Of the many dark gifts Showtime’s eerie hit series “Yellowjackets” serves up for us, the juiciest this season is by far the music.
The show – which bounces between a troupe of teen soccer players trapped in the 1990s Canadian wilderness after a plane crash and the survivors’ corresponding adult selves in the present day – embraces nostalgia, incorporating long-cherished tunes from the tail end of last century, with staples from Tori Amos, early Smashing Pumpkins, Massive Attack, Veruca Salt and much more.
In Sunday’s episode of “Yellowjackets,” alt-rock queen Alanis Morissette will debut a version of the show’s theme song, “No Return,” and has already released it as a single.
One of the most unexpected and successful uses of throwback music came in the first episode of Season 2 last month, when Warren Kole’s Jeff had a moment to himself in the car after an intense tryst with wife Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) – during which he rocks out hard to Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” (sure, the track actually came out in 2000, but that doesn’t take away from its retro vibe).
In an interview with CNN, the show’s music supervisor, Nora Felder, explained that the Papa Roach song selection was scripted, and “served as a perfect physical outlet for Warren whose anxious feelings were riding high while sitting alone in his garage.”
Other standout moments in the script, however, are hers to interpret, and Felder relishes the opportunity to match those moments with the right songs from the period.
“I re-immerse myself into the show’s era and spirit of the times as I start to build my playlists for the show,” she said. “The main thing I try to keep in mind is to just stay true to the story and let it tell me what it might need musically.”
Case in point, from the same episode – the placement of Amos’s signature track “Cornflake Girl,” off her groundbreaking 1994 sophomore album “Under the Pink.”
The song – which appropriately has the lyric “Things are getting kind of gross” just as teen Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is about to ingest something unthinkable – “came to mind pretty quickly as a possibility” to Felder.
“I felt that Amos’s lyrics could serve as a befitting launchpad for the first episode’s ending – not only as a reflection of Young Shauna’s state of mind,” she noted, “but also as a reflection of the past and present moods and mentalities lived out by the other ‘Yellowjackets’ characters in Season 2.”
Felder’s work is challenging, in the sense that there is often an ideal wish-list selection for a song during a certain moment in each script, which then might change either due to something technical or because the needs of the scene evolve during production, as a result of many elements, including the actors’ performances.
“Everyone on the team always wants the best song-select possible to enhance the story,” she said. “When we get to post (production), the common question that comes up among us during the collaboration process is simply, ‘Do we think we can beat this?’”
During that collaborative process, Felder says she doesn’t “believe there is an exact roadmap into how to merge songs with any given scene or story.”
“I always say, ‘Let the picture tell you what it needs.’ (Kind of like the Wilderness I guess?)”
Another moment that feels perfectly melded to the music playing is the now-infamous ‘last supper’ scene from last week’s second episode, which boasts Radiohead’s “Climbing By The Walls” from their mindblowing 1995 album “OK Computer” on the soundtrack.
“The song seems to refer to those unspeakable monsters that can live in one’s head,” Felder noted, referencing the strange collective hallucinations the group undergoes while cannibalizing one of their own. “I can’t think of a more perfect way to hauntingly accent (that) scene, a.k.a. ‘the feast.’”
To drive home just how important music is to the specific ambient feel of “Yellowjackets,” one need look no further than the super creepy Season 2 trailer for the show, which features Florence + The Machine’s exceptional and haunting rendition of No Doubt’s timeless 1995 hit, “Just A Girl.”
“I’m such a huge fan of ‘Yellowjackets’ and this era of music, and this song especially had a huge impact on me growing up, so I was thrilled to be asked to interpret it in a ‘deeply unsettling’ way for show,” band frontwoman Florence Welch said in a statement shared with CNN.
“We tried to really add some horror elements to this iconic song to fit the tone of the show. And as someone who’s first musical love was pop punk and Gwen Stefani, it was a dream job.”
Of her collaboration with “Yellowjackets,” Morrisette, too, felt inspired by the show.
“I see parallels between ‘Yellowjackets’ and my perspective while songwriting: the sheer intensity, that going for the jugular with no fear around going for the profane,” Morissette said in a statement. “I’ve strived my entire career to support the empowerment of women and sensitives, and see the world through the female lens, and what’s so wonderful about this show is that each character is allowed to be dynamic and complex as opposed to oversimplified, reduced versions of women. I feel honoured to be a part of the legacy of ‘Yellowjackets.’”