Follow TV Tropes


Invisible Backup Band

Go To

"That would explain the huge backing orchestra I couldn't see and the synchronised dancing from the room service chaps."
Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More With Feeling"

It's time for a character to display his incredible musical talent! They walk onto the empty stage, pick up a mic. An audience gathers in anticipation. Then he/she begins to sing and...

Whoa! Where'd this choir and ten-piece band come from?

It's the Invisible Backup Band!

When a single character begins to sing a capella or play a musical instrument, he will immediately be accompanied by suitable background instrumental parts, backup vocals, or even a full symphony orchestra (and maybe even some neat stage light effects) with no conceivable source in the story universe. Piano, guitar, sax, gospel choir... you name it and it will be a member of the Invisible Backup Band.

Every musical thrives on this concept. Let's say the musical is set in the tropics. The singer is walking alone in a desert island; not a person is in sight. They hum the opening bars of a song and a few measures later their vocals are harmonized and a full band begins to play. This isn't realistic, but we are OK with it, because accompaniment and backup instrumentals make the vocal leads richer and more enjoyable.

May or may not accompany Magic Music. Compare Summon Backup Dancers.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel: Creamy Mami has this effect as part of her Magical Girl powers, which is how she ended up with a career as an idol singer.
  • In a more literal sense, an episode of A Little Snow Fairy Sugar has the musical accompaniment played by fairies that nobody can see or hear.
  • The scene in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing where Quatre and Trowa play a duet on violin and flute, respectively, while there are also drums and guitar in the background. Apparently a couple of Maganac soldiers were playing right behind the camera.
  • Azmaria Hendric of Chrono Crusade has a gospel chorus and a soft church organ playing beneath her songs. She also uses Magic Music.
  • The titular character of Kobato. uses hers in the first episode. She's accompanied not only by a piano, but also by synth effects, a spotlight, and flower petals.
  • Lampshaded in Ouran Highschool Host Club: Haruhi is seen singing with beautiful music in the background when someone accidentally unplugs the music player.
  • Fancy Lala: Fancy Lala has one.
  • In Macross Frontier, when Ranka begins to sing in public for the first time, initially you can see a guitarist at a nearby music shop add some of his strings to her performance (it helps that she's singing a very popular and well-known song). This doesn't, however, explain the full drums and keyboard accompaniment.
  • Spellbound! Magical Princess Lil'Pri does this whenever they "Himechen" (the shows name for their transformation).
  • Justified in Symphogear as a secondary function of the girls' Disco Tech armor.
  • In The World is Still Beautiful, Princess Nike has a magic song that causes it to rain. One has to assume that it also causes backing instrumentals to come in out of nowhere.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Parodied a bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (of course). Any time Herbert even mentions wanting to sing, music starts to play. —Only to be followed by his father Letting the Air out of the Band
    No Singing!
  • Subverted in There's Something About Mary: Every time the theme music was played, a breakaway shot showed two musicians, normally playing from an implausible position.
  • Used straight in Girl in Gold Boots with solo guitarist Critter being accompanied by harmonica and other instruments from nowhere.
  • Eegah!! While camping in the desert, Arch Hall Jr plays a guitar song, and ghostly doo-wop vocals back him up.
  • Wild Rebels gives the (anti-)hero a horn accompaniment as he plays guitar for the love interest in the forest.
  • Road to Zanzibar discusses this together with Mickey Mousing in Conversational Troping during an Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date which ends with Bing Crosby conducting the invisible orchestra to accompany him while he sings the Love Theme:
    "What killed me is that from nowhere, an orchestra started. You know, violins and everything, right in the middle of a jungle. Isn't that silly?"
  • Subverted in Blazing Saddles. Just as you're wondering where the music is coming from, Bart rides past Count Basie and His Orchestra.
  • Harpo Marx's harp solos are typically accompanied by an invisible orchestra playing quietly in the background. Chico's piano solos are more often unaccompanied, but when he plays "Collegiate" in Horse Feathers the orchestra accompanying him obviously isn't with him in the hotel suite.
  • The musical pocket watch in For a Few Dollars More is accompanied by what sounds like an orchestra and a mariachi band.
