"Using music to control people. Why does that sound so familiar?"
Music has great power. It can Soothe The Savage Beast
, it can inspire courage in the hearts of men with a stirring march
, or bring tears to your eyes with an eulogy of loss and longing. Is it really such a stretch to assume that, with the right resonance, the right voice, the right instrument, it can fully control the very hearts of man?
Quite often, however, the enchantment lasts only as long as the song does... but depending on the particulars, it may do anything from simply putting everyone who hears it into a paralytic trance, to inflicting a specific, overpowering compulsion (such as homicidal rage or suicidal despair
) to putting them under full and permanent More Than Mind Control
This is the preferred method of the Enthralling Siren
, and indeed pops up a lot in mythology. Subtrope of Magic Music
. Inverted by the The Music Meister
who uses Mind Manipulation
to make music.
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Anime and Manga
- The second season of Black Butler featured an Armonica (also known as a Glass Harmonica or a Hydrocrystalophone) being used to control a ballroom filled with noble guests, turning them into savage killers. Amusingly enough, it was countered by Sebastian playing a Glass Harp, also known as an Angelic Organ - an instrument that uses a similar principle.
- Macross Plus has Virtual Idol Sharon Apple paralyze an entire world with her hit single, 'Information High'. Listening to it, you can kinda' feel how it might work. It's strangely hypnotic, especially when combined with her lightshow.
- The original Read or Die OVA was centered around a group of villains trying to put together a particular, lost symphony by Mozart, which had the power to make anyone who heard it so utterly depressed that they would instantly commit suicide by whatever means was closest at hand. Dubbed 'The Suicide Symphony', for obvious reasons.
- The Parapara brothers from Dragonball GT use a stereo to cause their opponents to uncontrollably mimic their dancing, leaving them open to attack.
- Brook from One Piece plays music that can influence the actions of others by "reaching to their very souls". This is seen when he causes an entire stadium to riot against the Marines.
- In Superlópez, a rock band allied with the mob uses this.
- On the cover of issue #152◊ of House of Mystery, an organ grinder's music causes people to give his monkey money.
- The cover of the Teen Titans issue 46◊ showed a villain called the Fiddler using his music to make the Titans kill each other.
- In "The Pied Piper of Steel" (Action 398, March 1971), Clark's first television assignment is to cover a Woodstock-like rock concert, where he observes that "the kids" mindlessly obey whatever the lyrics say. The "hypnotic power of rock" was an actual concern of Moral Guardians at the time. In the story, it turns out to be a Mad Scientist with a Fiendish Machine.
- "The Smurphony Of The Night" from the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story of the same name was used by Lord Vladimir Smurfula to control Smurfette's mind to draw her closer to him. Near the end of the story, Empath is able to disrupt its effect on Smurfette by whistling the Smurfs theme song.
Film — Live Action
- In Zoolander, the Musical Trigger for Derick's brainwashing to kick in and have him assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia was a remix of the song "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which they also played while brainwashing him.
- In the Japanese horror film Suicide Circle, it's implied a popular music group may be subliminally responsible for all the suicides.
- In Hocus Pocus the witches keep the adults from stopping them using the song "I Put A Spell On You". The youngest later uses her own siren-like singing to lure children to the witches' house.
- The movie of Josie and the Pussycats features a plot to build subliminal messages into the music of manufactured pop bands.
- Help! - in an scene dropped from the final movie, The Beatles, at an acting school, are put into a trance by droning music played by Clang and his thugs. A scene that was used has them trying again, all crammed in a phone booth calling the band up while they're in Scotland Yard. Clang intones "Go...to...the...window!...Go...to...the...window!"
- The song "Gloomy Sunday" is used as a suicide trigger in the film The Kovak Box.
- Susan Cooper's novel The Dark Is Rising. Will is about to experience the power of the Dark.
And the singing began.
It was wordless; it came in the wind; it was a thin, high, cold whine with no definable tune or pattern. It came from a long way off, and it was not pleasant to hear. But it held him transfixed, turning his thoughts away from their proper direction, turning them away from everything except contemplation of whatever happened to be closest at hand. [snip] As he listened to the singing, he saw a twig on a low branch of the beech close to his head that seemed for no reason so totally enthralling that he could do nothing but gaze at it, as if it contained the whole world. He stared for so long, his eyes moving very gradually along the tiny twig and back again, that he felt as if several months had passed, while the high, strange singing went on and on in the sky from its distant beginnings. And then suddenly it stopped, and he was left standing dazed with his nose almost touching a very ordinary beech twig.
