Ah, music. The universal language. And it's a good bet we'll still be listening to it thousands of years from now, although it may take a form which may not be recognizable to us present-day humans as music. That's because The Future
is where everything is supposed to be all cool, shiny and... well... future-y
, so of course it'll be different!
Well... maybe not so much...
Oftentimes, "futuristic" music in a movie or series will be based on contemporary popular music, with a few fancy bells and whistles added. You can expect fashion and hairstyles to also be based on contemporary examples
, but it seems a bit more jarringly retro and unrealistic when music that seems rooted to a certain decade and place is inserted into a futuristic setting, either in the soundtrack or as music that people listen to for recreation.
Future-themed movies (especially those made in the 50s) will often feature lots of creepy theremin
music, à la Bernard Herrmann
's score from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
. The soundtrack may also feature lots of weird alien-y or spaceship-y noises, which are hard to describe accurately, but if you pop in a DVD of Forbidden Planet
you'll hear them going off in the background all the time.
Anytime a character sings a song or turns on a radio (or the futuristic movie equivalent
of a radio) you can expect to hear music which sounds not unlike a top 40 hit dating from the decade the movie was made, with a few "futuristic-sounding" instruments (like synthesizers or the aforementioned theremin
) thrown in. The Jetsons
episode featuring Jet Screamer, a 60s-ish pop idol, singing "Epp Opp Ork Means I Love You" is a prime example of this. (Although more people today may be familiar
with the Violent Femmes' particularly faithful cover version of this song...)
If a futuristic movie is made in the '70s or '80s, you can expect at least one scene to take place in a "futuristic disco" which features lots of heavily synthesized music and people in neon costumes writhing around. (The Buck Rogers
TV series featured a lot of scenes like these, as did the movie Logan's Run
and the MST3K
episode Space Mutiny.
) It helps that a fair amount of the actual synthesized pop music from those decades (Kraftwerk, etc.) still sounds stereotypically futuristic to modern ears. And Cyber Punk Is Techno
In futuristic movies that prominently feature aliens, you can expect their
music to either be:
- A random and non-musical collection of notes and rhythms that no one — aside from a malfunctioning robot with Parkinson's — could hope to dance to.
- Some form of "opera." (Klingon opera perhaps being the most prominent example.)
- Music which sounds suspiciously like a popular and "rebellious" contemporary form of music if the aliens are teenagers (or the alien-aged equivalent of teenagers.)
- Contemporary pop music, only with more synthesizers, timbre distortions, and random electronic noises.
In some instances, you may even hear aliens chanting in an alien language
, but that's usually reserved for scenes where something is about to go horribly, horribly wrong.
An abundant source of Zeerust
Anime and Manga
- Keroro Gunsou has its frog aliens enjoying synchronized croaking.
- Allegedly the genesis of AKIRA's one-of-a-kind soundtrack came in the form of composer Geinoh Yamashiro trying to write music that combined the sounds of the past and the future.
- Star Wars has a few:
- The band in the cantina scene in the first film plays a jazzy piece quite different from the "expected alien music" mentioned above. According to the liner notes in the soundtrack vinyl, Lucas asked John Williams to imagine that these aliens discovered a Benny Goodman album and tried to interpret it.
- The unfortunate name for this style of music in canon is jizz.
- One of the scenes in Revenge of the Sith features some Mon Calamari opera. It is most succinctly described as "abstract."
- The music played in Jabba's palace in the 1983 version of Return of the Jedi was very 1983-ish. In the 1997 version, the music was updated to (surprise!) 1997 standards. Incongruously preceding this number is what could pass for an 18th-century minuet if not for the synthesizers. The "yub nub" Ewok song at the end of the movie was also replaced with a more traditional orchestral piece (which probably was not meant to represent in-universe music).
- The song in Jabba's throne room was "Lapti Nek," and it incorporated diverse Earthling styles, including adult contemporary, soul, and hard blues (played on a futuristic harmonica). As for "Yub Nub," John Williams based it loosely on reggae music.