  • Happens several times in Camp Rock, most noticeably when Shane is singing to Mitchie by the lake. This is very Narmy as the movie is heavily promoted as not being a musical but a "movie with music".
  • Most of the songs in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny have, at the very least, invisible drummers and bass guitarists. A couple also have a guitar playing out of nowhere, or an electric guitar playing when Kage and Jables only have acoustic guitars. "Classico" is probably the only song without an invisible backup band.
  • A running joke during the making of Star Wars was how come there's sound in space to accompany the fancy special effects shots? George Lucas would claim there was a huge backing orchestra floating around in spacesuits.
  • Sort of parodied in Rock 'n' Roll High School: Riff Randall is daydreaming about Joey Ramone serenading her in her bedroom, and even though a full-band recording of "I Want You Around" is being used in the scene, it appears that he's only being backed up by Johnny Ramone on acoustic guitar. Then she opens the bathroom door and it turns out that Dee Dee and Marky were playing bass and drums in there the whole time.
  • In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cameron is accompanied by a ghostly offscreen chorus while singing sadly to himself in bed.
  • A good chunk of the songs in Rags are just the characters singing in the street, a pawn shop, or on stage with no equipment, and yet they'll inexplicably be accompanied by instruments, auto-tuning, and layered vocals.
  • Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2 does this with a background character so it's easier to overlook. The Dark One's tavern employs just one fiddle player to serenade patrons, but he somehow makes the music of an entire medieval string band. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that he isn't actually touching the fiddle strings most of the time.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Granada TV adaptation of The Red-Headed League, Sherlock Holmes is accompanied by an imaginary orchestra as he whistles a theme from the concert he attended the previous night.
  • "Once More With Feeling", the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. Played straight, lampshaded ("That would explain the huge backing orchestra I couldn't see and the synchronised dancing from the room service chaps"), and even slightly averted. ("She needs backup! Anya, Tara...")
  • Speaking of Glee, in the Community episode "Regional Holiday Music" which parodied said show specifically made fun of this trope. The Glee club coach tries to convince Abed to join by playing a song on the piano, only to jump up from it for a singing/dancing routine a few lines in. The music continues.
    Abed: How is your piano still playing this song?
    Mr. Rad: Glee is the answer when questions are wrong!
  • In a similar vein, the TV edition of Fame uses this trope religiously. For example, the song "I Still Believe In Me" is sung by Coco (in her actress' last regular episode) with Bruno accompanying on piano; about 30 seconds in strings kick in from out of nowhere and stick around for the rest of the song. Averted in the parent film where almost all the music is done by the characters/extras.
  • In Twin Peaks, James' song he sings while playing guitar in the episode "Coma" has bass and percussion come out of nowhere halfway through.
  • Happens all the time in Make Room for Daddy, since Danny sings a song in almost every episode. Not unrealistic when he's performing at the Copa with his orchestra behind him... but it invariably happens when he's playing the piano and singing at home. Cue Invisible Backup Orchestra! Usually you get applause at the end of the song too, but not always, leading you to wonder why the live audience didn't like that particular performance.
  • Due to their reliance on lipsyncing, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has raised this trope to an art form.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 loves to poke fun at this trope whenever it pops up in a movie they're watching:
    • Wild Rebels: When the (anti-)hero is playing guitar for the love interest in the forest, and a horn accompaniment suddenly breaks in:
      Crow: Thank you, Brother Squirrel, for the horn!
    • Eegah: While camping in the desert, Arch Hall Jr plays a guitar song, and ghostly vocals back him up. "I see he remembered to bring the Isley Brothers camping with him."
    • Girl in Gold Boots: Solo guitarist Critter performs multiple times, accompanied by harmonica and other instruments from nowhere. "I love the way you play the harmonica with your ass!"
    • Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2: The local Bad Guy Bar has the music of a full medieval band, but the only musician in sight is a single fiddle player.
      Jonah: That fiddle player in the back is the real talent. I mean, how's he getting all these sounds from one instrument?
      Crow: And the fiddler's doing all that without even touching the strings! Bravo!

