For a show mostly about girls in the woods—and a not insignificant amount about eating people—music plays a major role in seasons one and two of Yellowjackets. We’ve got the trippy original theme song (covered recently by Alanis Morisette), those tracks Florence + the Machine did for the show, and plenty of unforgettable, character-selected jams, like Misty’s show tunes and the rage anthems Jeff blasts alone in the car. Music nods show up in dialogue, too, as when Van eulogizes poor son of a bitch Rachel plane-side, saying, had she not died in the crash, “she was going to see Oasis at the Meadowlands the next month—now she’s never going to hear ‘Wonderwall’ again.” They’re all over the characters’ respective wardrobes, too: Van reportedly lives in Sleater-Kinney tour shirts; we see Shauna rock a “Yo La Tengo for President” tee; and Nat reps The Pixies. While the songs in Yellowjackets are each thoughtfully placed, we decided to toast the season-two finale on May 26 by ranking the 10 best-used cuts (so far).
10. “Firestarter,” The Prodigy (season 1, episode 7, “No Compass”)
What a great ’90s song for a nighttime chase scene through a closed department store. It calls to mind the 1984 Drew Barrymore movie of the same name, about a little girl with supernatural powers, starring a little girl already struggling with substance abuse issues in her real life (much like Yellowjackets’s Natalie, the star of this chase scene). The Prodigy called themselves electronic punk, and Nat’s a bit punk herself, so it all fits. Never mind that this is a store that, for some reason, has a big barrel of glitter in it that can just be knocked over. (Who sells glitter by the barrel? HomeGoods? Party City? Costco would make some sense, because this is definitely glitter in bulk.) The Prodigy’s synth squeals and “big beat” dance rhythm add some electricity and brashness that heighten this moment, making it all feel a little like Run Lola Run.
9. “Ready To Go,” Republica (season 1, episode 4, “Bear Down”)
This song was the king of ad music for a while, shorthand for fun and adventure. It popped up in movie trailers, car commercials, and at sporting events of many kinds. It got people moving, feeling that they, too, were “ready to go.” And Shauna and her lover Adam sure feel ready, in a sex kind of way, after a night of teenage-level antics, including hitting up the mini-golf course, having someone buy them (grown adults) booze, and stripping down to their undies to jump from a bridge into the river below. The whole scene encapsulates this song’s energy. It feels like we’re in a ’90s movie, with Shauna getting to play 40-year-old Manic Pixie Dream Girl for a day. And we kind of love that for her.
8. “Dreams,” The Cranberries (season 1, episode 3, “The Dollhouse”)
What a cheery, bright song to play when the girls discover there’s a big old lake not that far away from the plane-crash site. It’s a dream come true. But as the song says, “it’s never quite as it seems.” People end up dead in that lake. Even a gigantic moose ends up dead in that lake! You’ve got your murder cabin and your murder lake in this show. But in that moment, the girls are elated, stripping down to their undies to go for a swim. They even start looking at Travis in a fun new way. “Is Travis hot?” they wonder. It’s a moment of possibility for them, and “Dreams” is the perfect song to deliver it.
7. “Today,” The Smashing Pumpkins (season 1, episode 1, “Pilot”)
“Today is the greatest,” Billy Corgan bleats over New Jersey aerial views as the first Yellowjackets episode unfolds. The Smashing Pumpkins pop up a lot in this show, but this moment bested the ones with “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Drown.” It sets up the world as it existed before the dreaded turn things take. The girls are killing it at soccer, feeling stoked, partying it up, being pals. It probably is the greatest day they’ve ever known, as the lyrics suggest—and ever will know, honestly, before trauma strikes and changes their trajectory forever. Creepily, “I might not have that long” is also a lyric in this song, and that is also very true for some of these poor girls. But at least they had “Today.”
6. “Song 2,” Blur (season 2, episode 6, “Qui”)
This is another song that’s been everywhere: ads, sports, film, and TV—even the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics. It’s the soundtrack for walking to the parking lot after watching the San Francisco Giants play (and probably lose) a home game, fireworks bursting in the sky overhead. But in Yellowjackets, that’s not what we get. We get a 17-year-old enduring birth in a murder cabin surrounded by freaked out fellow teens set to a “woo-hoo” chorus and a distortion-heavy, grunge bass. If you recall the music video, it placed the band members in a small room, the volume from the amps blowing them back, causing their bodies to slam against their surroundings. Birth is kind of a banged-up-against-walls, chaotic experience, if you think about it—certainly for Shauna, unmedicated and alongside ill-equipped pals as she was. It creates a jarring juxtaposition, fun times versus a pain marathon. And it works. (Do we get to say it blurs the line between excitement and anxiety? Are we allowed to make dumb puns about this?)
