dark humor.

In the final episode, “White Christmas,” which bears the same name as the Bing Crosby classic, we hear a reprise of “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard, an English glam rock group created by Electric Light Orchestra co-founder Roy Wood.

SERIES THREE

The musical link between the show and reality only seemed to intensify after Netflix acquired the series. Season 3 of Black Mirror opens with “Nosedive,” which follows a five-star rated bon vivant who is suddenly having a really bad day. The episode also features an original score by Max Richter.

“Playtest” follows an American traveler as he journey across the globe before agreeing to participate in test trial for an augmented reality video game that is installed directly into the brain. It features an original score was written by The Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary as well as tracks from Kaytranada, Elvis Presley, and The Fat White Family.

One of the more disturbing Black Mirror episodes, “Shut Up and Dance” follows a young man who is caught in a tangled web of lies and deception and takes the risk in order to prevent intimate secrets from getting out. The episode features an original score by Alex Heffes, as well as “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” by Jess Glynne, “Heaven” by Emeli Sandè and “Exit Music (For A Film)” from Radiohead’s hit album O.K. Computer.

Apart from winning two Primetime Emmy Awards, “San Junipero” really was a nostalgia trip, going back through time to the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s in this tale of two unrequited lovers living together in a seaside town. It is a heart-wrenching tale that takes place in a simulated reality, with an exquisite score by acclaimed composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Highrise). It also features “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle, “Girlfriend in a Coma” by The Smiths, “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple MInds, “Need You Tonight” by INXS, “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette, “Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau, and “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” by Kylie Minogue.

The season draws to a close with “Men Against Fire,” which features an original score composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, and the finale “Hated in the Nation” which features an original score composed by Martin Phipps. It also features “Orinoco Flow” by Enya and “Fall Into Me” by Alev Lenz.

SERIES FOUR

Black Mirror returned for its fourth season on Dec. 29th, with six all-new episodes chock full of musical references… particularly the episode titled “Hang the DJ” which is the refrain Morrissey sings repeatedly on the 1988 classic “Panic” by The Smiths.

The first episode of season four takes viewers onboard the bridge of the “U.S.S. Callister,” a Star Trek-esque spacecraft piloted by computer programs that the reclusive programmer Robert Daly, portrayed by Jesse Plemons, who secretly uses the DNA of his coworkers to create his crew. It features an original score by composer Daniel Pemberton, who has previously worked alongside such directors as Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, and Guy Ritchie.

Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster directs “Arkangel,” which tells the story of a single mother raising her child. After losing her daughter for a brief period of time, the mother decides to install a tracking device that allows her to constantly peer into the life of her rapidly aging daughter. The episode features an original score by Mark Isham and closes with the song “I’m a Mother” by The Pretenders.

“Crocodile” is set in Iceland and is probably the most musically significant in the series. Apart from the various easter eggs that users have flooded Reddit with, the episode most notably includes a call back to the Irma Thomas song from seasons one and two. The episode, which follows Mia, who starts out as just a witness to a murder, before becoming an accomplice and eventually into a full-fledged killer herself. The score was composed by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, Claudia Sarne, and also features “Strict Machine” by Goldfrapp.

While it was arguably an appropriate title for the episode, “Hang the DJ” only briefly features The Smiths, with most of the soundtrack composed by Alex Somers and Sigur Rós. It tells the story of two lovers who are part of a system that pairs them with their perfect match for life with 99.8 percent certainty.

“Metalhead” is the only episode filmed entirely in black and white and the soundtrack is predominantly comprised of compositions by award-winning conductor/composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who also performed “Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima” with Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. It takes place in post-apocalyptic England, where three scavengers try to escape from a robot “dog” drone.

The season ends with “Black Museum” a three-part story that takes place in the past, present and future, and involves the various criminological artifacts in the museum. Part of the story was adapted from magician/comedian Penn Jillette’s short story Pain Addict, and it is directed by Colm McCarthy. The soundtrack was scored by Canadian composer/multi-instrumentalist Cristobal Tapia de Veer, and also features “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” by Dionne Warwick and “Spread Your Love” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

It is still unknown if Brooker plans to bring Black Mirror back for a fifth season, but we will have to wait and see.

LISTEN: “THE MUSICAL RELEVANCE OF BLACK MIRROR”

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