Schools all over the world are wrapping up for the summer and there’s a magical feeling in the air – one of freedom and endless possibilities. Even the adult population is infected by the summer vibe, although they are trapped in their offices and unable to recreate that carefree state of mind they felt on their last day of school as teenagers. And yet, there is a bittersweet phenomenon that can transport us back to that feeling of invincibility and empowerment through familiar scents and visuals, sensations and sounds: nostalgia. Music has proven to have one of the most powerful effects on our memory and often evokes vivid images and sensations from the past. One only needs to read up on the wealth of research that has been done on Alzheimer’s and the effect music can have on patients even with severely deteriorated mental states to understand that melodies and compositions from the past can be our greatest healers.
When we think back on our summers as teens and young adolescents, our memory-reel is usually backed by a soundtrack – particularly that one, summer hit that informed the entire season. Whether it was a chart-stopper from the Top 40s or an important track that became a catalyst for a new wave of musical exploration, looking back over all our past summers, we always find there was one song that marked the moment. Swedish DJ duo’s I Love It became the summer hymn of 2012; LunchMoney Lewis’ Bills became the motivational track for the summer-jobbers of 2015; Childish Gambino’s This Is America, became the cultural narrative of America’s 2018. While the musical styles here couldn’t be more different, these tracks share one thing in common: they all featured on the soundtrack of some of our favourite shows. Icona Pop’s I Love It became Hannah Horvath’s coked-up battle-cry on HBO’s Girls; Bills fittingly featured on Empire, and Childish Gambino pointed a finger at the America of then and now, via Dear White People.
Combining the lyrical content of our most treasured songs with the visual presentation of unforgettable scenes and character work on popular shows, these nostalgia-inducing summer hits now impact us with a deeper kind of intensity thanks to the all-encompassing emotional relationship they have sparked. Now, upon hearing the likes of these seasonal songs, the line between our own and fictional memories becomes blurred, causing a unique blend of personal reminiscences and a type of longing for the unexperienced we’ve only experienced through fiction. Hence, since the release of HBO’s Big Little Lies in 2017, Michael Kiwanuka’s Cold Little Heart, invites us to replay the scenic Monterey carpool route the show’s protagonists follow on a weekly basis, in our own minds. With its second season having premiered just two weeks ago, this dreamy number accompanying the women’s equally pensive drive, will form part of many a road-tripping summer soundtrack this year. The first opening notes of the song immediately spark images of these Monterey women, eyes staring straight ahead, their hearts heavy and their minds a-buzzing, inviting us into the very same kind of state of contemplation and solace.
Big Little Lies has a very diverse soundtrack that is mainly rooted in the sounds of the sixties and seventies but explores modern artists as well. Other shows, such the political family drama, Years and Years, mainly relies on a haunting theme tune that is as hopeful as it is hopeless. Russel T. Davies’ Into the Future, captivates the urgency of a planet on fire – politically, environmentally, socially and expressively. Played over video montages of rioting cities, decaying landscapes and burning buildings on fast-forward, it depicts how quickly monumental changes actually tend to happen and acts as a terrifying reminder of the fact that, without our active participation, these changes will not be the ones we had hoped to see in the world. Davies has captured the tune of the Zeitgeist so vividly, its staying earworm power could motivate future anti-establishment marches to come.
While our greatest memories of association through music are often of the summer hits that shaped “the time of our lives”, we can’t deny what the combination of music and visuals elicits in us. Without even realizing it, the soundtracks on TV’s most timely shows act as reference points of our cultural climate and, as such, ten years from now, Cold Little Heart will remind us of the summer the #metoo movement kicked off; This is America will take us back to the ongoing fight against systematic racism, particularly under the rule of Trump, and Into the Future, will hopefully, become the track that has become synonymous with the world’s collective march against a failing system.
author Roxanne Sancto
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, often with a feminist twist. She adopts a new pet every time she goes out on a walk. www.roxannesancto.com