The LOST Soundtrack: An Analysis

By Danielle D. Ayer
2012, Vol. 4 No. 04 | pg. 1/2 |

LOST is a narrative acclaimed for its complex characters and mythological elements, securing an enormous fan base from different cultures all over the world. As a complex narrative, LOST introduces many components and poses difficult questions that require contemplation. The LOST soundtrack is paramount to the series’ narrative progression, as well as an effective tool to help viewers understand the characters individually on a personal level.

This understanding includes the ways in which popular culture and societal structures affect characters both individually and as a group. Continually, this heightened understanding compels viewers to become better viewers by becoming active or more involved in the process. Furthermore, music also acts as a medium that binds all of the characters to each other, and in turn the viewers as well—music and performance are key elements that make up the fabric of popular culture, and our continual understanding and reference to it only makes viewing more active through the process of cultural communication.

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Music

First and foremost, it is important to understand the difference between the modes of diegetic and non-diegetic music that exist within LOST’s narrative. The original musical score was composed by Michael Giacchino and is a non-diegetic form of music (as well as other composed soundscapes and effects). According to Corey Creekmur, there is limited analytical material on scholarly viewpoints pertaining to commercial music in television soundtracks, “While the long neglected film soundtrack has finally received extended critical attention, most of this work remains concentrated on the non-diegetic ‘background’ score characteristic…Many recent studies only gesture—often dismissively—toward the contemporary film soundtrack” (382).

Currently, it is common for television shows to incorporate commercial music, especially in LOST—and understanding the intentions behind musical selection inherently becomes a subjective element for viewers. Conversely, Creekmur argues that networks and recording industries are only doing it for the exposure and financial gain:

“The continual and increased production of compilation soundtracks is also, again, commonly understood to be the effect of ever more intricate relationships between ever more concentrated entertainment conglomerates such as Time Warner, which view all their products as tie-in commodities and a means of advertising across media and markets” (383).

Due to the differing ways in which scholarly material is approached on the subject of diegetic and non-diegetic music, from this point on this essay will primarily refer to and explore the diegetic soundtrack of LOST.

Understanding Music, Narrative and the Individual

Firstly, in order to properly understand the significance of the songs used in LOST it is necessary to investigate specific examples of how music fundamentally relates to the visual narrative. According to Johnny Wingstedt, viewers strive to process the connection between music and narrative in a number of ways, which he defines as ‘functions.’ These different functions need to be identified because music is a subjective element that can be interpreted in many ways—and identifying meaning is key.

He defines six musical narrative functions: ‘Emotive’—the music’s ability to evoke emotional response from the viewer. ‘Informative’—where the music explains events or situations on a cognitive level. ‘Descriptive’—the music will actively describe something, usually a physical setting or appearance. ‘Guiding’—when the music directs the audience through indicative functions (i.e., ARG’s). ‘Temporal’—foregrounds the time dimension of music, and lastly the ‘Rhetorical’—when the music comments on events within the narrative, most commonly, the musical (193-195). Wingstedt also suggests that the aforementioned narrative functions are not absolute, explaining that they can also operate simultaneously.

Many characters within the LOST series have designated songs or musicians that play in accordance to their time on the screen. Recurring songs and performers is a common technique that is used throughout the entire series as well. Commonly used songs and artists convey emotional significance in relation to their appointed characters.

Examining individual characters and their personal stories, Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) is often represented by songs performed by country singer, Patsy Cline. For the viewer, Cline’s songs function in a variety of ways—emotively, informatively, and rhetorically—in both flashbacks and flashforwards: “Cline’s music always provides an appropriate musical metaphor for Kate’s emotional rollercoaster of a love life” (Porter and Lavery 106). Cline’s music appears in seven different LOST episodes1 throughout the series, each time pertaining to Kate. Cline’s lyrics—specifically in “She’s Got You” convey Kate’s melancholy love life and her constant struggle with finding true love:

I’ve got your picture that you gave to me
And it’s signed with love just like it used to be
The only thing different, the only thing new
I’ve got your picture, she’s got you. (Cline)

The lyrics clearly mirror her love life, proven with her lack of success with Jack, Sawyer, and Tom. Additionally, Cline is also linked to Kate in a more direct manner by being a young woman from a rural upbringing, evoking somber emotions regarding her failed relationships—even as a young girl. Moreover, Patsy Cline’s actual death occurred in a plane crash. For the viewer, Patsy Cline is the perfect musical representation for Kate. The slow, soothing nature of Cline’s voice conveys Kate in an innocent light, where she appears non-threatening.

