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Anachronistic Soundtrack

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The songs in a work's soundtrack are from a different era than its setting.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
BlackTemplar on Jul 20th 2017 at 11:22:13 PM
Last Edited By:
tioseafj on Nov 30th 2017 at 4:10:44 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Sometimes a work's soundtrack is composed of popular songs chosen from a different era than the film's setting. This can apply to either diegetic music (the characters in the work can hear the music) or non-diegetic music (they're part of the soundtrack, but the characters can't hear them).

There are two basic variations:

  1. Music older than the setting. This may be used to illustrate that the main character is old, or out of touch with pop culture, or for nostalgia values.
  2. Music more modern than its setting. This is an impossible, paradox situation, a deliberate Anachronism Stew, as the music did not exist yet when the work is set. Can be explained by Time Travel or by pure Artistic License.

Can also be done for Rule of Cool. Note that this specifically references when the film's soundtrack is from a different time than when the film is set not from when the film is made. A Period Piece does not count if it uses period-accurate music, like Rock of Ages. Sometimes the movie doesn't even attempt to justify why they're doing this. Typically this does not apply to classical music, which is always going to be older than the time in which a work is set. A staple of Class Reunion movies, with the soundtrack being selected from the era in which the protagonists went to high school, not the time they're living in 10+ years later.

Compare Soundtrack Dissonance. Can overlap with Nothing but Hits.


Examples

New Setting, Old Music

Film - Live Action

  • Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel are set in the same years in which they were made, but all of the songs therein are from the 60's, 70's and 80's. Peter Quill was raised on these songs by his late mother, and when he was the subject of an Alien Abduction all he had with him was one cassette she had made for him with those songs on it. He later acquires a second cassette and eventually an MP3 player, but the songs are still from the same era.
  • Suicide Squad has a soundtrack composed heavily of 60's and 70's pop songs.
  • Central Intelligence is about two guys who went to high school in the 90's reconnecting over a CIA mission just before their Class Reunion, and the songs are all pulled from the 1990's.
  • Grosse Pointe Blank has an all 80's soundtrack as one of its leads, a DJ, declares that the town's station will be adhering to an "All 80's, all vinyl" format in honor of the upcoming reunion.
  • American Reunion is littered heavily with songs from the late 90's, many of them were on the original movie's soundtrack.
  • The Big Chill is about a group of friends reuniting after one of their high school friends killed himself. They gather and stay at one of the friend's old houses and reflect over their lives and that of their late friend set to the sounds of the 1960's songs they all grew up enjoying.
  • The Sting featured the ragtime standard "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin in its credits sequence. Many viewers were under the impression that this was a period-appropriate piece of music for the film's 1936 setting, but the piece was actually composed in 1902.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming has an 80s theme for the Homecoming dance so many of the songs in the soundtrack, including a webswinging montage having nothing to do with the dance, are 80s tunes.

Film- Animated

  • Save for original songs, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie uses retro music like "Think" from 1968 or "Oh Yeah" from 1985.
  • Lilo & Stitch uses mostly old Elvis Presley songs in its soundtrack, despite taking place in the present day. This was done to highlight Lilo's eccentricities; a girl her age would be listening to contemporary pop, instead of songs from almost fifty years earlier. It's also implied to be a connection to her late parents.

Old Setting, New Music

Film - Live Action

Film - Animated

  • Being already a massive Anachronism Stew, with its combination of Medieval setting and modern pop culture references, it's no surprise that the Shrek films use mostly songs from the latter 20th Century. Donkey, in particular, sings mostly pop tunes from the '70s and '80s.

Live-Action TV

  • In-universe in Westworld, the piano in the supposedly wild west tavern plays more modern songs such as "Paint it Black". Justified, as it is set in a futuristic park that is wild-west themed, so the songs are for the guests.
  • American Gods uses anachronistic music in some of its historical "Coming to America" segments to set the right tone. For instance, Anansi's speech to an 18th-century slave ship is set to chaotic jazz, and Essie MacGowan's tale of crime and sexual misadventure is accompanied by various 1950's doo-wop songs.

