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Most or all songs featured in a work's soundtrack are played inside the work's universe.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
powerman228 on Jan 1st 2018 at 7:01:07 PM
Last Edited By:
lakingsif on Jan 9th 2018 at 2:40:52 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope
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Most or all songs featured in a work's soundtrack are played from inside the work's universe.

Lots of films and TV shows have soundtracks: that is, audio matched with the video to contribute to a mood or feel. Some soundtracks, however, actually exist within the universe of a work.

These songs are known to the characters, and may exist on some personal music device of one of the main characters. This may be an object of incredible personal value, and the songs on it reflect the personality and character of whoever owns it — the character will choose songs to accompany current circumstances of the plot, and a particularly memorable song choice nearly always contributes to the awesomeness of a Signature Scene.

In other circumstances, it may be a case of a separate device — like a television or radio — or the setting of a club that allows the entire soundtrack to be diegetic. This may cause Suspiciously Apropos Music if the lyrics directly connect to important aspects of the story. If the music is initially thought to be non-diegetic and purely audience-level soundtrack, then is revealed to be heard by the characters, too, it is Left the Background Music On.

This can be accompanied by Diegetic Switch, as required to fit the needs of the story. It should be noted, however, that this trope refers specifically to the use of an item in the story to deliver the music — it does not need to be a diegetic switch nor are all examples of a diegetic switch examples of this trope.

A subtrope of Source Music and Reality Has No Soundtrack. For works with theme tunes, it will almost certainly overlap with Theme Tune Cameo. It may also be related to Celebrity Paradox insofar as real music, and thus the performers, exist in a fictional work — it can overlap with this if some of the performers on the soundtrack also play fictional characters in the work.

Because the songs are obviously real and the characters treat them as real, this trope can only be used in works where This Is Reality. Very little Leaning on the Fourth Wall is permissible. For the levels of diegesis within Musicals, see the Musical World Hypotheses.

Contrast Medium Awareness, when a character Breaks The Fourth Wall to comment on or otherwise acknowledge a soundtrack that isn't actually in-universe.

Note: works with real-song soundtracks, and works in which real songs are simply played by/for the characters, are Not an Example. To be an example, the work must both have a majority of its soundtrack be pieces of music which are diegetic (playing from within the work's universe) and have these pieces of music function as a soundtrack (play in the background and underscore the scene).

Works where only one (or very few) of the soundtrack pieces are played in-universe are most likely to be an invoked and discussed version of Awesome Music (e.g. a character switching on cool music for a certain fight, only once) but may also be an example of Leitmotif or, because of the lack of being established as diegetic, examples of Left the Background Music On.


Film — Live-Action

  • Guardians of the Galaxy is the Trope Codifier for the modern day. Peter Quill, the protagonist, owns a vintage Sony Walkman that he uses to listen to a cassette tape filled with 1970s pop music that his late mother loved: "Awesome Mix Vol. 1." Do not mess with that tape. Highlights on the soundtrack include "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede and "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 features another diegetic soundtrack and explores additional ways that characters listen to the music, such as homemade portable loudspeakers and a gigantic spaceship's intercom system in addition to the headphones and tape deck used in the first film. And after Peter's Walkman is destroyed in the film's climax, he is given a Zune with new music on it. Highlights include "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra and "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac.
  • High Fidelity: Protagonist Rob Gordon is the manager of a record store, and most of the songs in the film soundtrack are played In-Universe by him and his employees. This includes a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" performed by Jack Black, whose character Barry sings it in the film.
  • The Martian: Trapped alone on Mars, the only music Mark Watney can find to listen to is a collection of disco music files on Commander Lewis's laptop computer. He uploads the music to his rover's onboard computer and listens to it throughout the film even as he complains about it. Highlights include "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor.
  • Baby Driver: Baby listens to songs on an iPod almost constantly to help combat the tinnitus that he otherwise experiences. Of course, that's some incredible Understatement, as the film blends music into its action in such an incredibly epic fashion that it's difficult to describe with just words. Highlights include "Bellbottoms" by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and "Brighton Rock" by Music/Queen.

Live-Action Television

  • Black Mirror: San Junipero features a soundtrack of awesome '80s (plus some '90s and '00s hits) that are played at a nightclub in which most of the episode is set.

Feedback: 33 replies

Jan 1st 2018 at 7:04:12 PM

First draft. Suggestions for any part of the page are welcome.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 12:27:04 AM

^^ First suggestion: don't use illegal Example Indentation. Doing so can get you suspended from editing.