In “The Incident, Part 1” (5.16), Cline’s song, “Three Cigarettes (In An Ashtray)” plays during a Kate flashback in a convenience store—the first time she encounters Jacob. Although Kate tries to steal a lunchbox, her youth portrays innocence and virtuosity—in return, Jacob pays for the lunch box. Other Cline moments occur when Kate appears to be daydreaming to the song, her eyes wander—giving her the appearance that she wishes she were elsewhere. Continually, during these scenes Kate appears sensitive and tender as opposed to the murderous fugitive who is constantly on the run.

In the same vein, Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) is individually known as the musician on the Island—as well as the character that is most often associated with the importance of music. Charlie’s affiliation with singing and songwriting is important in understanding his character arc. Off the Island, Charlie’s musical career is short lived due to drug addiction and familial strife, which are social traits often associated with the rock and roll image. It is also commonly known that DriveShaft (his band), is associated with the rock band, Oasis throughout the series.

However, on the Island his music is the one comfort that he has left—proving so, as he gives up his drug habit even after finding out there is an unlimited supply of heroin on the Island. Comparatively, on Island, the music that Charlie writes is softer and quieter than “You All Everybody,” performed by DriveShaft. His on Island lyrics have important meaning, and when Charlie sings acoustic, he appears to be deep in thought—as if he truly means the words that he is singing. Charlie’s portrays the iconic rock and roll musician, and all the highs and lows that are associated with the lifestyle.

Continuing with Charlie, listening to song lyrics is a useful mode in absorbing meaning from the narrative. The creators of LOST select music that foreshadows significant events in correlation to Charlie’s personal narrative. This type of music selection forces the viewer to listen to both the music and lyrics with heightened interest. A memorable example in LOST’s narrative is during a Charlie flashback where he performs Oasis’s “Wonderwall” while standing in the pouring rain on a busy street.

He performs the song alone, which depicts the current state of his life—alone and in need of help. The flashback image of Charlie performing in the rain juxtaposed with an image of him in the present time swimming down to The Looking Glass station evokes a sense of connectivity between the two different places and times. Moreover, the lyrics of the song quite literally foreshadow the events to come in the near future:

And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would like to say to you
But I don’t know how
Because maybe
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You’re my wonderwall. (Gallagher)

With reference to Wingstedt’s idea on music and narrative functions, this scene with Charlie can be understood as both a ‘guiding function’ and a ‘rhetorical function:’ “The music sometimes ‘steps forward’ to comment the narrative events or situation…Achieved by having the musical expression contrast the visuals or by referring to well known musical material” (194). The song lyrics that compose “Wonderwall” foreshadow Charlie’s death, as he says goodbye to Claire. He accepts what he believes to be his fate—as he volunteers to turn off the blocking signal in The Looking Glass station—by playing the tonal code for “Good Vibrations”—in order to save both Claire and Aaron. Similarly, “Wonderwall” also plays when Charlie literally saves Nadia from being mugged in a dark alley (“Flashes Before Your Eyes,” 3.8 and “Greatest Hits,” 3.21).

Contiguous to nearly all characters in the LOST series is a singular song or musical artist that provides further insight to the depths of their personalities, from the past to the present. In developing the show, the creators knew they had to be in touch with their characters, understanding that each castaway needed to have a unique story with the ability to function on its own—which lends to a disparate collection of songs. Carlton Cuse, writer and producer for LOST explains how the element of character drama is the reason for the shows success:

We try to keep the emphasis on the character side of the storytelling… All the questions that we get asked about the show tend to be on the mythological axis. That’s the frosting on the cake, and it creates a lot of intrigue. But if we were just focused on the mythology, we would have a small, genre cult audience of 5 million or 6 million viewers. The reason we have 16 million to 18 million viewers is because the emphasis for us is always on the character, and what is the character drama of any given episode.2

Music preference tells the viewer a lot about any individual character—whether or not someone is younger or older, where a person is from in the world, if they are familiar with popular culture as opposed to having a more classical or traditional based knowledge. By understanding the characters on an individual basis viewers feel more connected.

