Follow TV Tropes


Musical Spoiler

Go To

"Wait. The music cue just changed abruptly. Something's not right."
Shobu, Duel Masters

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.
  • Alternately if you get the Fight Woosh and you get different boss music, you might be facing a much higher-tier boss than normal and better brace for a nasty 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.

Occasionally lampshaded, 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.

The main difference between this and Theme Song Reveal is that the latter is essentially a musical version of Chekhov's Gun, hinting at something that will happen or be revealed much later in the narrative. Meanwhile, Musical Spoiler is more in the vein of Five-Second Foreshadowing, giving attentive listeners a few extra seconds to process an upcoming twist. Compare Foreboding Architecture, the visual equivalent.

Unmarked spoilers ahead; beware.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • The Case Closed 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 the Digimon series, if a digivolution 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, or the Digimon will be beaten even after evolving. Played more straight in the Adventure and Adventure 02, when there are fewer soundtrack options than the sequels.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 each 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, or don't have BGM at all.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 12 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.
  • As a version that pays off sooner than usual, the opening part of the Framing Device in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs features a slow instrumental guitar version of "The Streets of Laredo". The song is about mourning a cowboy dying in the streets. Needless to say, the guitar-playing Buster does not survive to the end of his segment, being shot dead in the street.
  • 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.
  • It's not very obvious, but Bernard Herrmann uses a leitmotif for "the big secret" in Citizen Kane that spoils said secret within 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.
  • 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".
    • Also, not that it's much of a secret, but the underscore of any of Darth Sidious's scenes reveal his true identity for those who recognize the motif as The Emperor's theme from Return of the Jedi. Hints of "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" during some of Anakin's scenes would also count to anyone unfamiliar with a certain twist.
  • In M. Night Shyamalan's Split, right before it's revealed that the movie takes place in the Unbreakable universe, the Unbreakable soundtrack's "Visions" plays as Kevin is checking his wounds.
  • Two cues in John Powell's score for X-Men: The Last Stand were named "Farewell to X" and "The Funeral", hinting at Professor X's (cheap even within the same film) death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) has had a few cues spoil certain elements in the series, including "Heeding the Call," "Kara Remembers" and "Kara's Coordinates".
  • BrainDead (2016): If the song "You Might Think" by The Cars begins playing during a scene, someone present for the scene has been infected by the Space Bugs.
  • 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".
  • Doctor Who:
    • "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.
    • "The Stolen Earth": Right before the opening titles, the Daleks' theme also plays as the view from Earth pans up to see the other stolen planets, five minutes before they are revealed.
    • If you listen to the Series 6 soundtrack before you watch the show, you might want to skip "Tick Tock (Vocal Track)":
      Tick tock goes the clock
      Til River kills The Doctor.
    • In "Dark Water", we hear the Leitmotif of the Cybermen. However, this as at the point where it's no longer a secret. One of a pair of doors has the mysterious corporation's logo on it, and the other door closes, and we see it mirrored. Oh, Crap!, it looks like the eyes of a Cyberman!
    • In "World Enough and Time", anyone familiar with The Master's motif might catch the foreshadowing in a lightly-played version of that motif after Bill Potts meets Mr. Razor.
  • 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?
  • The episode "Apollo 1" in From the Earth to the Moon. There is a marked contrast with the opening scene of Mission Control and the crew in the capsule, and the haunting soundtrack playing over their communication, banter, and grumbling. (It's unlikely that any viewer would not know of the deadly fire that occurred during the plugs-out test, but it is an instant cue that the scene is opening during the last moments before then.)
  • 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.
    • The season 6 finale begins with a lone piano playing “The Light of the Seven”. Pianos are almost never heard in the Game of Thrones soundtrack, so this let us know that something BIG was about to happen.
  • 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).
  • Inversion in the BBC adaptation of the Miss Marple story "They Do It With Mirrors", where it's the lack of soundtrack that's significant. As Sergeant Lake reads out the letter the first victim was typing, the victim's leitmotif plays. But it's faded out by the time he reaches the last two sentences, which are false information added by the murderer.
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "Datalore", Lore is foreshadowed as a villain before he actually does anything villainous, because sinister music plays as he uses the computer.
    • In "Data's Day", the twist of T'Pel being the baddie is foreshadowed because, just as Data's wondering whether to trust her, intimidating music plays in the background.
  • 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 1 vs. 100 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.

