How does music create mood in The End of the F*cking World?

By now most people have heard of The End of the F*cking World, a show about two teenagers – one a psychopath and the other an outcast – who run away together. People have reviewed the spectacular show in many different ways but rarely focus on the brilliance of the music used throughout the series.

Initially, I found myself thinking it was set in small-town America due to the tremolo-laden guitar in the score, but it is definitely set in the UK.  Think of the kind of twangy guitar chords you hear in TV or film where two gunslingers are about to face off, in an old western movie – this is tremolo, and it’s highly unusual for a show that isn’t a western.

Both the original score and the soundtrack were brilliant, with the discordant guitar chords in the songs composed by Graham Coxon expertly setting a creepy and tense mood which perfectly fits the darker moments of the show.  This score was juxtaposed with romantic indie and angst-ridden songs that highlighted the more emotional moments of the show.  Why then, did something feel so odd?

The whole time I was watching the show something didn’t feel right, and it was because of the music

I was watching the show and I was trying to engage, but something just made me feel distant.  Disconnected.  I realised the estrangement that I felt in the show’s world helped me to engage with the two main characters and put myself in their shoes.  The whole time I was watching the show something didn’t feel right, and it was because of the music and the very American setting which helps the audience connect with the disconnection that James and Alyssa feel. It is a subtle and genius way to make the viewer feel as out of place as the main characters without having to fall into the trap of teen angst.

Everything about the scene helps you feel how they feel

Sometimes the music is exclusively used to draw you into the characters minds, rather than to disconnect you, and these moments work beautifully too.  In the first episode, James is narrating while wearing headphones. As he removes them, the music fades.  This, combined with Alyssa being centre frame, standing over James, forces the viewer’s full attention to be on her, as James’ is.  Another moment is when James and Alyssa are dancing to a country song; suddenly Alyssa stops dancing and smiles at James.  She narrates: “I think he’s properly beautiful,” and the camera cuts to James, dancing in slow motion with soft lighting behind him.  The music is not slowed down, and a country song seems out of place but, so are these kids.  Everything about the scene helps you to empathise with their estrangement and it allows the viewer to see James from Alyssa’s perspective: as this beautiful, happy person sharing a beautiful moment with her in a world where neither of them feels like they belong.

Overall, the End of the F*cking World is a riveting and engaging series all about love, and what it means to be a teenager finding your place in the world. The series has carefully thought about how music can exemplify disconnection, which makes the show even more appealing to audiences who are also trying to find their place in the world.

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