5. “#1 Crush,” Garbage (season 2, episode 1, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”)
This little tune was famously on the 1996 soundtrack for Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (because of course it was), which also boasted “Lovefool” by The Cardigans, “Talk Show Host” by Radiohead, and “Kissing You” by Des’ree. Garbage’s cut was the first of two American No. 1 singles from that record. It has a haunting quality, especially in the Yellowjackets context. The most repeated lyric in this song is “I would die for you,” and it plays after Shauna and Jeff have broken into Adam’s art studio to search for anything that could incriminate her in his murder. And boy do they find things! Shauna is on all of the paintings, mostly naked. Her butt, boobs, and face are all over the place. She was that dude’s straight-up muse. And he did pretty much die for her (well, died by her hand). Jeff may very well end up dying for her, too, before all is said and done. He and Shauna hook up here, him staring at a painting of Shauna’s face with the skin peeled back as he does the deed. It’s not smart, for DNA evidence reasons, but it’s … hot? (Is it?)
4. “Hold On,” Wilson Phillips (season 1, episode 2, “F Sharp”)
This provides an excellent comedic beat. Misty, thrilled to have overheard her teammates praising her survival skills, happens upon the black box from the plane they were on, the device that could have transmitted a signal back to someone who could have found and saved them, and chooses to destroy it for a little more time in the sun. “Hold on for one more day?” More like lots more days. That’s essentially the choice Misty is making for her poor, suffering teammates without their knowledge, the fate she’s resigning them to. She’s making this choice for herself, too: “Things can change/things’ll go your way.” It’s a sick empowerment moment for her. That the music cuts out abruptly—just as she rips some crucial electrical element from the box, silencing it—lets the shock register all the more. She really just did that. Misty Fucking Quigley.
3. “Lightning Crashes,” Live (season 2, episode 7, “Burial”)
The song’s background-music vibe (is that mean?) is reflected in the images of the friends and frenemies twirling, hugging, and drinking around the campfire in the present timeline. But those are intercut with the sheer body horror of Shauna punching and kicking the shit out of Lottie back in the murder cabin days. Every time Live’s lead singer Ed Kowalczyk sings “I can feel it,” as Shauna lands another blow, it sends an eerie twinge up the spine. Ouch. We’re glad we can’t. (Interestingly, this song is also about births and deaths occurring simultaneously in a hospital-like setting.)
2. “Pitseleh,” Elliott Smith (season 2, episode 6, “Qui”)
There’s magic in this choice. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s still easy to respond on an emotional level to the delicate vocals and intimate presence of the acoustic guitar quietly fading in as Shauna holds her newborn for the first time (in what is later revealed to have been a tragic hallucination, but hey, it’s nice to imagine for a little while). Upon closer listening, certain phrases stand out as relevant: “I’ve got a joke I’ve been dying to tell you” as Shauna gazes upon her son she’s been dying to meet, “the silent kid” (foreshadowing?). The scene then transitions from the cabin in the wilderness to a car on a woodsy road, with Van and Taissa inside. The song fades, the episode trucks along, but if you know “Pitseleh,” and it gets in your head (here comes the magic trick) you soon reach the soaring bridge (“no one deserves it”) and you’re right back there with Shauna in the dark, pleading with the others to say that they hear her dead baby crying.
1. “Climbing Up The Walls,” Radiohead (season 2, episode 2, “Edible Complex”)
Taissa tells Shauna to put the goddamn Caboodle away, quit braiding “dead ass Jackie’s” hair and playing “MASH” in the meat shed, and put her to rest for good. They put her on the funeral pyre. To defuse some other interpersonal ruckus in the group, Shauna lights the fire beneath her best friend and says to her in parting, “I don’t know where I end and you begin.” The dedicated Radiohead fan, for a brief moment, may think to themselves, “Where I End And You Begin”...what a great song. It ends with the lyrics “I will eat you alive” repeated over and over. Long story short, snow falls on the fire in the night, slow-roasting Jackie’s corpse. And imagine that Radiohead fan’s surprise and delight (mixed with disgust and curiosity at the developing action) as the song that accompanies the girls’ slow, mechanical march to the meat is none other than “Climbing Up The Walls.” There’s a hypnotic element to the track in rhythm and tone. Then come the lyrics. “You know we’re friends ’till we die,” Thom Yorke wails in his signature timbre, “Open up your skull/I’ll be there/Climbing up the walls.” The scenes flash rapidly from Grecian feast fantasy to stark animalistic reality. And Yorke screams in time with Coach Ben’s terrified reaction from the cabin doorway.