    New Media 
  • Parodied in this Onion piece, where ominous music starts playing across the USA, sending the media into high alert.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Eddie Izzard refers to this in one of her routines about horror movies.
    "They never listen to the music, do they?"

    Tabletop Games 


    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • If you make a correct "Objection!" (when cross-examining), "Take that!" (when using Phoenix's magatama), "Gotcha!" (when using Apollo's bracelet), or "Got it!" (when using Athena's Mood Matrix and Rayfa's Divination Séance), the music stops. If the music continues, you know you messed up and have to try again. There is one notable subversion in the third game that can catch players off guard who expect the music to stop when they present the correct evidence.
    • Near the end of one case in the first game, Edgeworth senses the witness on the stand is the guilty party, prompting him to take the first steps toward his Heel–Face Turn. He shouts, "OBJECTION!" and the epic music starts playing. The Judge questions him on his objection, and the epic music dies, as Edgey responds he didn't have a reason. After a beat, OBJECTION! *cue epic music* Edgeworth asks the witness to testify again. Judge asks why, and Edgeworth is drawing a blank. The music dies AGAIN, then after a beat, Edgeworth has something now.
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, when "Confrontation: Presto" plays, you know whoever you're cross-examining is the killer, and you're within a few cross-examinations of getting them to confess. There are subversions, though.
    • In general, any character with a Leitmotif is important somehow. If a case involves some characters who have Leitmotifs and others who don't, the killer is usually among those who do have them. Special mention goes to Damon Gant, whose leitmotif is so Obviously Evil that anyone would suspect this jolly man of being full to bursting with dark secrets the instant they first hear it - which is the first time he comes on screen... yep, he did it. And the SL-9 incident too.note 

    Web Animation 
    • "Balrog VS T.J. Combo" has the fight accompanied by the song "I'm Back (To Rise)", T.J. Combo's Image Song. Anyone familiar with the song should be able to quickly clue in as to whose going to end up winning this fight.
    • The music track for "Gray Vs Esdeath", "Lost Ice Storms", which is written as a Hero vs. Villain Duet between the two, has Esdeath sing the final line, providing a big hint to who the winner is.
    • "Not Actual Size", the music track for "Ant Man Vs Adam", noticeably takes more cues from media Ant Man has appeared in over the Atom, foreshadowing who's winning the fight.

  • 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.
    • 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".

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • At the beginning of Dream's Minecraft Manhunt videos, he goes off without the hunters, and there's an absence of music. Once they start realizing he's gone, the music starts up. Therefore, the absence of music is this trope.

