The Sting of the Yellowjackets Soundtrack

How the music of the acclaimed and controversial Showtime series informs its dichotomy

Yellowjackets promo poster (Image: Showtime)

Warning: Spoilers below for season 1 of Yellowjackets. If you haven’t watched the entire series, stop reading.

Yellowjackets, Showtime’s surprise horror hit, has rekindled interest in ‘90s music.

It uses the songs of the era liberally in the show, in part because the girls at the center of it crash in 1996. So, of course, is soundtrack will be heavy with songs from that era. But there also a series of clues that foreshadowed who the girls are and their relationships with each other hidden in the soundtrack.

The music is used to contextually put the girls back in 1996; when they are being their wildest, truest selves, they’re soundtracked by a female-fronted vocalist and usually a song that upsets the gender construct around performing feminity. When they’re in school, seen through the lens of others, that’s not the case. But there seems to be a little musical trick at play to drop hints to us about who is going to make it out alive and even, by the end of the season, who is in one of the two groups that apparently left the crash site. 

We get our first hint in episode one, when teen Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is in her car, waiting for teen Jackie (Ella Purnell). She’s listening to Liz Phair’s “Supernova,” from 1994’s Whip-Smart. Jackie gets in and hits eject on the cassette, switching on the radio. We get a transition to Snow’s “Informer,” a cheesy song by a white Canadian rapper that hit its peak in popularity in 1993. Jackie is not cool enough to know about or appreciate Phair, let alone a song blatantly about female sexual desire. And, as the season progresses, it becomes apparent Jackie is not going to survive in the wilderness. She goes from team leader to outsider, dying alone. 

 

 

In episode 1, the show sets up the dichotomy between teen Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), whose soundtrack to taking LSD is Hole’s “Miss World,” and teen Misty (Samantha Hanratty), who is playing Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” when she gets a bullying phone call. Adult Misty (Christina Ricci) keeps that same energy in episode 3, blasting a song from Cats as she goes on a road trip with adult Natalie (Juliette Lewis), and a song from Phantom of the Opera comes up on her playlist in episode 7. Her teen self is offset in the episode by a needle drop on Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother” when she cuts off the coach’s leg. 

What this hints to us about Misty is that she is the odd woman out among the other survivors. She’s not one of them, but she sometimes finds herself aligned with them. It could lend credence to the theory that in season 2 we’ll see she’s a plant by Lottie (Courtney Eaton) who is spying on them. It could also just mean she’s someone with their own agenda and who sits uncomfortably in both worlds. 

Adult Taissa Turner in Yellowjackets (Image: Showtime)

Teen Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is a complete outlier musically, which must signal something about her to us. She has no songs synced to her actions. The first time she has a song doesn’t come until episode 7, and it’s an out-of-time track by Amber Mark from 2017, even though she is in 1996. It plays as she chops off her hair before heading out into the woods on what she thinks will be a solo expedition. We don’t get another Taissa song until episode 9, when Belly’s “Gepetto” plays as she sneaks off with Van.

The best interpretation of why is that Taissa is not whoever we think we’ve gotten to know this season—an idea underlined by the sacrificial altar of hers that’s discovered in the finale. Taissa may not even be who she thinks she is.

 

VIDEO: Belly “Gepetto”

 

Courtney E. Smith
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