Theater

  • Jesus Christ Superstar: tells the New Testament using the music, style, and aesthetic of a 1970s musical.
  • The musical Hamilton is set during the late 1700's and early 1800's, yet the soundtrack is mostly comprised of rap, hip-hop, R&B and the like.

Video Games

  • Bioshock Infinite features covers of several songs written long after the game takes place (1912). It later turns out that they were plagiarized from alternate timelines.

Feedback: 40 replies

Jul 21st 2017 at 3:24:25 AM

  • Zig-zagged in The Great Gatsby, which is set in The Roaring Twenties. While some scenes are set to modern hip-hop music, some of the songs are also sung in a style consistent with 1920s jazz.

Jul 21st 2017 at 4:34:23 AM

Jul 21st 2017 at 7:26:51 AM

Also in-universe in [[series/Westworld]], the piano in the supposedly wild west tavern plays more modern songs such as "Paint it Black". Justified, as it is set in a futuristic park that is wild-west themed, so the songs are for the guests.

Jul 21st 2017 at 3:06:24 PM

Seems it goes both ways fairly frequently.

Jul 21st 2017 at 6:27:11 PM

The new title is confusing

Jul 21st 2017 at 7:04:23 PM

Jul 21st 2017 at 7:04:18 PM

New title suffers from Trope Namer Syndrome, change it back

Jul 21st 2017 at 10:35:20 PM

As a fan of Back to the Future, I understand and like the name, but it could be confusing for someone who hasn't seen the film. Something like Different Decade Playlist, maybe? If someone can come up with a name that would be clearer, that would be even better.

Jul 21st 2017 at 10:57:07 PM

  • Bioshock Infinite features covers of several songs written long after the game takes place (1912). It later turns out that they were plagiarized from alternate timelines.

Jul 21st 2017 at 11:11:13 PM

This should not be limited to movies only in the description or the laconic. The trope can apply to any media that has a soundtrack, like TV shows or computer games. I also think a lot of the possible meanings behind the use of the trope feel shoehorned in as written right now.

Jul 22nd 2017 at 1:48:12 AM

May I suggest a new name? It's Retro Playlist

Jul 22nd 2017 at 4:11:24 AM

There are two distinct tropes here:

1) When the music is older than the setting. In this case, it may indicate that the character is old, out of touch with pop culture, etc. A fairly realistic situation.

2) When the music is more modern than its setting. This is an impossible, paradox situation, a deliberate Anarchronism Stew, as the music did not exist yet when the work is set. Can be explained by Time Travel or by pure Artistic License.

Jul 22nd 2017 at 7:07:54 AM

Change the trope name and added comparison trope.

Jul 22nd 2017 at 2:31:34 PM

  • The Sting was set in 1936 and featured a lot of ragtime in the soundtrack, most famously Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer". Ragtime fell out of popularity in 1918, and the first revival wasn't until the 1940s.

Jul 22nd 2017 at 7:12:13 PM

No, retro playlist is wrong, because there are plenty of examples of old setting using newer music. So, no, Retro Playlist isn't any better than my original title, Throwback Playlist. Anachronistic Soundtrack is better.

Jul 23rd 2017 at 10:46:17 AM

I suggest a split between old setting - newer music and new setting - older music, because of the reasons I mentioned above. Retro Playlist is a possible name for the new setting - older music.

Jul 23rd 2017 at 1:37:58 PM

In 'mSeries/Westworld, most of the songs are modern ones as opposed to ones that would be expected in a Western setting. However, some, like Paint It Black'' have been redone to suit the setting better.

Jul 24th 2017 at 12:31:19 AM

I'm also in favour of splitting "story with music from much earlier than when the story is set" from "story with music that didn't exist when the story is set", because they have different effects and purposes.

Jul 24th 2017 at 10:39:12 AM

My issue with "music is (much) older than the setting" is that it, by definition, will include just about every work set in the future, ie it becomes impossibly broad.