    Western Animation 
  • Partial version in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: an unusually distinct bit of music plays when we see what appears to be an unimportant mob henchman. Sure enough turns out that was the Joker, whose theme music was playing (though slightly modified).
    • Perchance to Dream uses a modified version of The Mad Hatter's Leitmotif as a musical hint towards his usage of a dream machine on Batman.
  • Big City Greens: In "Listen Up!" as the Greens and Remy are playing One-O, right after Tilly quips how ironic the game ended up with Bill's danger toys and the game is "as safe as can be", an ominous orchestral cue suddenly sounds out, which gives a foreshadowing toward how destructive the game is.
  • Dora the Explorer: Swiper's leitmotif, which itself is preceded by a maraca sound, always shows up before he does. Lampshaded when Dora herself hears the music and comments on it.
  • Follow the Sun: Combined with Oh, Crap! and Five-Second Foreshadowing when the green gumdrop drummer faces the demonic snow cones eye-to-eye. No sooner does he see them and receives their message of "EAT!" then his pupils disappear from his eyes and he resumes playing his drum-one beat at a time and in a much darker and more somber tone. The implication is obvious: the gumdrop drummer has just realized before anyone else that something unspeakably horrific is about to erupt, but keeps quiet for fear of being personally targeted for additional punishment.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "A Canterlot Wedding", the reprise of "BBBFF" ends on a deceptive cadence, foreshadowing Cadance's (Queen Chrysalis in disguise) true nature.
  • Numberjacks: On occasion, it's revealed which Meanie is the villain of the episode before the Numberjacks find out due to their theme playing in the background.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation", right before Perry's Sal Tuscany CD destroys Doofenshmirtz's Naughty-inator, Sal Tuscany sings: "Christmas cannot be destroyed/Not even by a Naughty-inaaaaTOOOOORRRRRRRRRR!!!!!"
  • Sofia the First: In the Pilot Movie, the orchestra plays soft and calming music to set the stage for Sofia's waltzing lesson, but when it all goes downhill thanks to Amber tricking her into using Cedric's trick shoes, the orchestra becomes frightening and urgent.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Parodied in "Clams", when, on a boat, Mr. Krabs actually hears the score and says, "Can't you hear the music? That's a 4/4 string ostinato in D minor! Every sailor knows that means death!" He does get swallowed by a clam, but he doesn't die.
  • From the Rick and Morty episode "The Ricklantis Mixup", Candidate Morty spends the entire episode building up support for his party, attempting to unite the Ricks and Mortys and improve conditions on the Citadel. Against overwhelming odds, he wins the election, becoming President which point he has all the Ricks who threaten to make him into a Puppet King killed and their bodies thrown out the airlock. As he looks out over the bodies of the Ricks and Mortys who have died over the course of the episode, the soundtrack begins playing For the Damaged Coda- otherwise known as Evil Morty's Leitmotif- letting the audience know that one of the series' greatest Magnificent Bastards has finally returned.
  • In Steven Universe, when Stevonnie is having bizarre dream involving Yellow Diamond, a variation of the Diamond Theme plays. It's Pink Diamond's theme, hinting that Stevonnie was acting out Pink Diamond's role in a memory.


    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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • The killer usually having their own Leitmotif is sometimes played with: sometimes the killer's unique theme music doesn't start playing until the player directly accuses them of the murder, and they use generic themes beforehand. (essentially, a musical One-Winged Angel) This is often the case for Big Bads as their Leitmotifs are generally Obviously Evil sounding, but it can happen for "minor" villains too, such as Roger Retinz in Spirit of Justice.
    • Subverted for the Grand Finale in Trials & Tribulations. Even if you pick the right selection to implicate the final case's killer, the music continues to trick you. The perp's initial response is the same for success or failure; either way, he'll respond by accusing Phoenix of not being half the lawyer that Mia was... but, if you picked the right choice, the music will stop after that so Mia's ghost can appear to guilt-trip Godot so Wright can make his point. If you pick the wrong choice, Phoenix starts stammering like an idiot and you get a Guilty verdict.
    • In both Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth games, "Confrontation: Presto" sometimes plays to throw you off about the killer's identity, or just to represent the tension of the moment. It plays when Edgeworth is cross-examining Shih-na a.k.a. Calisto Yew in disguise, but Shih-na/Calisto Yew isn't the killer (of the final case, anyway; she did kill two people several years ago and got away with it); she's just an accomplice and is instead guilty of arson, and the real killer is Quercus Alba, who's cross-examined later on.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


The Hacker has Won!

After spending an entire episode bidding 500 Snelfus for an incredibly rare Encryptor Chip during an auction, the CyberSquad inserted the chip to cure Motherboard from the virus. What they didn't know is that once they inserted the chip into Motherboard, Motherboard's computer was overwritten and replaced by Hacker, allowing him to take over as the new ruler of Cyberspace for the first time! What's even worse is that Hacker also rigs the auction and gives them every opportunity he can to let them place the last bid while putting on the act that he wants it, locked up Dr. Marbles (after finding the chip earlier in the episode) and hires Wicked as his partner. Digit was right, Hacker won and Cyberspace was doomed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheBadGuyWins

Media sources: