This post contains affiliate links. Book Riot can earn a commission when you buy through these links.
What makes you pick up a book among the hundreds of books that might be seeking your attention? Recommendation from a friend? The abstract? The cover? When I picked up a copy of Big Little Lies with a candy lover’s worst nightmare on the cover, I wasn’t entirely sure when I would get to this book or what to expect from it. Little did I know I would get to it immediately after reading the first paragraph, and it would offer a nuanced portrait of life unraveled, one that I couldn’t put down, that would sneak into work with me and read under the desk in the doldrums between customers.
Then, earlier this year, after holding back faithfully for two years, I watched the first episode of season one. I felt a similar spell cast over me, seen in 20-second bursts on my iPad during slow work hours after my husband and baby fell asleep. I couldn’t believe it was possible, but they had taken the story to another level. The creators of the show, together with the cast, captured the uncomfortable silence of everyday life when you say something so malicious that there is no turning back. It has also captured the little bursts of passion and energy that make life exciting, forgetting the cliff jumping, whether or not the bitter truth you just told can be taken back or not, this is where the adrenaline rush lies.
Thoughts on the Big Little Lies soundtrack
Using the soundtrack as a harbinger
One great device that the show uses to its advantage is the unique soundtrack, which keeps the tension and tension through the big and small moments. Michael Kiwanuka’s main title track “Cold Little Heart” reads, “Did you ever want to? / Did you mean it bad? / Oh my god, it’s tearing me apart. “Talk to what the characters on this show are looking for: attention, fulfillment and absolution.
Use the soundtrack for character development
The writers also use the music to brilliantly develop the character arcs. They convey the intensity of what a character might be feeling the moment the soundtrack is playing in the background. This serves as non-diegetic music, i.e. music that is not heard by the characters. Leon Bridges’ choice of “River” is used to capture the distance two married couples are desperately trying to close in order to prove that their love is superior to the other.
Janis Joplin’s choice of Ball and Chain shows that even after trying their best to escape what binds them, all characters cannot escape. Joplin says it best with “Something came along, grabbed me / and it felt like a ball and a chain.”
Using the soundtrack to move the plot forward
Then there are parts of the soundtrack that are deliberately chosen by the characters in moments of transition and turmoil and serve as diegetic music. For example, when Perry, Celeste’s husband, chooses Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” to advance his performative mind games on Celeste and ends up fooling us too.
There’s also a penchant for Elvis Presley’s music, which hosts all of our characters, from Madeline’s husband, Ed, who dons a costume to charm his bored wife, to the end of the year that has a deceptive singing contest for “The Wonder of You” triggers someone is dead somewhere.
Not much can be said about the choice of music tracks without giving away the story. However, the timing of the selected tracks is really great, something you can’t escape for days after living the music through the eyes of this particular character.
More thoughts on using the Big Little Lies soundtrack creatively
Unlike other HBO shows, the main opening song wasn’t written specifically for the show. But according to Cosmopolitan, the lyrics for the show have been postponed.
Over at The Guardian, they see this as the beginning of a new age in TV music, from the nostalgic 80s vibe of Stranger Things to the piano covers on Westworld.
If you’d like to hear the soundtrack without seeing the show or just can’t get enough of it, you can stream the playlist here. And if you’re looking for more creative ways to tell stories with music, check out this piece.