"Wait. The music cue just changed abruptly. Something's not right."
Sometimes, the first indication that something is about to happen is a change in the soundtrack. That's a Musical Spoiler
The Musical Spoiler
is particularly common in Video Games
. For example:
- If you think you've just started the final Boss Battle, listen to the music. If you're hearing the standard boss theme, you're probably up against The Dragon or the first form of a One-Winged Angel.
- Similarly, if a plot-relevant fight uses the standard battle theme instead of the boss theme, you can relax — this should be a short battle.
- If you get your Fight Woosh but you don't get the normal battle music, you can also relax — you may be in a Fairy Battle.
- In many Action RPGs, your first indication that an enemy is nearby is the battle theme beginning.
- If the fight music is still playing, you haven't eliminated a threat entirely yet.
If the protagonist(s) enters a new area/room with seemingly no action going on and the music turns eerie
or abruptly ''stops''
, then you know they're in trouble
— unless, of course, it stops via Record Needle Scratch
or sounds like someone is Letting the Air out of the Band
, in which case it's time for a little comic relief.
, often by crossing over with Left the Background Music On
, or by simply breaking the fourth wall
as in the page quote. A Theme Music Power-Up
is when the music indicates a character is about to do something utterly awesome.
Alternatively, at a sudden and unexpected death or other tragic event, tragic music may play too early and warn you that something tragic is about to happen.
Compare Foreboding Architecture
, the visual equivalent. When the music is supposed
to reveal information, that's Theme Song Reveal
Unmarked spoilers ahead; beware.
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- In both series of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the music will tell you whether that apparently game-winning combo is actually going to finish the duel — if so, the music swells. If not, it sticks with the standard BGM.
- The Detective Conan anime is very structured musically. For example, if you hear a little "DUM!" or a similar sound, chances are Conan was looking at a very important clue. Further more, every specific moment of each episode has a fitting theme so if you hear the happy sax song, bad guy's screwed... And if you hear sad sax song, bad guy will say how unfair life was to him.
- In Sailor Moon, the title character's attacks had their own background music. Occasionally she started her attack but the 'tense' or 'battle' music would continue, which was a sure sign the attack would fail (either because it was So Last Season or to show the enemy she was facing was not just any random monster of the day.)
- In the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "Trial", the instrumental intro of I Can't be Cool is played over a speech by Togusa. I Can't be Cool is usually played when The Major is hacking. Later in the episode it's revealed that she hacked Togusa's brain to deliver that speech.
- Fullmetal Alchemist contains a subtle one. Near the end of the series, when Lyra is leading Rose to a church, Dante's motif begins to play. This is because Dante has already taken over Lyra's body. This is revealed in the dialog not too long afterward, but this hint helps piece it together earlier.
- Dante's leitmotif is a spoiler by itself, since it has a very Obviously Evil feel to it, but plays before she's revealed to be a villain.
- In the Digimon series, if a digievolution is running but there's no music at all (or, sometimes, the regular fight or ambient track that was playing before), you can be sure the transformation will not be finished or turn to be a dark form instead of the regular one. Played more straight in the Adventure and Adventure 02, when there are fewer soundtrack options than the sequels.
- Inverted in the trailer for Naruto Shippuden Episode 248- the normal musical lead-in for the trailer is replaced by screams of terror, as we finally get to see the Nine-Tailed Fox attack.
- In the first episode of Kill la Kill, when Ryuko is first revealed to be wearing her Kamui Senketsu "Blumenkranz" starts playing. The fact that this is the theme music for Ragyo Kiryuin Ryuko's mother, not that Ryuko knows at the time is not at all a coincidence.
- In Clear Skies 3, the Scottish funeral dirge "Flowers of the Forest" begins playing when the Magellan launches an attack against the enemy fleet. Sure enough, the ship does not survive.
- It's not very obvious, but Bernard Herrmann uses a leitmotif for "the big secret" in Citizen Kane that TOTALLY SPOILS said secret within, like, the first twenty minutes of the movie.
- Done straight and subverted in Jaws. Every time the real shark appears, its classic theme plays; notably, it doesn't when the fake shark appears. Subverted in the second half of the movie, which plays the theme a few times as a red herring, and withholds the theme before the shark first encounters the Orca.
- In Twelve Monkeys, the "12 Monkeys" leitmotif (a bandoneon song played by Astor Piazolla) plays during one of Brad Pitt's rants; this is the first clue that he's a member of The 12 Monkeys.
- In Cabin Fever, an extremely sinister soundtrack is played during a sex scene. As the soundtrack indicates, there's a grim side to this encounter: the healthy-looking woman was passing the disease to her lover. At the same time, her lover was passionately squeezing her back, which bought sickly red rashes out on her skin - revealing to the audience that the woman was already infected with the titular disease.
