There’s no escaping Netflix’s outsized influence on pop culture. You’ve seen the hype; you’ve read the news, but you have a little secret: you haven’t watched any of their shows. Instead of running through episode recaps to stay current in conversation, SOL recommends this playlist of songs from the most popular series of 2020-2021.
“La Vie En Rose” from Emily in Paris
A quarantine must-watch, Emily in Paris is a feel-good series starring Lily Collins as the titular character Emily Cooper, who moves to the city of love to pursue a promising new role. In Paris, she meets Mindy Chen (played by Ashley Park), who moved away from her hometown in Shanghai due to an embarrassing public episode on a singing competition. With Emily’s encouragement, Mindy strikes up enough courage to perform “La Vie En Rose” for her friend, unexpectedly garnering an audience with her talent. Though not included in the series’ official soundtrack, it’s a great heartfelt rendition, even without any background music.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” from Stranger Things
One does not talk about Netflix shows without mentioning the iconic Stranger Things. With a fourth season underway, the supernatural thriller series is an ode to the ‘80s, from its setting to a soundtrack that has featured David Bowie, Bon Jovi, The Smiths, The Clash, Joy Division and more. One track that can be argued as most representative of Stranger Things is probably none other than The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, a recurring theme throughout protagonist Will’s (played by Noah Schnapp) character arc, which he used to communicate with his family while stuck in the alternate dimension, the Upside Down.
Nora Felder, the show’s music supervisor, initially had a hard time acquiring permission to use the song, but finally managed to convince the band that it would be used in a positive light to “foster the bond between a family”. Without the song, we’re pretty sure things would have been very much different.
“Here Comes The End” from The Umbrella Academy
Before The Umbrella Academy became a popular superhero series on Netflix, it was a comic book written by Gerard Way, who is also best known as the lead singer of emo punk-rock band My Chemical Romance. With successful twin careers both as a comic book writer and musician, Way also wrote the theme song, “Here Comes The End”, for the second season of The Umbrella Academy, which he performed with Grammy award winner Judith Hill. The song not only fits the plot development, but also cleverly reflected the turbulent times of 2020. Following lead actor Elliot Page’s decision to come out as transgender, this is truly befitting that we are all encouraged to embrace our true selves without fear of discrimination or oppression.
“Side By Side” from Sweet Home
Webcomics have gained a foothold in commercial film and TV, providing fresh material and inspiration. This Korean horror webcomic spawned a popular Netflix series of the same name, adding another notch to K-film’s belt following the industry’s success with zombie films and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. As a whole, the music is a love-it-or-hate-it thing, one jarring example being Imagine Dragons’ “Warrior” blaring over key heroic scenes, multiple times no less.
But the saving grace is the opening track, “Side By Side”, a stellar piece of work by rapper BewhY, with an instrumental intro that quickly progresses into a bass-heavy dance beat—very badass indeed.
“Every Feeling” from Sex Education
As an awkward teenager, what do you do when you find out that your mom is a sex therapist? Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) sets up a sex advice business with his classmate to help their fellow students, all while struggling with the daunting experience of growing up. To capture the feeling of ‘teenage angst’, singer-songwriter Ezra Furman (who wrote the soundtrack for the series) relates to the worries she has, but doesn’t know how to talk about. “That’s what I write songs about most of the time. A lot of the characters (in Sex Education) remind me of myself when I was a teenager. I still feel that way today in my adult life. You still feel all those feelings; all the same stuff is still happening,” she said in an interview with Rolling Stone.
“Every Feeling” isn’t a long-winded, soul-crushing song, but its lyrics are incredibly poignant:
I’m gonna feel every feeling in the book tonight / F**k the hurt / F**k the pain / F**k the panic / F**k the hate
I’m gonna feel every feeling in the book tonight / And only love / Only love and happiness will remain / Only love and happiness will remain
“If Only” from Cobra Kai
Set in the 1980s, Cobra Kai is based on the Karate Kid film franchise. Centered around martial arts, it’s not surprising that the soundtrack for all three seasons are heavy on ‘80s rock, which can be found here in a comprehensive 86-song playlist. You’ll find classics from heavyweights like Motley Crue, AC/DC, Foreigner and Roxette, but there are also some newer songs from Youngblud, Fifth Harmony and Kid Travis in the mix. However, one of our favourites is this more recent dreamy track by Maria Taylor from 2016, which was also featured in NBC’s hit show, This Is Us.
“The Looking Glass” from Alice in Borderland
“Come for the thrills, stay for the songs.” A good soundtrack is one that complements each scene, adding that emotional layer to push the audience off the edge, so to speak. Adapted from a manga series, Alice in Borderland is one of Japan’s most internationally-successful dramas in recent years. Based on the soundtrack composer itself, there’s more than enough reason to start watching: 38 tracks written by none other than the prolific Yutaka Yamada of Death Note (2016), Infini-T Force (2018) and Bleach (2018) fame. “The Looking Glass” is an emotional one; it accompanies an important (but heart-wrenching) scene in Episode 3 which had viewers bursting into tears.
Classical covers of modern songs from Bridgerton
With a 7.3 rating on IDMB and 89 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, to say that Bridgerton is every classical literature fan’s fever dream would be an understatement. Apart from its impeccable casting, beautiful cinematography and progressive sex scenes, what sets Bridgerton apart from other period dramas is its music. Modern songs like Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next”, Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” and Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” get an instrumental makeover of the classical kind by the talented Vitamin String Quartet. Who would have thought? Speaking to Oprah magazine about the soundtrack, Bridgerton creator/showrunner Chris Van Dusen explained: “The music for us was kind of an evolution we found when making the show. It really goes to the idea of making this feel different than your other period shows. Whether it’s music or the world of the show, the scripts, the sets, the costumes; it all comes back to infusing things through our own unique modern lens and making things feel relatable to whoever’s watching.”
THE FUTURE OF FILM & TV
What’s in store for us post-pandemic? Streaming platforms will continue to reign supreme, at least in the foreseeable future. Watching our favourite films on smaller screens might not have the same dramatic flair as the silver screen, but there’s no denying the comfort of doing it curled up on your favourite sofa, or the convenience of being able to pause and resume after a bathroom break. Recently, Warner Bros. dropped a shocking announcement that all movies scheduled for 2021 would be released simultaneously in theatres and on HBO Max. Until then, let’s all make the most of what we’ve got and enjoy our entertainment responsibly.
This article was originally published in Chinese on Sound of Life on 29 January 2021.
Cover image: Netflix
Writer | Michelle Tan
Lover of all things bizarre, Michelle has a soft spot for dinosaurs, animal videos and a strong G&T. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.