Music and Hope in LOST

Music is an element that conveys a wide spectrum of emotions, which directs the viewers’ perspective on the narrative—playing a large role in whether or not the viewer will remain invested in the story. Music in LOST primarily provides a sense of hope and overall comfort for the viewer—thus, keeping them involved as they are emotionally attached to the narrative and characters.

An important moment in LOST’s narrative where a sense of hope is conveyed through soundtrack music is upon the introduction of Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell) in “A Tale of Two Cities” (3.1). The Season 3 premiere opens with Juliet inserting a CD into the player—“Downtown,” performed by Petula Clark begins to play. The scene is sadly an ironic one because Juliet has been trapped on the Island for three years. The lyrics imply that when times are tough, a haven is available downtown—however, she cannot go downtown. “Downtown’s” lyrics are simple and sweet, paired with a non-threatening Motown-like musical backtrack:

When you’re alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got no worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown. (Clark)

The tone of the song is light and jovial, but the dire circumstances of the narrative contradict the song’s intended melody. For Juliet, the song reminds her of a better time, and for a brief moment she seems to escape her evident loneliness. From the beginning of the song, Mitchell conveys her emotions with hand and eye movements—her facial expression starts with a smile—as if she cannot believe what is happening, but is slightly amused anyway. Then her expression fades to a frown as she holds back tears and clutches her hair. Mitchell then releases a heavy sigh, and it is apparent that listening to “Downtown” acts as a sort of therapy for her, that she has not given up hope yet.

By the end, Juliet’s strong face shows that she is a strong woman, and it is apparent that she has not completely given up. At the moment, the viewer is completely unaware that Juliet is on the Island. When the set shakes and she runs outside, we discover that she is on the Island, and a member of the “others” that are already living on the Island. They stand collectively and watch Oceanic 815 rip apart in the sky. What is even more interesting is at this moment “Downtown” converts from diegetic music to non-diegetic—the viewer can hear the song, but it is no way related to what is happening in the scene. However, the song clearly shifts in tone—the meter is sped up slightly and the tone is far eerier, and slightly off key from when it originally started playing. This caters to the viewers shift in perspective on their newfound understanding of the true “otherness” on the island, and also heightens the anticipation for the remainder of Season 3.

In a later episode, “One of Us” (3.16) the viewer gains further insight after the relationship between Juliet and Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) is revealed. Early in the episode, “Downtown” plays during a Juliet flashback scene as she shares a moment with her sister in the car on the way to the Mittelos Bioscience center. “Downtown” clearly offers a sense of hope and comfort for the viewer when understanding Juliet’s story arc. Juliet took the job to further her research in order to help her sister who has been battling with cancer for years to conceive a child. For Juliet, doing research for Mittelos Bioscience is essentially her attempts to find answers that will help her sister.

Furthermore, the original scene where “Downtown” is first heard instantly has more impact on the viewer once we realize that Juliet has motives of her own—to get back home to her sister and away from the Island. The audience empathizes with her and begins to make sense of her song—which allows the viewer to understand her narrative more dynamically. Therefore, deeper connections can be made to the emotive aspects of her personality.

Additionally, there are other instances where music is used throughout LOST’s narrative where hope and comfort are conveyed. In the ending scene of “…In Translation” (1.17) Hurley (Jorge Garcia) listens to “Delicate” by Damien Rice on his CD player. The scene is a montage of comforting shots of the survivors as they slowly start to build a community. The scene includes shots of people helping and embracing each other—Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) helps Michael (Harold Parrineau) gather bamboo to start building the raft, Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Shannon (Maggie Grace) embrace one another, Sun (Yunjin Kim) exposes herself and stands in the ocean instead of letting Jin control her, and Charlie sits in the sunset with Claire (Emilie de Ravin) after he brings her something to drink.

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