  • Replaced garbage text characters (caused by a non-standard text character) with a standard text character.
  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
    • Added the word "Examples".
    • Corrected illegal Example Indentation.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 4:47:26 AM

A Theme Tune Cameo could definitely be part of this, but the point of an in-universe soundtrack is multiple songs that exist in-universe. You could say this is a super-trope to Theme Tune Cameo.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 4:50:31 AM

  • Interesting case with Black Mirror San Junipero in that it has two soundtracks. The background music isn't diegetic, but the soundtrack of awesome '80s (plus some '90s and '00s hits) that plays through most of the episode is due to being in a nightclub where the song is playing.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 6:47:59 AM

I'd also like to mention that Splatoon (both the first and second games) also have this trope. I don't really have time to make an example part, though...

Jan 2nd 2018 at 10:14:10 AM

This is similar to Celebrity Paradox. My concern is that CP has a lot of misuse from Tropers making superficial or Epileptic connections. So my question is whether or not there's a way to hash out that sort of issue pre-launch.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 10:33:48 AM


  • High Fidelity: Protagonist Rob Gordon is the manager of a record store, and most of the songs in the film soundtrack are played In Universe by him and his employees. This includes a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" performed by Jack Black, whose character Barry sings it in the film.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 1:23:35 PM

^^ I don't see the similarity to Celebrity Paradox. I see "most of the soundtrack is diegetic".

Jan 3rd 2018 at 2:52:35 AM

So it's a Super Trope of Theme Tune Cameo? You should mention that in the description then.


Anime and Manga

Live Action
  • In the opening sequence for Everybody Loves Raymond, Beethoven's Ode to Joy is heard playing, but then it's revealed to be actually playing from the family's radio where the music abruptly stops once Deborah throws a toy at it.
Web Animation
  • In the pilot episode for RWBY, Ruby is listening to the first season's theme song through head phones.
Web Original

Jan 3rd 2018 at 4:48:52 AM

^ not my draft but those examples are, in order: Theme Tune Cameo-meets-Mythology Gag, Left The Background Music On, Theme Tune Cameo, and just Leitmotif (the page mentions it can be included in-universe).

Read again: most of the soundtrack. I'd also say it's probably not a super trope to Theme Tune Cameo — a sister trope, instead, both coming under Source Music and Diegetic Sound.

Jan 3rd 2018 at 2:19:18 PM

Please do not wick to redirects. "Diegetic Sound" should be "Reality Has No Soundtrack."

I am not nor was I saying that this is a duplicate of Celebrity Paradox. I said this is similar. And it is similar to Celebrity Paradox. Regarding the compare/contrast section in the description, though, I don't think this "can result in" a Celebrity Paradox unless (1) the singer of the song is an actor in the work and (2) the actor is not acting as themselves but as a character, and I think that should be made clear in the description.

My question is still a valid concern. The description needs to make it clear that this (a) can occur only when either Source Music or Reality Has No Soundtrack is in play and (b) is when there's a character explicitly shown to have the soundtrack, or at least a song from the soundtrack, on some kind of device.

Jan 3rd 2018 at 2:51:50 PM

It's only similar in that something real (music/celebrities) exists within a work, which is more the norm...

Jan 3rd 2018 at 4:03:00 PM

Thank you. I didn't realize that Diegetic Sound was a redirect. Regarding the whole Celebrity Paradox thing, it's definitely true that a literal celebrity paradox isn't likely under most circumstances, but the generic juxtaposition of real elements in a fictional work is definitely present.

Jan 3rd 2018 at 4:04:40 PM

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure Celebrity Paradox needs to be mentioned at all. Thoughts?

Jan 3rd 2018 at 8:07:15 PM

I've got a doubt about it. In this draft, is it necessarily the song to be heard or also counts if the song or singer/band is mentioned?? I mean, there're some examples like Watchmen in which real 80s songs are part of the soundtrack of the movie (even a couple of them can be heard in the radios during the movie), or animes like Beck or K On in which real bands are mentioned as inspirations to create the bands (even in the case of BECK, one of their songs is a The Beatles cover of "I've Got a Feeling")

Jan 4th 2018 at 4:30:42 AM

^^ there's no obvious relationship in plot or story effect to Celebrity Paradox. If anything, it's more similar to Show Within A Show/Mutually Fictional, but that doesn't warrant a mention.

