I love everything about Yellowjackets: the mysteries that resonate across temporal distance, the characters, the cannibalism… And, of course, the music. Season 1 brought us so many solid uses of music I could hardly list them all (though here’s a site that does).
Also, to be clear here, I’m not saying I like all of the songs in Yellowjackets outside of the context of the show. That’s not the point. The point is that they would absolutely play “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch at a pep rally in 1996, for example, and that it’s really fitting for Misty to start singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” because it’s such an earworm (though of course, she starts from the beginning rather than jumping to the catchy part, like you do).
At the same time, there are a number of songs that pop up over the course of Season 1 that I do love as a child of the 1990s. It’s great to hear some Portishead, for example, and I love the use of The Cranberries when the team gets to the lake.
This list, though, is of the uses of music in Yellowjackets Season 1 that I think are the best—not the best songs, necessarily, nor the ones most fitting to the times, but the moments when the music best serves the series, in my humble opinion.
I thought it would be fun to share original music videos anyway, though. Look for thematic resonances! I know I found some!
So, without further ado, here are my favorite uses of music in Yellowjackets Season 1. Ranked! Because why not.
5. Misty is listening to “The Phantom of the Opera” in 2021
This one is just so fitting to the character it made me laugh out loud the first time I watched the show. Misty rolls up to meet Jessica Roberts, to drug and kidnap her, and what does she have on the radio? Why, “The Phantom of the Opera,” of course.
I took a school trip to Toronto to see the Phantom in the early 1990s, and if you aren’t aware because you aren’t 40, the show was a Big Deal at the time. And for good reason! Teenage Caemeron enjoyed the spectacle of it immensely and even bought the soundtrack on cassette tape.
I have to imagine something similar with Misty. Probably she went to Toronto to see it some time prior to 1996 and it was a highlight of her life. But really it’s the fact that she is still jamming to that music in 2021 that gets this moment on the list.
Love ya Misty!
4. “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect segues to the reunion
This is a really brilliant musical moment, and if I were ranking this list solely on the basis of dextrous editing it would be at the very top. Because the opening notes of “Rump Shaker” don’t soundtrack the reunion; the song begins in the aftermath of Lottie killing a bear, which really brings out the strangeness of the intro.
The segue is just wonderful, as the same song serves to move us from creepy to… well a high school reunion is also kind of creepy, but in a totally different way!
3. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips as Misty smashes the flight recorder
This is the first entry on the list that is non-diegetic, but a big part of what’s powerful about the use of “Hold On” is how it nonetheless matches up to the action in the show. We can take the lyrics as expressing Misty’s feelings in the moment. Maybe the song is even going through her head:
Some day somebody’s gonna make you want to turn around and say goodbye
Until then, baby, are you going to let ’em hold you down and make you cry?
Don’t you know?
Don’t you know, things can change
Things’ll go your way
If you hold… on for one more day
Can you hold… on for one more day?
Things’ll go your way…
Hold on for one more day
She’s just heard some of the other girls on the team praising her efforts after the plane crash. Misty is finally being appreciated, and the box from the plane represents not just the chance of rescue but the undermining of how things have changed to go her way. So she smashes it. Makes perfect sense.
I don’t know if Misty intended for this to mean that they’d never be rescued at all or if she just wanted to extend the time it took. Apparently it took 18 months, but there’s no way she could have estimated that. And it’s really not to the point anyway.
It’s an early scene that exemplifies how Misty’s mind works, and of a piece with how in 2021 she’ll disable Nat’s Porsche because she wants to tag along on the trip to find Travis and didn’t think Nat would let her otherwise. Was she wrong?
But the best thing about this use of music is how “Hold On” cuts off right as Misty succeeds in destroying the black box. Indeed, this signals her success to us, and its abrupt stop operates as a symbol of how things changed in this moment.
I never would have guessed this relatively cheesy pop song from my youth could be deployed so powerfully for dramatic effect. And I really didn’t remember the opening shots of its official music video until I pressed play. It’s waiting for you…
2. The team sings “Kiss from a Rose” at Doomcoming
Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” was released in 1994, so you might doubt that it would have featured at a high school Homecoming dance in 1996, but I am here to tell you it definitely would have and indeed I think it did at the very one I attended that year. Of course, I can’t produce any evidence.
Regardless, the point is that this song had staying power in the mid-90s. It was re-released as a part of the Batman Forever soundtrack in 1995 and won awards in 1996. Plus, it’s not like high school dances tend to be avant-garde in their music choices. In 1996, “Jump Around” was still in the mix.
So, when the team decides to have Doomcoming in the wilderness and laments the need for music, it makes perfect sense that this is the song that comes to mind. I could not think of a mid-90s ballad that would be more appropriate, and I honestly teared up because the scene was so poignant.
I wonder if people who didn’t grow up in the ’90s felt the same way, as Seal proper kicks in to take us home. It’s just beautiful.
I never really liked this song and no one knows what its lyrics mean, but as with “Hold On” me liking the song is totally irrelevant. In terms of how it fits in Yellowjackets, it’s absolutely perfect.
1. “Vienna” by Ultravox
Of all the musical choices in Yellowjackets Season 1, you could argue that the use of Ultravox’s “Vienna” makes the least sense. The song was released in 1980. It was not popular in the mid-90s. Indeed, most of the characters on the show have probably never even heard it. Yet, its vibe is perfect for the relationship between Nat and Travis, tinged as it is with feigned detachment and regret.
The feeling has gone, only you and I, it means nothing to me
We get the song twice: first in Episode 3 as Nat and Misty discover Travis dead in 2021; and then it recurs in the season finale to soundtrack scenes of Nat and Travis in 1996 in montage with Nat preparing to put her rifle to her chin in 2021. It resonates across that expanse of time and fits thematically so well it would seem petty to get hung up on the notes I made about it above.
Indeed, this is my favorite use of music in Yellowjackets so far. Hearing it in the show led me to listen to the song on repeat and put it into regular rotation.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “No Return” somewhere in this article. The song, written by Anna Waronker & Craig Wedren for the series, hits for the first time along with the opening credits in Episode 3, and when I first heard it I honestly emailed the press rep at Showtime to make sure it wasn’t some obscure ‘90s song I couldn’t track down. And I was a teenager in the ‘90s!
This song is a banger, and while I harbor some hope that we might get a new opening title sequence and a new song in Season 2, it’s really just because I’d like more new goodness to obsess over.
So those are my favorite uses of music in Yellowjackets Season 1. What are yours? Let us know in the comments.