- The finale of The Phantom Menace is a triumphal parade through the streets of Theed (the capital city of Naboo) accompanied by a musical extravaganza that combines the three incongruous elements of ancient Roman victory march music, a performance by the Gungans (very reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo music), and a pseudo-African chant. Surprisingly, they all blend together well.
- The Fifth Element features a scene in which a blue-skinned alien gynoid with tentacles protruding from her head sings a song (starts 3:27) which has been described as "opera meets disco". Being The Fifth Element, it fits perfectly.
- As early as 1956, the soundtrack of the aforementioned Forbidden Planet consisted of sounds generated by "self-destructing" electrical circuits, each of which produced a single sound, then died. These sounds were mixed and layered to create an atonal score unlike anything heard before.
- Children of Men has ex-photojournalist rebel Jasper entertaining his younger counterpart Theo with some delightful Zen music from Twenty Minutes into the Future... it sounds like traditional drums mixed with guttural punk screaming all being scratched by a DJ. Have a listen. The song, minus the screaming, is actually "omgyjya Switch 7" by Aphex Twin.
- This may be justified, though, since it actually is 20 years in the future, and Jasper could reasonably be assumed to listen to Aphex Twin and other forms of electronic music popular in the present day. Not to mention that Jasper was probably joking about it being delightful Zen music.
- The Matrix Reloaded contains a futuristic rave in Zion that seems to go on forever while adding absolutely nothing to the movie but Fan Service.
- Blade Runner Soundtrack ala Vangelis.
- Similar to the above example, the MST3K fodder Space Mutiny contains a random rave scene that is painfully '80s (in a setting that is supposed to be much closer to Star Trek), for no other purpose than to focus on the posteriors of women in hi-cut leotards hula-hooping to generic synths.
- Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Contemporary music creates utopia in the future. The movie makers wisely never actually give an example of whatever composition Bill and Ted create that brings about world peace.
- TRON. Journey had an orchestral piece called ''1990s Theme''. It sounded more like "Early 1980s Theme".
- A humorous example is in Demolition Man, where the most popular radio station plays "microtunes" - aka advertising jingles from the 20th century.
- A similar gag was used in the original Max Headroom TV movie, in which a telemarketing ad for a collection of all-time classic digital watch tunes is played back by Carter's answering machine.
- A rare example of this trope being handled tastefully comes from Wim Wenders' 1991 film (better seen as a trilogy) Until The End Of The World. The director asked such well known artists as REM, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to come up with the kind of music they thought they would be recording in the year 1999. The result was one of the most influential film soundtracks of the 1990s.
- Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century focused heavily on the music of a band called Microbe. This being a 1999 Disney Channel movie, their biggest song sounds prezactly like modern light tween pop, except with lyrics such as — sing along, contemporaries, you know the words — "ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM, make my heart go BOOM BOOM, would you be my Super Nova Girl?" Slightly hilariously, the "futuristic" personal aesthetic of the Face of the Band, Protozoa◊, seems to have been adopted wholesale by Jay Manuel◊.
- At the beginning of the movie, a couple of boys were complaining that Protozoa's music sucked because you can actually understand his lyrics. They must listen to a lot of death metal. Also, read below and judge for yourself how understandable it really is.
Interplanetary, mega-stellar, hydrostatic.
There's no gravity, between us. Our love is automatic.
- All club music in Johnny Mnemonic consists entirely of an opera singer singing over a blend of techno and metal rhythms.
- The popular Moon music in The Adventures of Pluto Nash seems to be either really jerky or techno/pop mixed with autotuning. The dancing is also very jerky. Everyone moves for a second then freezes for half-a-second, etc.
- In Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang, Bob Dylan is a popular classical musician of the future. Singing in his style is banned on some planets, because it's too persuasive.
- In David Weber's Honor Harrington novels, the heroine spends time on the planet Grayson, whose "classical" music evolved from country and western. The end product is supposed to be fairly distinct though.
- Remnants. The terror-filled series K A Applegate wrote after Animorphs started off on a light note... with Opera being the new "pop" music.
Jobs: "Car: Stereo: Search for Opera. Neo, not Classical."