He knew then that the Dark had its own way of putting even an Old One outside Time for a space, if they needed a space for their own magic.
- The Lord of the Rings.
- In The Fellowship of the Ring both Tom Bombadil and Old Man Willow can affect other creatures' minds by singing.
- In The Silmarillion Lúthien Tinúviel gains control over Morgoth himself by singing to him.
- This trope is the focus of Trill, a short story by Shanna Germain. The protagonist is something of a Pied Piper analogue.
- Coda has this with the Corp's music being equivalent to a drug. It can control what you see, think, and feel, and can even kill you.
- An episode of Get Smart had Max and 99 fighting "The Groovy Guru" (played by Larry Storch), who was producing music with subliminal messages aimed to get kids to overthrow the government and authorities.
- While the kids were supposed to be affected by subliminal mind control signals, the lyrics weren't too subtle, either.
Thrill, thrill, thrill!
Kill, kill, kill!
Make a scene,
Yea yea yea,
Bump off a square,
That's what it's about
Hate is in.
Love is out.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In season 7, the First Evil brainwashes reformed vampire Spike into killing humans again; the trigger is the folksong "Early One Morning."
- One episode of Wonder Woman featured a flute-playing rock star who could control his female fans with his music.
- Similarly, the villain Glitter Rock uses mind-control music in one episode of Electra Woman And Dyna Girl.
- The first episode of the short-lived Fox show The New Adventures Of Beans Baxter had the villain using a singer's music to control the minds of teenagers.
- Adam Adamant Lives: The villains in "Sing a Song of Danger" plan to use a subliminal message embedded in records to cause fans to rob banks and deliver the money to them through fan clubs. They use another album to try to compel Adam to murder Georgina.
- The Lonely Island's "Boombox." The eponymous box causes people to lose control when they hear music coming from it.
A boombox can change the world
But you've gotta know your limits with a boombox
This was a cautionary tale
A boombox is not a toy
- The song in "Go Kindergarten" convinces the audience to do all sorts of weird things, including things which shouldn't even be possible, like making their butts drink helium and speak in a high-pitched voice.
- The music video for Fatboy Slim's "Ya Mama" shows people losing control of their limbs whenever they hear the tune. Hilarity Ensues.
- The title character of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Initially, it seems like he's limited to controlling rats, but when the town stiffs him on his bill, he reveals similar hypnotic power over children. (This is, of course, where the old saying "Time to pay the piper" originated, meaning that going back on a deal can have consequences.)
- Sirens in Greek Mythology. Listening to their song causes sailors to wish to dash their ships on the rocks just to get closer.
- Dungeons & Dragons.
- The singing and music of bards can charm (control) other creatures.
- Some magical musical instruments can do this even if played by someone other than a bard.
- Call of Cthulhu. The spell Soul Singing requires the caster to play a bone whistle. It allows the caster to control the target's mind, leading them in a trance-like state to their doom.
- Champions supplement C.L.O.W.N. has two of these.
- One of Merry Andrew's gadgets is a crank organ that plays "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" tune. Anyone who hears it starts to act like a monkey.
- Beuford the Bard has a magical mandolin which controls the minds of people who listen to its music.
- AdventureQuest Worlds has Discordia, the Sixth Lord of Chaos from the Mythsong saga, whose music has the power to control people. It turns out that he himself is being controlled by Kimberly of One Eyed Doll, the true Chaos Lord.
- Shiho of Valkyrie Profile, a 'songmistress' whose singing instills her countrymen with burning fury and bloodlust, turning them into unstoppable berserkers in combat. She's wrought with guilt, however, since her song doesn't make them invulnerable, just fearless, leading most of the soldiers to their death.
- How the tikis mind control the animals in Donkey Kong Country Returns. The Kongs are unaffected.
- In Metal Gear Solid, Psycho Mantis uses a distinctive 'hymn' based on Russian choral music to control people's minds, referred to by Naomi as "mind control music" and supposedly a favourite song of his childhood. It is first played in-game as apparently ordinary in-game music, but when it stops, Snake and Meryl both comment on it and get justifiably worried (when it begins again, it is Mantis attempting to possess Meryl). Spoofed in The Last Days of FOXHOUND where Mantis accidentally discovers he can do this by whistling.
- In Chaos;Head, the band Phantasm - or perhaps just their enigmatic lead singer, FES - can reduce a whole roomful of rowdy concertgoers to hypnotized zombies with their strange, prophetic goth-punk-rock. Or maybe you just imagined it...