“Darkness Falls Across the Land”: Pre-Existing Music and Strange Associations

Curator's Note

Throughout the first series of Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016) it is evident that three key features of the show are: its sci-fi/horror genre, 1980s popular culture, and 1980s popular music. In the July of 2017, Netflix released a trailer for the highly anticipated second series in which Michael Jackson’s 1983 single ‘Thriller’ aids in showcasing these key features.

In the trailer, we do not hear a non-diegetic soundtrack until 0:50, yet this remains ambiguous until 1:20 when the spoken word opening to ‘Thriller’ begins. Provided by horror actor Vincent Price, the words act as narration to the visuals and so inform viewers what to expect in series two, if only vaguely as we know the words weren’t written for this context. For example, an informed viewer can understand that when “darkness falls across the land” this darkness will be the Upside Down and the land is Hawkins. This gives clues to the narrative, heightening anticipation, but avoids spoilers. Additionally, viewers with knowledge of Price further align the show with the horror genre, capitalising on pre-existing connotations to create links between horror and Stranger Things.

Also interesting is how sparingly Jackson’s vocals appear. It is possible Price’s monologue was deemed creepier in tone, thus creating tension, or that the words better matched the narrative Netflix wished to project. However, one could question whether Netflix wished to distance itself from negativity towards Jackson as a way to navigate the baggage inherited when using pre-existing music.

An iconic 80s song, using ‘Thriller’ aligns series two with 80s culture and popular music. This also suggests that popular music will continue to play an important part in the narrative, as it did in series one.  By using pre-existing music, Netflix is able to maximise the effect of the trailer, setting expectations on what is to come for fans. In heightening anticipation, Netflix may more effectively gain subscribers interested in the series (as it can only be viewed through their service), or at least  have enticed current subscribers to re-watch series one and immediately stream series two upon its release.

Comments

John A. Riley's picture

Music and character

Was thinking about another way Stranger Things uses music: to create certain character associations. We know Bob’s a bit of a square because he listens to Kenny Rogers, while Billy’s bad boy credentials were cemented the moment we heard Ted Nugent blasting out of his car stereo. The music (pre-existing and specially written) is for me one of the main pleasures of the show.

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