- A Grant Morrison story in a Vertigo Comics anthology has people in the future listening to 'freakbeat Vivaldi, skewed and chopped' which either predicted remix culture or just assumed it would continue into the future.
- There's a James Alan Gardner novel with an interesting justification for using this trope; After the End, all the good music CDs/tapes/records etc have been played so many times over the centuries that there are very few of them left that are still functional. The technology for making more was largely lost, in addition to other problems made obvious in the premise. The reason the "Classical" music everyone admires so much as being from the height of civilization sucks is because the only recordings left are of the godawful crap no one wanted to listen to.
- In Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn trilogy, taking place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, there's apparently this thing called "pound", which is by fans described as a mix between house, trance and dance music turned up to over 9000.
- In Snow Crash teenagers still listen to rap and heavy metal, but the specific subgenre popular at that point is "post-nuclear fuzz-grunge".
- Jules Verne's little-known (never published in its day) Paris in the Twentieth Century features music of the "future": the music pieces have names relating to technology ("Thiloriade, Great Fantasia About Condensation Of Carbonic Acid") and sound like unrhythmic, jumbled masses of noise.
- Doctor Who New Adventures:
- In The Highest Science, trends in 22nd century music (and associated subculture) are explicitly organised by the record companies, and one character is considered weird for continuing to listen to a genre that's been declared Last Season. "Headster" music is the equivilent of pseudo-deep, drug-based psychedelia, whereas the current trend is "Freakster", which seems more like bubblegum pop.
- In The Also People, the Epigraphs at the start at of the chapters are all lines from fictional songs, including Silurian rock, Hith rap, 25th century human folk music, and Cyberman blues.
- In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos that takes place 700 years in the future the Consul's ship is equipped with a grand piano. He mostly plays Rachmaninov on it but in one chapter the Beatles are also mentioned along with other more traditional classical composers.
- In Babylon 5, Narn opera apparently sounds like a lot of loud screeching, and on a couple of occasions Minbari are shown to pluck a few strings on some kind of harp. Early episodes featured what sounded like a few bars of a medieval dance tune played on a harpsichord ... over and over. The Centauri, on the other hand, seem to have something resembling the traditional style of Western classical music (hardly surprising). One fourth-season episode had a scene in a seedy club on Mars where they were playing an angsty 90s-style grunge ballad.
- Klingon music is apparently popular in Star Trek. Along with the aforementioned opera, there's Klingon metal, employed in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager as something to induce cries of "turn that racket down!"
- Klingon drinking songs are quite popular too. For alien music, they're actually quite melodious.
- Everyone who doesn't like that just listens to classical music. And reads classical literature. Sometimes it seems the 20th century never happened in Star Trek. (Until the time travel episodes, that is). An exception is Riker's fondness for classic jazz, although this is more prominent in the Expanded Universe.
- According to Word of God, the creators decided that having classical music remain popular (as it already has for centuries) was more plausible than the original Star Trek`s slightly cringeworthy habit of assuming that 1960s musical styles would endure forever. You can't forget the TOS episode with the future hippies' jam session... or maybe you should.
- One episode of TNG had an obnoxious teenage alien orphan come aboard; he spent most of his time sulking in his quarters playing incredibly screechy alien heavy metal.
- Realism often takes a backseat to avoid licensing fees, which would apply to pretty much any piece of media from the period in which the shows were made. Sometimes they will use a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo instead; Deep Space Nine, for instance, had Vic Fontaine, who was an amalgam of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and existed in a Las Vegas holodeck program.
- In one episode of TNG, a Ferengi has a bar entertainer play some Ferengi music (instead of the Klingon opera she was playing before), which turns out to be rather monotonous serialist twelve-tone music (whose mathematical structures are fitting for a culture of accoutants and merchants).
- Who could forget young Jim Kirk listening to "Sabotage" by Beastie Boys driving a classical corvette while Matt Parkman is shouting at him through the Nokia dashboard communicator in Star Trek? Classical car - classical music.
- Could be seen as a Shout-Out to another Beastie Boys song, "Ch-check It Out", that references Star Trek.