I think that case is better reframed as when a work contains music that is from before the work was made or is set. But even that becomes problematic. Eg, I don't think Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey is a good example of this trope, despite setting spaceships to Strauss. Likewise, Film/Chicago uses newly-written music, but it is explicitly based on the old style, and should in my opinion fall outside this trope.

I think this should be limited to Source Music (diegetic music) only, no matter if the trope is split or not. Two examples:

Music:

Film:

Jul 24th 2017 at 11:54:46 AM

Does this need to be vocal music? I know some people complained about Ladyhawke having an Alan Parsons score.

Jul 24th 2017 at 1:52:52 PM

Video Game:

  • Bioshock Infinite: At several points, 1910s-style arrangements of songs from the late 20th century are heard. Turns out their "author" stole them from alternate timelines.

Aug 20th 2017 at 5:28:04 AM

I think provisions can be made that this doesn't apply to classical music, which is always going to be older than the time in which a work is set.

Aug 20th 2017 at 9:13:16 AM

  • Being already a massive Anachronism Stew, with its combination of Medieval setting and modern pop culture references, it's no surprise that the Shrek films use mostly songs from the latter 20th Century. Donkey, in particular, sings mostly pop tunes from the '70s and '80s.
  • The Peter Pan prequel Pan takes place sometime in the Victorian era, yet the Lost Boys are singing ''Smells Like Teen Spirit" in one sequence.

Aug 20th 2017 at 9:36:38 AM

The musical Hamilton is set during the late 1700's and early 1800's, yet the soundtrack is mostly comprised of rap, hip-hop, R&B and the like

Aug 20th 2017 at 10:47:38 AM

  • The Sting featured the ragtime standard "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin in its credits sequence. Many viewers were under the impression that this was a period-appropriate piece of music for the film's 1936 setting, but the piece was actually composed in 1902.

Aug 20th 2017 at 10:55:20 AM

Probably worth mentioning in the description that these examples can either be diegetic (the characters in the work can hear the music) or extra-diegetic (they're part of the soundtrack, but the characters can't hear them).

Aug 20th 2017 at 12:15:33 PM

Famously, Schindlers List uses in its soundtrack the 1967 song "Jerusalem of Gold".

Aug 20th 2017 at 1:02:25 PM

I think there is a slight confusion of the actual trope. The name implies songs that wouldn't exist in the time the film is set, but the description seems to mention songs from previous time periods. Either the name should change or the description needs to be clarified.

Aug 20th 2017 at 2:41:01 PM

IIRC, the trope was initially written up as a deliberately retro soundtrack. It was a more recent edit that opened it up to music from later than the film's in-universe date.

Aug 20th 2017 at 3:13:07 PM

Lilo And Stitch uses mostly old Elvis Presley songs in its soundtrack, despite taking place in the present day. This was done to highlight Lilo's eccentricities; a girl her age would be listening to contemporary pop, instead of songs from almost fifty years earlier. It's also implied to be a connection to her late parents.

Aug 20th 2017 at 3:28:51 PM

Aug 20th 2017 at 3:49:31 PM

^^^ So, would it make sense to split the trope?

Aug 20th 2017 at 5:31:59 PM

  • Spider Man Homecoming has an 80s theme for the Homecoming dance so many of the songs in the soundtrack, including a webswinging montage having nothing to do with the dance, are 80s tunes.

Nov 24th 2017 at 11:00:30 PM

This has 13 hats and no bombs, so does that mean it can be launched?

Nov 24th 2017 at 11:16:27 PM

  • American Gods uses anachronistic music in some of its historical "Coming to America" segments to set the right tone. For instance, Anansi's speech to an 18th-century slave ship is set to chaotic jazz, and Essie MacGowan's tale of crime and sexual misadventure is accompanied by various 1950's doo-wop songs.

Nov 26th 2017 at 1:39:04 PM

Unlaunched as it was rogue-launched without proper discussion. Culprit called in.

Where there are plenty of hats, we still need proper discussion.

Nov 30th 2017 at 5:58:08 AM

What does it still need to be launched?

Nov 30th 2017 at 3:59:52 PM

A Knights Tale is listed twice.

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