AM/FM Characterization
A character's personality is revealed not so much through words, but through what they put on the radio
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(permanent link) added: 2013-04-20 15:41:13 sponsor: ohnoesazombie (last reply: 2014-02-02 14:54:43)

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Sometimes, it takes paragraph after paragraph to get an idea on what kind of a person you're dealing with. Sometimes characters are so complex, so deep and nuanced, that an entire episode is devoted to some esoteric part of their back story.

And sometimes you can figure out everything you need to know about someone as soon as they get into their car. Taste in music, especially when it's out of the ordinary, can tell you more about a character than a monologue or flashback ever could. A little well-placed Mozart or Chopin lends an outwardly simple-minded individual a bit of mystery and depth. Someone listening to the Beatles, even though it's 2237, and he's on Mars? Safe to say he's a bit old-fashioned.

Music can convey a lot more than just what's in the lyrics, so matching this song with that character, while a bit of a cheat, is a fantastic way to convey a lot about a character in not a lot of time. This also does wonders to convey a deeper side to a character that can easily be considered one-dimensional. A mousy librarian suddenly takes on a wilder angle when her iPod is blaring Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

This trope does not refer to a character's theme song, if they have one. This refers to diegetic music, often called Source Music, where the other characters can hear it.

Examples

Film
  • A Goofy Movie. Early on, Max and Goofy have a Dueling Banjos moment over the radio between Goofy's 'High Hopes' and Max's latest hit from Powerline. Not only does this show a lot about each character, it highlights the generation gap between them, all without saying an actual word.
  • ''Monsters University: While Mike takes the guys to Monsters Inc., Squish's mom stays in the car and "listen to my tunes", which are evidently Speed Metal.
  • Reservoir Dogs. The pairing of Mr. Blonde's Torture Porn with 'Stuck In The Middle With You' by Settler's Wheel helps to showcase how seriously he doesn't take the situation.
  • Star Trek. In the J.J. Abrams reboot, our first encounter with a young James T. Kirk is him hanging up on his step-father in favor of blasting the Beastie Boys ovet the radio, establishing his disregard for authority even before the character says a single word.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man 2. After Tony Stark's birthday party is ruined by an Iron Man suit-wearing James Rhodes, Tony requests for the DJ to play Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" as a way to show he doesn't takes Rhodes' threat even remotely seriously.
      Tony Stark: Give me phat beat to beat my buddy's ass to.
    • The Avengers. Tony Stark hacks the PA system to blare AC/DC as he arrives in Germany, showing his need to create a spectacle wherever he goes.
  • The Silence of the Lambs. While in the prison cell in Tennessee, Hannibal Lecter listens to classical music just before his prison break. This tells the audience that even though he's a psychopathic cannibal, he's still Wicked Cultured.
  • Three Kings. One of the soldiers wants to listen to heavy metal music while going into battle. Another soldier criticizes his musical choice and suggest they go into battle with something soothing to calm their nerves and plays an easy-listening song, showing a definite personality clash.
  • Transformers. Bumblebee, the first Transformer our protagonist meets, actually has no real voice capabilities, and instead does all of his vocalizations through playing songs on his stereo. This is the trope cranked Up to Eleven.

Live-Action TV
  • Defiance. Our first encounter with Nolan and Irisa, the two main characters of the show, has an awkward silence broken with Nolan turning on the radio, only to hear Johnny Cash and June Carter singing 'Jackson', which, in the year 2046, is more than a bit country and old-fashioned.
  • Supernatural. This show is a bit of a running example. Given that Sam and Dean drive state to state and coast to coast with nothing but a stack of classic rock tapes (Tapes!) to listen to, it provides both a soundtrack for the show, and an insight into the characters.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. Commander Riker's love of jazz shows a softer, easier going side than his military bearing belies.
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