^ The Watchmen example sounds legit (the soundtrack includes these songs, which are obviously also diegetic even though we do not see someone hit play — unless there aren't that many that are obviously diegetic, this trope is not "has a real music soundtrack"), but the other two sound like examples of an Expy and not relevant at all (the band in this anime is based on a real band — if that's not the case you're going to need to rewrite it in order to be understood.)

Jan 4th 2018 at 4:34:21 AM

  • Made minor edit to the laconic ("exists inside the work's universe" -> "are played inside the work's universe") because I think that's where a lot of the confusion is stemming from.

Jan 4th 2018 at 6:28:11 AM

^^That was a question about those examples instead something to be included in the draft. I can remake those examples here to clarify me more and see if they're applied to this possible trope:

Film - Live-Action:

Anime and Manga:

  • If well the songs aren't played on the anime, the members of Beck usually listen Western rock bands and them as inspiration to make their own band (Word Of God various of the characters are expies of real musicians, at least in the look). An exception is that one of the songs of the group is a cover of The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling."

Jan 4th 2018 at 8:48:07 AM

ah, I see, you're asking if films/anime where the characters listen to/perform a lot of music counts as a soundtrack? I'd probably say no, and maybe there should be a qualifier in the description that says the songs have to function like a soundtrack, i.e. play in the background and underscore the scene.

Only in one scene in a Marvel film does Tony ask for his suit to play music, so we can't assume that the soundtrack is all him playing music.

Jan 4th 2018 at 1:26:55 PM

Where do we stand on musicals? Do we include all musicals by default, or do we stick to musicals where the songs are being performed onstage or recorded, as opposed to just being dialogue or thoughts set to music?

Jan 4th 2018 at 1:32:37 PM

There's a whole separate thing for that, I just remembered, the Musical World Hypotheses. That is the applicable trope for all works where characters (regularly) perform, and where all Musicals are examples by default.

Jan 7th 2018 at 3:26:48 PM

  • Steven Universe
    • In "Alone Together", Steven puts on the song of the same name before asking Connie to dance with him. The song reappears as Connie's ringtone in the Season 4 finale.
    • "Sadie's Song" has "Haven't You Noticed (I'm A Star)", which first plays on a radio while Sadie sings along.

Jan 7th 2018 at 5:01:11 PM

Does this count?

  • In Legends Of Tomorrow, the episode "Return of the Mack" has the titular song playing from Damien Darhk's smartwatch and sung by Nate, before being used as background music for a fight scene.

Jan 7th 2018 at 5:10:04 PM

^^ They are just examples of This Episode Has A Song In It.

^ Gonna need more context to determine if it's an example.

Jan 7th 2018 at 5:27:44 PM

Added the laconic at the beginning, clarification edits, removing excess spaces after periods. Added a note at the bottom to hopefully prevent non-examples.

Jan 8th 2018 at 3:42:08 PM

I'm not too sure what more context I can give.

The song plays as the ringtone of Damien's smartwatch. Nate sings the song while he is strapped down and waiting to be rescued.

When Damien fights the Time Bureau, the song plays as background music, this time with no in universe source where the music comes from.

Jan 8th 2018 at 5:34:30 AM

^ Probably fits best as Theme And Variations Soundtrack (or Recurring Riff). While a song on the soundtrack also exists In Universe, its not at the same time?

Jan 8th 2018 at 3:49:29 PM

Well the sound track hasn't been released yet since the season hasnt ended so I have no idea.

Jan 8th 2018 at 6:22:54 PM

...a soundtrack isn't just the disc with the songs on that the creators choose, the soundtrack is the music that plays in the background throughout the whole film.

In that LOT episode, when the song is being used as background music, it's part of the soundtrack but at that point in time it's not being played in-universe, and when it is being played in-universe it is not as part of the soundtrack. So it doesn't count.

It would count if, say, Damian's watch started playing it right before the fight scene, he left the watch ringing as he fought so that he got some cool background music to match his fight, then answered the call when he won (since single episodes don't have a very extensive soundtrack it would count, whereas longer-form media would require more than one song to really count).

Jan 8th 2018 at 8:04:24 PM

Kind of. Like LTBGMO is when soundtrack plays and it’s later revealed to be from an in universe source. This can also include that, but most of the time the in universe source is established first.

Jan 9th 2018 at 2:40:52 AM

Okay got it.

  • In The Tuxedo, Jimmy wears a high-tech tuxedo capable of granting the user abilities. Whenever Jimmy selects one of the tuxedo's modes, different music will accompany the selected mode and then continue playing as the background music.