- Not much of a spoiler, but if you know the leitmotifs in The Lord of the Rings, you can immediately tell that the charge on the Warg-scouts on the first part of The Hobbit is by Elves. Though the fact that it's a militaristic version of the Lothlórien theme playing rather than the Rivendell one might throw you off.
- The soundtrack album for The Phantom Menace was released two weeks before the film's premiere. It listed all the musical pieces in the upcoming film, which were titled based on the scene they appeared in. Among these titles listed were "Anakin Defeats Sebulba", "The Death of Maul", and "Qui-Gon's Funeral".
Live Action TV
- In Law & Order, whenever music starts, you know something extremely plot-relevant is about to happen. To figure out what, just check the clock. Less than 20 minutes in? The plot thickens. Less than 3 minutes left? It's time for the Motive Rant.
- The series also has a piece of music that is almost exclusively used when someone important to the case has committed suicide (or been murdered).
- In the Game of Thrones episode "The Rains of Castamere", the fact that the titular song (written in honor of the Lannisters crushing a rebellious House) is being played during Edmure Tully's wedding is the first sign that something is horribly wrong.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts", as soon as the Cybermen tell the Doctor that the Void Sphere doesn't belong to them, the Daleks' theme music starts playing. Guess what comes out of the Sphere about a minute later.
- Done all the time in the Dutch detective show Baantjer, to the extent that you can pay attention only when the "suspect is saying something important" music is playing and still get all the details on whodunit.
- In Firefly, You could always tell when the Reavers were going to show up by the bass-heavy, metallic-sounding music that played along with their arrival. Best heard at around 2:35 here.
- The Collector Ship Theme in Mass Effect 2 borrows heavily from the Reavers' music, and like there, it starts playing just before OH GOD WHERE'D THAT GIANT SHIP COME FROM?
- Lampshaded on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the episode The Hellcats. Crow is wondering if the main character can back out of a challenge he's just been faced with, and Tom replies, "No, it's too late, the music already started."
- On Who's Still Standing?, every time the music starts to get louder, there's a commercial break coming in about 15 seconds, unless the show recent returned from commercial, in which case someone's going out on the current question.
- NBC game shows in general have a nasty habit of using musical stings to telegraph the action; whether it's the question deliberation music on 1vs100 ramp up when a contestant is about to lock in an answer, or Identity's music ending just as an answer reveal is about to take place, savvy viewers will be able to know what's going to happen just by paying attention to the music beds.
- In the series 4 finale of Skins, the music cuts in just before Naomi's finished her Anguished Declaration of Love cum apology to Emily; the tone of the music makes it pretty clear how Emily's going to react.
- In a case of soundtrack titles acting as spoilers, the leaking of the track titles for the final season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand caused a minor meltdown in the fandom when two of the tracks were revealed to be "Gannicus Crucified" and "Agron Crucified" (although the latter also has a track called "Agron Rescued").
- The latter what? Track? Soundtrack? Tv show?
- CSI: A seemingly normal family (mom, dad, teenage son and daughter) has disappeared, leaving an empty house and an unknown woman's body. The investigation reveals that the unknown woman had an affair with the dad in order to extort money from him and was confronted by the family and wound up being killed by the mom mid-smug monologue ("I just wanted her to shut up!"). One family member is found alive, claiming they slipped out while the others went to a movie and during the evidence processing montage this song is playing, which sounds a lot like something a teenage girl would listen to and it turns out that one's a killer: she murdered her brother because he killed their father for having the affair that started all this and killed her mother because she killed the other woman and forced them to go on the run. Their motive rant boiled down to "everyone kept making rash decisions without thinking of the consequences (especially towards me) and I couldn't take it anymore".
- Parodied in this Onion piece, where ominous music starts playing across the USA, sending the media into high alert.
Stand Up Comedy
- In the tabletop RPG In Nomine, followers of Nybbas, the Demon Prince of Mass Media, can gain the supernatural ability to hear background music. Changes in the background music can warn them of danger.
- The power for a PC to hear the background music also appears in Tales From The Floating Vagabond as one possible effect of the "Rogers and Hammerstein Effect" shtick.
- In the MS Paint Adventures series Homestuck, in order to warn the viewer that the next update will have sound in it, every flash update with sound will start with an [S] in the link to the page. Most of these updates are a Crowning Moment of Awesome (with corresponding Crowning Music of Awesome).
- This is sometimes subverted however, as there are plenty of joke updates that don't involve said Crowning Moment of Awesome, though these are often Crowning Moment of Funny.
- The flashes are often made with music that has been public for a long time. Most of the time this isn't spoilery, as the music is straightforward - dramatic, sad, awesome, etc. However, in one case it was. The flash Jade: Wake Up begins with happy, joyful music reminiscent of the Squiddles and appropriate visuals. People who listened to the Squiddles! album before that, however, will know immediately that this won't last as the song later breaks down and turns into full-on Nightmare Fuel.
