Black Mirror’s push on music in Bandersnatch
By: Mari Cardenas
Bandersnatch, for people who live under a rock, is the latest long form episode of Black Mirror that aired on December 28th. Black Mirror is a Netflix original series where the characters are placed in dystopian-like situations that revolve around technology. Since Black Mirror tends to have different storylines that maintain an eerie essence, Bandersnatch added an extra element by making it interactive. Essentially, Netflix allowed there to be two options at the bottom of the screen for the viewers to choose every time the main character Stefan [Fionn Whitehead] was at a crossroad. This made the whole episode rely on audience participation since the plot of the episode consists of Stefan becoming invested with this novel named “Bandersnatch,” a “Choose Your Adventure” novel. According to CYOA’s “History of CYOA” article, Choose Your Own Adventure young adult novels started in 1979 by a company named Bantam Books– which makes sense that Stefan became enamored by this. Soon enough, Stefan began to make a game based on the novel which is essentially the whole premise of the film–him trying to execute a best selling game. Ignoring the creepy plot line, unlike many Black Mirror episodes, this one revolves around 80’s music and its aesthetics. Because of this, I began to question the score for the episode and whether or not it applied for the 1984’s theme and feeling it was trying to convey.
Bandersnatch involves ten prominent songs (according to Black Mirror’s soundtrack of various artists on YouTube) which were all scattered throughout this interactive film. Since we, as audience members and “god-like” controllers have direct influence on what Stefan does by choosing every action, we should be able to choose the music for him. However, I am going to focus on six out of ten of these songs. There were other artists that were mentioned in the film, such as when the main character goes to the record store with a list of artists, but Netflix didn’t let you choose through the list of music between The Cure or other artists. This reinstates the idea that you don’t have the ability to go out and make different choices other than the ones given to you (such as Stefan choosing between the two albums: Tangerine Dream or Isao Tomita) in this choose your own adventure life. So, this reinstates the idea of free choice and no choice. We have no choice, similar to Stefan, to make this action because Netflix didn’t program it.
Music parts are prominent in this episode since it revolves in the 80’s, an era that allowed new wave, synth pop, and rock to come together and influence the community. Similarly, Black Mirror is arguably a show that presents different concepts, such as the consequences of greed or jealousy or even the need for constant reassurance, that influence our society who watches this television show. Relating this back to the audience being able to control what the main character Stefan does, there were typically small choices that were made such as what cassette tape should he listen to: The Thompson Twins or Eurythmics. This is when it became evident to me that this episode is personally more music heavy than the others. There were six other scenes with an emphasis on the music that they were playing that stuck out to me. Some of these scenes, in a way, could be inferred as what Stefan was feeling in each of these situations. While on the other hand, they could be explained better from a few other songs that could have been chosen.
SIX NOTEWORTHY SCENES
- The alarm that starts in the beginning of the film:
“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood plays in the beginning of the film and every time in the beginning when there is a dead end. Similar to the film “Happy Death Day,” it would repeat every time they relapsed that scenario. The lyrics of “relax, don’t do it” could be a message from Netflix to the audience telling us not to keep making the same dead end mistakes. Alternatively, it could be telling Stefan not to spiral into insanity since he is going through every awful ending.
When Stefan is on his way to the game company to present his game idea regarding Bandersnatch, the audience is given a choice for what cassette he plays. The audience is presented with either the Thompson Twins or Top Hits. If one chose the Thompson Twins, Stefan would listen to “Hold Me Now,” a sweet love slow pop song with emphasis on the synth and an interesting piano appearance. This could calm him down on the way to seeing the committee of game developers. On the opposite side, the Top Hits cassette contains the song “Here Comes the Rain Again” by Eurythmics, a lovey upbeat synth-pop song while containing an interesting string arrangement. Regarding the idea of no choice, during this scene, a billboard presents a tag that writes “No future,” essentially foreshadowing the fact that Stefan has no future since we, the audience but also a higher figure, are controlling him.
- On Stefan’s way to therapy
The song “Making Plans for Nigel” by XTC could be a shout-out to the audience since the people who are clicking the options on the screen are “making plans” for Stefan. The people who click the buttons lead Stefan to make certain actions that he wouldn’t have possibly made without the audience acting as voices in his head.
- When Stefan goes to the record store after therapy:
The song “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo has lyrics such as “modern medicine falls short of your complaints, try a little harder” which could foreshadow to Stefan having to go through complex traumatic issues and dismissing medicine to ultimately lose his mind to make his new game into a success. It could also mean that he is “too shy” to advance more within his game at this point in the film.
- When Stefan is working on the game in deep study in his room:
The 16 minute long song “Phaedra” by Tangerine Dream plays. It provides a deep eerie with progressive crescendos and tempo changes and heavy distortion as the song continues on. This scene happened after he came back from the record store and spotted an autobiography about the man who wrote the book “Bandersnatch.” As Black Mirror does, the author of the novel has a backstory of losing his mind while he was writing the book. Similarly, this song plays along well with the fact that Stefan is about to lose his mind by him trying to finish the game with each of it’s possible endings.
- When Stefan goes on an LSD Trip with a game developer:
“Love on a Real Train” plays which is another track by Tangerine Dream. This synth-filled electronic instrumental track helped show the audience how euphoric and surreal this trip for both Stefan and his game developer acquaintance was. However, near the middle of the song, there is slight crescendo of all the instruments just to decrescendo with 17 seconds left in the piece.
POSSIBLE SONG ALTERNATIVES
- Disintegration by the Cure
I think this song would have been perfect when it came to the scene when Stefan had to choose between two cassettes on the bus. If he was able to choose the Cure’s “Disintegration” album, then it could have been a good foreshadowing point. The lyrics in disintegration ultimately depict the headman, Robert Smith, talking about his bleak outlook on life; ultimately about his own disintegration. As mentioned earlier, the “no future” tag on the billboard was a key foreshadowing point since it reinforces the idea of Stefan’s lack of free will. The track itself states that it is “how it ends always.”
2. Disorder by Joy Division
As mentioned earlier in the article, Stefan went to a record store with a list of artists in hand. Amongst these artists, Joy Division popped up on the bottom. I believe “Disorder” by Joy Division would work just as well or even better than “Love on a Real Train”. Opposite from “Love on Real Train,” this track starts with a heavy bassline and a strong guitarline but then slowly turns into a fast tempoed loud distorted unorganized mess. Similar to Stefan’s acid trip (and ultimately his mindset for the rest of the film), he begins to slowly lose his head and starts to fall into some consequences.
Ultimately, this Netflix film relates to the idea of “Choose your own adventure” idea since there is always a crossroads between music and our choices of what songs we listen to.