Netflix’s newest hit show, The End of the F***ing World, is a wonderfully bleak take on the traditional Bildungsroman storyline that combines a muted color palette, fresh-faced actors, and a tragic twist to create something entirely new. What really ties the show together, though, is the playfully dark musical nostalgia in the soundtrack choices.
When confronted with the question of what music to include in the show, director Jonathan Entwistle might have had just a few too many answers; the playlist that he had spent years curating alongside Charles Forsman, the creator of the comic book on which the show is based, included no less than 700 songs. In order to hone in on the right sounds, Entwistle and Forsman had to set a few ground rules for themselves.
First and foremost: stay away from the contemporary. This decision ended up becoming crucial for the aesthetic of the show, as the creators began pulling tracks mostly from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s‒Entwistle called this “the saddest music in the world.” This especially rings true when placed within the context of the show. In reality, it is always a bit crushing when a teenager attempts to enter the adult world and is quickly‒yet unsurprisingly‒cast out. In Entwistle’s depiction, the consequences are far graver than a slap on the wrist and a heartbreak.
Without including any spoilers, it is safe to say that this show falls comfortably in the realm of tragicomedy. From the start, the protagonists James and Alyssa are outcasts, not sure how to function normally in their world. Their blunders‒with each other and in general, everyday life‒are relatable in a way that makes you want to cringe, cry, and maybe even laugh a bit. The music follows a similar trajectory. The largely doo-wop era tracks at some points seem overbearing, and at others seamlessly integrated. It is clear that this move was intentional, and mirrors the various high and low points of an adolescent life. The show takes this idea one step further; it turns the melodramatic tropes of teenage drama on their head by making it clear that, sometimes, it really is the end of the f***ing world.
The way in which the show comments on itself, all the way down to its musical choices, shows that this is no regular teenage drama. Entwistle and Forsman were in no way attempting to create the next Skins, the effortlessly cool UK mini-series known for its non-judgmental portrayals of young hedonism. Instead, they were trying to do what hasn’t been done in a long time: create a show about teenagers, for adults. Using recognizably nostalgic music was the key to tapping into this genre.
Although not all of the tracks are as recognizable as others, they all work to build a similar effect. The melodrama of the 1950s, the bouncy rock of the 1960s, and even some of the seedier sounds of the 1970s all blend together to create a soundtrack that’s just as nomadic and self-searching as the show’s protagonists.
There are no current plans to officially release the soundtrack, but all of the tracks are available on Spotify for streaming. However, the guitarist Graham Cox did write an original score, which is currently available digitally and will be out on vinyl in March.
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The Playfully Dark Musical Nostalgia of The End of the F***ing World: Featured image courtesy of Netflix/Billboard