- While the song did mention Star Trek, it wasn't exactly complementary. "All you Trekkies and you TV addicts, don't mean to dis, don't mean to bring static, all you Klingons at your grandma's house, grab your Backstreet friends and get loud."
- However, the song "Intergalactic" does contain the lines "Your knees'll start shaking and your fingers pop Like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock".
- Rap Music and Hip Hop never seems to make it to the future, but the Alien Nation TV-movies (set Twenty Minutes into the Future, after alien humanoid ex-slaves took up residence in Los Angeles and began to assimilate) featured Tenctonese Reggae.
- Series 2 of the science Mockumentary Look Around You (set in 1980, sort-of) included a spoof competition to find the best futuristic song. Basically, there were three songs. One "predicted" the sexiness and electro-ness of later pop music (that fits this trope to a T), another was a really poor song which "predicted" rap, and the third was just someone playing a guitar and singing gobbledygook lyrics, which "predicted" early Nineties rock.
- In the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, colonial music is largely familiar to the viewer, with Classical, Celtic, Tribal, and Rock styles. According to the Word of God, the musical similarities are relevant to the show's mythos. All this has happened before; all this will happen again. Apparently including musical fashions.
- Red Dwarf has a few examples. Lister's backstory had him playing guitar (very badly) in a punk/rock/ska/whatever band sometime Exty Years from Now. Holly comes up with a system of "decimalized" music called "Hol-Rock" that apparently requires really huge instruments, due to adding two more notes. (woh & boh) We never get to hear it, but the idea seems "different" enough from modern music to count as an aversion. And then there's that god awful Ganymede & Titan song that keeps popping up...
- Lister's music style was referred to as "Rastabilly", - presumably a mix of reggae and rockabilly. There was also a performer named Rastabilly Skank.
- The 'Om' song. In the series where Young Lister first played it, Rimmer seems to like it immensely, wanting a copy to take back with him, while the 'current' Lister admits its immense suckitude. However, in Series 8, this is reversed. Rimmer said that people who heard it "formed self-help groups." It's more likely that Rimmer was pretending to like it; by falsely encouraging (past) Lister, he was trying to annoy (present) Lister.
- Also, the 'High' Dwarfers and their strange harping and dancing.
- The first novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers references a "hip-hop-a-billy" song (presumably a mix of hip-hop and rockabilly) which had been "red hot on the charts for two weeks, five years previously".
- Amusingly subverted in Firefly's "Shindig"; the music is classical (specifically, a Beethoven string quartet), and the dance seemingly Victorian-esque... until you realise that it's slowed-down and fancied-up orchestral interpretations of a square dance.
- Which is not that surprising; Square Dancing is related to many old traditional dances.
- The 1970s series UFO incorrectly predicts that racism will have died out by 1980, cars will drive on the right hand side of the road in the UK, supersonic transport and Moon bases will be routine, and military pilots can wear a blue catsuit and white vinyl boots without being laughed at. However it is correct in assuming that the Beatles song "Get Back" will still be popular.
- The producers of the 1960s German science fiction series Raumpatrouille apparently figured that the people of the future will continue to invent new popular dances.
- On Night Gallery, a character who's wandered into the future encounters some teenagers listening to music, which sounds like a random, tuneless assortment of notes being banged out on a synthesizer. Presumably the show's budget didn't cover a theremin for that one...
- Andromeda has some interesting musical choices for what people will be listening to in a few thousand years. Just listen to the High Guard battle march.
- One episode of Earth: Final Conflict brings us Taelon music using a light-based musical instrument translated as "tubes". Also, the show's theme music just has a One-Woman Wail to a peaceful-sounding music.
- Dubstep seems to have taken over almost completely by 2048 in Almost Human.
- Defiance brings us a variety of old records mixed in with some Votan music. The pilot episode also shows us how the Votan races dance (very slowly, even to fast-paced music). They actually make fun of humans for dancing to the beat, although Alak Tarr (basically, the show's version of a second-generation immigrant) happens to be a huge fan of both old Earth tunes and dancing, being completely ecstatic when a bus brings a box of records to Defiance.