  • Two Cellos is a frequent offender. In "Highway to Hell" a drummer accompanies them as soon as they start playing, and in "Thunderstruck" there's apparently a third cello playing along invisibly.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street:
    • Lampshaded with Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop as the episode's guest stars. Shari, Lamb Chop, and Big Bird sing the song "Perfect as a Pig" to Suey the Pig to boost her confidence in being a pig. When the invisible choir echoes the last line of every voice, all four look around for the source and give each other confused looks.
    • Frequently, the characters will call out "Music maestro!" or "Hit it!" when cueing their invisible orchestra. One episode instead had Baby Bear about to sing a song, asking someone off-screen to hit the play button on the music player.
  • Naturally, this happens a lot in Glee. Sometimes, however, it's averted rather hilariously.
    • In one instance, Jesse and Rachel are singing Lionel Richie's "Hello" together. Jesse is shown playing the piano, but string and percussion instruments are heard as well. At first, this appears to be an example of this trope; however, the camera then zooms out to reveal an actual back-up band, materialized out of nowhere.
    • In another, Rachel is speaking with her mother, and suggests they sing a song together. After the latter agrees, Rachel calls for her pianist, who again shows up from out of nowhere. Rachel explains "he's always around".

    Theme Parks 
  • Sonny Eclipse, the animatronic intergalactic lounge lizard at the Magic Kingdom's Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe has his Space Angels, who are even the subject of a tribute song that mentions how much he appreciates them even with being unable to see them.

    Video Games 
  • This happens quite a bit in Ar tonelico, whenever one of the Reyvateils sings, thanks to their Song Server manifesting the song right as they imagine it, while they sing the main melody.
  • It pops up in Dragon Age: Origins, in a scene at the camp.
  • This shows up in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and probably a few of the other games in the series.
  • Inverted in LocoRoco, everybody is aware of the game's background music and sing to it. It's played straight in a few cutscenes.
  • In No More Heroes, Dr Peace sings a rousing tune (with full accompaniment, natch) when Travis meets him in an empty baseball stadium. Given that he's singing over the PA system, it's possible that's where the music track is coming from.
  • Averted in Gitaroo Man. On every stage, the background music is provided by a trio of kids dressed in animal costumes. They only have a pair of cymbals, a ukulele, and an accordion, but somehow they're able to provide the entire soundtrack on their own. According to their in-game bio, being a backup band is their sworn duty.

    Web Original 

     Web Comics 
  • The Arkenhammer of Erfworld functions like this, allowing the attuned user (Stanley) to "Rock Out" by using it like an air-guitar. This confers some massive combat bonuses and is the Titanic aspect of dance fighting. Dance fighting in general seems to use this trope when invoked, but not to nearly the same impressive degree (the Arkenhammer almost deafened Parson when demonstrated in an enclosed space).

    Western Animation 
  • Another lampshade hanging: The Music Meister from Batman: The Brave and the Bold had brass and strings for him during one song, synth for another, and crunchy guitar and piano for yet another, even though he had no visible means of producing that music until his big finale when he was standing in front of a giant stereo system.
  • Another lampshade hanging in the I ♡ Arlo episode "In the Blue with You", when Arlo says "there's music all around."
  • And yet another lampshade hanging in Phineas and Ferb episode Rollercoaster: The Musical.
    We should do it again! This time, as a musical! Whadya say? We'll do all the same things, except we'll break into spontaneous singing and choreography with no discernable music source!
  • Occasionally shows up in Family Guy, singing faux-slogans as the punchline of various jokes.
    "Men: We don't know what we did."
    "God: He knows what turns you on."
    "White Guys: Scared of every race."