Captain Marvel's soundtrack does 3 things to your brain and you don't even know it - Let us explain

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. (Marvel Studios)
Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. (Marvel Studios)

Cape Town – Captain Marvel is one of the most talked about releases of 2019.

Brie Larson delivers a knockout punch as the comic book hero who is an incredibly powerful addition to The Avengers. The movie has topped the box office and gotten rave reviews.

One of our favourite parts is the soundtrack with it's classic 90's grunge hits and throwback bangers from different genres. Why is music so important in telling this story? Because of three factors: It lets the audience know what time period it's in, it sets the scene's mood, and it tells the audience what to expect. 


Certain music is tied to certain time periods in our mind. In the case of Captain Marvel specifically, the time period is around 1995. For Americans that time was synonymous with grunge music. As Esquire said in their look at the film's soundtrack: "One of the best achievements of Marvel '90s-set blockbuster Captain Marvel is the film's ability to tap into that zeitgeist of the decade without making it feel like frivolous nostalgia." 

One of the best examples of this is when the titular character – while wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-Shirt, a leather jacket and Doc Martens rides a motorbike to the soundtrack of Only Happy When It Rains by one of the biggest bands of the time, Garbage. The song was released in the year the film is set and perfectly encapsulates the feel of era. About it, lead singer Shirley Manson said to NME in 2015: "It developed into a very tongue-in-cheek poke at what we felt was a lot of miserabilism at the time." 

The science behind it was unpacked in 2014 by The BBC's Tiffany Jenkins who wrote: "The hippocampus and the frontal cortex are two large areas in the brain associated with memory and they take in a great deal of information every minute. Retrieving it is not always easy. It doesn’t simply come when you ask it to. Music helps because it provides a rhythm and rhyme and sometimes alliteration which helps to unlock that information with cues. It is the structure of the song that helps us to remember it, as well as the melody and the images the words provoke."


Certain sounds or music at a certain tempo can impart the feeling of a scene, according to film composer Bernard Herrmann elaborated on that visceral connection saying: "I feel that music on the screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the characters. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety, or misery. It can propel narrative swiftly forward or slow it down. It often lifts mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. Finally, it is the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience.” A good example of this in the film is when the opening chords of Come as You Are by Nirvana plays. It's slow and brooding, setting the mood for an introspective scene in which Captain Marvel's inner and outer battles build to a climax.


By the time No Doubt's mega-hit Just a Girl plays, the audience knows that they're in the 90's and already has the feeling – because of the preceding moments – that Carol is ready to kick butt. So as the anthemic anti-patriarchal song plays it feels triumphant. The hero beats the bad guys to that catchy beat and so it's like the song is the cherry on top of a very memorable moment. About the song Gwen Stefani said: "I wrote that because my dad got mad at me for going to Tony’s house and driving home late at night. I mean, c'mon, I’m, like, going on 30 here! I wouldn’t trade (being female), but I really don’t think guys understand what a burden it can be sometimes."

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