- Shadowrun's popular music is heavily based on '80s-style pop and hair metal, only with the volume turned way up, as befits a game first released in 1989. Oddly, they've stuck with the same aesthetic all the way through 4 editions, the last one released in 2005.
- It's so important to the setting that one console RPG version even had a pretty cool in-game metal concert with lyrics... On the SNES!
- R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk games had similar popular music to Shadowrun's, featuring 80s-esque pop, rap, and chromatic rock, which was basically hair metal with more synthesizers and electronic beats.
- In GURPS Transhuman Space, popular music genres include Greek Fire (Greek folk music with Transhumanist themes), microtonal (music with elements outside the range of unaugumented human hearing), Soft Edge (ballads with subtle instruments and visual effects), Hard Edge (Soft Edge with heavier rythm lines). There is also still Neo-Classical, World Music and Rock.
- The only song in the Star Fox game that we can be sure the characters are actually listening to comes at the beginning of Star Fox Adventures, when Slippy is listening to a metal arrangement of some Star Fox 64 level music on a rather traditional jukebox, of all things.
- Halo has a scene where Sergeant Johnson is listening to "old-style colonial 'flip' music", which is descended from metal. All of the younger Marines complain about it being old and outdated.
- Wordof God has stated that the song Johnson was listening to was originally intended to be "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones, but they could not obtain licensing.
- Later, the Halo 2 ARG I Love Bees placed a rather large note on the musical styles enjoyed by Jersey's father - with clues in both timelines. "Ancient music, jazz and swing, always in the mood..."
- Halo: Reach has an Easter Egg where you can hear "Never Surrender", the techno remix of the series' theme, in a club in New Alexandria, after activating a hidden switch. Also, 20th century country and jazz music is used in the elevators.
- The only music Galaxy Radio plays in Fallout 3 is from the 1940s. Even though it is a post-nuclear world and Three Dog claims they were the only recordings he could find, it still seems odd since the nuclear war happened in 2077.
- Since the Fallout verse diverges from ours around 1945, maybe everyone switched to digital media a few decades early. The music that would survive a nuclear war would be the music that had copies on vinyl.
- Fallout: New Vegas also featured music from the 50's and early but sticks with the theme by using a mix of old western songs and those by Vegas performers like Dean Martin.
- Though there are a few "original" songs that appear on the radio being sung by the Lonesome Drifter. They're supposed to only play if you get him a job in New Vegas but sometimes a bug may cause them to appear in the playlist before you've even had the chance to meet him.
- Mass Effect has some samples of "future" electronic music playing in bars and clubs. As well as some remixes of the main themes for the long elevator rides that don't sound too different from present-day muzak...
- WarioWare DIY has a set of songs from Orbulon, which have an alien\futuristic theme. Many are like current video game music, just done in weird time signatures and\or more sparsely.
- The Game Of Life had a (surprisingly decent) video game adaptation on the original PlayStation. It had "2000s" music which was generic 90s techno.
- "Lunatic Wisdom Laboratory," the music for Luna Labs in Dark Cloud 2, has an explicitly futuristic theme to match its high-tech, garish neon lighting and metallic scaffolding. Which makes it stand out even more, since every other place in the future (100 years from Max's time) has comparatively normal music, like the jungle themes of Jurak's forest, the mystical tones of Starlight Temple, or the industrial motif of Gundorada Workshop.
- The two ending songs in Portal 2, "Want You Gone" and "Robots FTW", have elements of this. GLaDOS was probably reinventing music.
- Though, smooth jazz and indie rock ("Exile Vilify") have survived the time.
- A cutscene for Starcraft shows two colonial soldiers driving in an off-road vehicle, with the "Sarge" listening to some Southern music. The younger private hates it. Apparently, a group of Zerg also consider themselves to be music critics.
- Descent 3's soundtrack, while mainly techno in accordance with the setting, uses a Theremin in many of its tunes, as well as tribal and New Age instruments.
- The mall and shop musics in Space Quest IV sound like contemporary elevator/lobby muzak, and the Rocket Bar uses 60's rock-n-roll. In the remake of Space Quest I, though, the bar music sounds more like 80's dance pop.