- And then there's Intermission 2 which uses a previously released song entitled "English".
Live Action TV
- In certain games on Dasshutsu Game DERO!, just before a contestant fails the game, the soundtrack will usually culminate with an ascending "woosh" sound, followed by about a second of silence before the player's elimination. Except every so often, the show will also do this when a player has a close call but pulls through in the end.
- Chrono Trigger has a funny pair of subversions involving Ozzie. The first time you meet him, he brings up a series of monsters with a crank, and they drop onto a conveyor belt. The battle music starts, and your characters even get into their battle poses... then the enemies fall into a pit at the other end of the conveyor belt. Insert "record winding down" sound here. Then, the second time you meet him, the boss theme starts playing, and then a small cat comes in and trips a lever, and the boss theme fades out as Ozzie drops into the Bottomless Pit.
- And who can forget Dalton? When he epically turns the Epoch into the "Aero-Dalton Imperial", Crono's "fanfare" theme starts up, prompting Dalton to yell, "No, no, no, no...! Stop the music!" The music then changes into "A Spot of Crisis", a tense theme, and he says, "Ha! There we go! Ready for takeoff!"
- The final boss of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is an inversion: it had special music for its first forms, but used the mini-boss music for its final form.
- Also, in Twilight Princess, in Hyrule Castle, the final dungeon, aside from the mini-boss songs that play when fighting a Darknut and King Bulblin for the last time, no danger music plays while fighting enemies, adding to the mounting climactic suspense.
- Both the Ganondorf and Ganon battles in Ocarina of Time have their own unique theme, making the first form (Ganondorf) seem like the final battle.
- In the Greenwood area of Soul Blazer, there is a dog who, when talked to, will tell you that "today's special is...you!" accompanied by an abrupt end to the background music. The dog will then proceed to explain that he was only joking, and the background music starts up again.
- In Shining in the Darkness, despite the fact that the fight against The Dragon had a special boss theme, the final boss uses the normal combat theme you've heard all game. That is, until he gets serious...
- Every plot-required boss battle in The World Ends with You is accompanied by normal battle music.
- With the exception of the final boss, of course, who gets his own unique remix of Twister. Every other non-boss battle randomly uses music.
- The first Xenosaga game uses the same battle music for every fight. Common enemies and bosses have the same tune. The sole exception is the final boss, who has its own theme.
- Scratches subverts it near the beginning, on the first time you go down to the basement, creepy Psycho-like strings start playing giving you the feeling something is gonna jump at you from the shadows at any moment, this effect makes you want to leave that place as soon as possible. Later its played straight when for looking for Catherine Blackwood's corpse on the yard the music changes when you happen to dig on the right spot, also on Last Visit after solving all puzzles the music changes to the same creepy strings heard on the basement hinting of the scare lurking nearby.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Manhattan Project, a first-time player will probably think that they're fighting the final Boss Battle when they fight Shredder for the first time, and when they fight Krang. (The final Boss Battle is a rematch between the Turtles and Shredder.) Both of these bosses have a special Boss Battle music of their own to help give the player this illusion.
- Mushihime Sama Futari's Final Boss gets its own theme, but on Ultra difficulty, the True Final Boss uses the regular boss battle music. That is, unless you're playing Black Label (which replaces Ultra mode with God mode), in which case the TFB gets some...rather unfitting music for a climatic boss battle.
- In Golden Sun, the battle against Saturos and Menardi has its own unique theme (if you didn't fight Deadbeard) and one might think they're the Final Boss. Then they turn into a A GIANT TWO-HEADED DRAGON that dwarfs the party (and all other enemies up to this point) and actually shatters the screen as the combat intro.
- Amagon's fourth stage keeps the same creepy music all the way through, even when in Super Mode or fighting the boss.
- In Blaster Master, the Final Boss reuses the Stage 7 music.
- In the arcade version of Super Contra, the penultimate boss gets its own theme, but the final boss just uses the main stage music.
- In Mega Man 2, the final boss against the alien hologram has the same music as every other boss.
- Mega Man X Command Mission pulls a nice trick coupled with Disc One Final Dungeon in Chapter 9 with Epsilon. He gets his own battle theme—two, in fact—and his fight is insanely tough. One may think that since his music was so different he was the Final Boss... until you notice that the game hasn't ended, and you haven't gone through the series' trademark Boss Rush yet.
- In Season 11 of Red vs. Blue, someone fires a gun into the air to disrupt a standoff between the Reds and Blues. Everyone turns to look and Tex's Leitmotif is played. It's Donut.
- The Simpsons had it in the episode "The Springfield Files" (Fake Crossover with The X-Files) when a mysterious music cue is revealed to be coming from a passing bus in which an orchestra is playing.