Deep Dive - Music in Movies & Television: LOST
Note: This post is the first in a series I plan on continuing about music used in movies and television
In media, there are always trends — phenomena — things that own the public forum and conversations for any given period of time. These works possess a very distinct ability to transport us back in time to the moment we viewed them as they cement themselves in our memory. On September 21st, 2005 at approximately 9pm eastern, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was planted in front of my television, sitting with my brother watching the Season 2 premiere of Lost. At the time, there was no greater phenomenon of pop culture than the show chronicling the island life of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. It was appointment television. Lost was a show on network television with mystery, intrigue, and a cast filled with compelling characters and this premiere exemplifies just that. However, I’m not writing just to gush about how much I love Lost. No, that’s for another post. This post is specifically about how in this episode, I believe there was one of the greatest uses of a song in any TV show or film. The song was Make Your Own Kind of Music and the scene plays out below:
If you don’t know anything about Lost, then the scene may not hold as much power as it does to those who invested in Season One. The tonal shift from the end of Season One (with Locke blowing open the hatch) and the heavy use of flashbacks to keep viewers off balance combine to make this opening scene SO confounding, as they bring up so many new questions. The old computer, the jumpsuit, the string of Hurley’s winning lotto numbers being entered after the beeping begins — it’s all so perfectly crafted. Then, Mama Cass starts singing this 70s bop (and it is INDEED a bop) on the topic of encouragement and empowerment that it throws you through a complete loop. But things get weird (wait— "was that an injection?”) Lost was built around this question that’s been promoted since the first commercials for the pilot— the words that Charlie Pace utters so aptly as an audience surrogate: “Guys, where are we??”. Lost, at its best, always kept this question at the forefront of the show. It blossomed and exploded by keeping the audience off balance and this scene is the perfect encapsulation. We pan out from this micro-level montage to realize, we’re still on the island. *Black screen* LOST.
Lost hadn’t used music (outside of the wonderfully composed score from Michael Giacchino) much before. They used Damien Rice’s “Delicate” earlier in the series with pretty great success as in-world music coming from Hurley’s headphones. I think it’s important to point out how these moments are using music to enhance the feelings that the audience is experiencing. In the instance of “Delicate”, the music is a comfort. It uses the audience’s expectation of music being used at the end of episodes, in montages specifically, to bring a sense of closure. It wraps everything up into a neat and tidy package to allow for us to pick things up next week with new adventures. However, when the song abruptly ends (due to running out of batteries) it hammers home this sense of dread or foreboding. It queues the audience into realizing that there is no quick fix. Our beloved castaways are stranded and there’s no timeline when things might begin to look up. With “Make Your Own Kind of Music”, the music itself is the trigger that something is off. We’ve had a full season to settle into the tone and rhythms of Lost and we know that the highs are never very high for long and there’s something dark and ominous around every corner. So when we get this upbeat and optimistic tune centered around shots that grow progressively more disconcerting, we feel all of the tension of seeing a shadowy smoke-monster around the corner, without actually seeing a shadowy smoke-monster.
This scene will forever be one of the most iconic television moments for me. It introduced us to one of the greatest characters in the show’s run and, personally, one of my favorite television characters of all-time. Whenever I hear the song, I’m instantly transported back to my first glimpse of Desmond Hume and some of my fondest memories in front of a screen. This is the kind of media that makes being a pop-culture geek worthwhile. It’s a moment that, for those invested, pays off in the best possible way. It uses our own preconceptions against us and leverages that to tell beautiful stories.