- The "classical pop" idea is used often in Futurama. The beauty contest in "The Lesser of Two Evils" includes a recital of "a traditional gangster rap," with a green jellyfish-like creature beatboxing and scratching.
- Not the first time they made that joke, either — in "A Fishful of Dollars", Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" was referred to as classical music.
- A space-disco that directly parodied the Jetsons aesthetic in look and sound appeared in Futurama, but it was described as retro-chic from some unspecified time between now and then.
- In one episode Fry refers to The Hustle as "[his] people's native dance." Leela looks it up in a book called "Dances of the Ancient Bronx".
- The Jetsons popular music of the future was simply '60s style pop with references to space thrown in. "Groovy" would become "Galactic Groovy" or some such thing. This is pretty much how the rest of the series treated every other depiction of the future though, so . . .
- See also Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah Means 'I Love You'.
- The Movie from 1990 features pop and rock music which sounds like real life 1980s rock.
- Jet Screamer's song "The Solar Swivel" sounds more like jazz/big band-era music than then-contemporary (early 1960s) rock music (more trumpets than electric guitars being heard). Perhaps other genres of music could've come back into style among teenagers by the Jetsons' era (akin to the swing music craze of the late 1990s)? That, or being a parody of Chubby Checker's then-recent song "The Twist"...
- The Flintstones once featured a band called The Way-Outs, claiming to be aliens from the future, who also sounded suspiciously 60s-ish.
- To the Flintstones, the 60s are in the future.
- In Batman Beyond, the popular music portrayed is mostly a combination of metal and techno—but with the visual production values cranked to even more insane levels in videos and concerts.
- It appears that there's also an audience for Turn-of-the-(21st)-Century style Broadway musicals. ("A superstitious cowardly lot...")
- In South Park, the "Goobacks" of Little Future listen to some kind of "stereotypical sci-fi noises" techno.
- In American Dad!, "May the Best Stan Win" claims that "Japanese Funk" is what everyone listens to 1,000 years in the future. We hear a brief sample during a montage with Francine and future cyborg Stan.
- The song is Monochrome Effect by Japanese pop band Perfume, which was released in 2004.
- In the Looney Tunes "One Froggy Evening", the cut to the year 2056 has some atonal squalling playing that could be music...or maybe it's just that guy's disintegrator beam.
- Galaxy Goof-Ups featured disco music with frighteningly trippy visual sequences.
- Quoth Elwood (or maybe it's Dan Aykroyd in an emcee persona) at the start of the first track on The Blues Brothers' Briefcase Full of Blues album, "Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to the Universal Amphitheatre. Well, here it is, the late 1970s, going on 1985, and you know, so much of the music we here today is... pre-programmed electronic disco, we never get a chance to hear master bluesmen practicing their craft any more. By the year two thousand and six, the music known today as the Blues will exist only in the classical records department of your local public library. So tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, while we still can, let us welcome, from Rock Island, Illinois, the Blues band of Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues—The Blues Brothers!"
- This is Hilarious in Hindsight, since we now live in the year 2014, and blues, jazz, soul and funk are still very much alive, largely thanks to the pop-cultural impact of the Blues Brothers.
- "Space Olympics" by The Lonely Island assumes that, in the future, music will feature constant Auto-Tune over new age space music.
- Arguably, classical music (especially baroque and pre-baroque music) can be considered future music, not only because they are still popular hundreds of years after their composition, but also because many fans contend that classical music will last hundreds of years more, while "modern" music will die out and be replaced by new forms of music.
- Donna Summer's album I Remember Yesterday consists of disco homages to various decades of music history, but the final track, "I Feel Love", is supposed to represent the future of music, and drops the live orchestras of contemporary disco in favor of synthesizers. The song's production did turn out to be heavily influential on the subsequent development of electronic dance music, so in a way, the song did manage to represent the future of music.
: One day in Berlin ... Eno
came running in and said, "I have heard the sound of the future." ... he puts on "I Feel Love," by Donna Summer ... He said, "This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years." Which was more or less right."