The power of Waves’ soundtrack

How Waves soundtrack elevates the film’s themes of teenage angst and depression

*Spoilers ahead*

The trailer for Trey Edward Shults’ film Waves scared me, initially. It was vague and cluttered with songs that most teens would compile into a generic Spotify playlist entitled “Vibes.” When I finally watched the movie last week, I was shocked. The movie wasn’t as corny as the trailer made it out to be and the soundtrack, to my surprise, elevated the film’s themes of teenage angst and depression.

The opening scene shows the protagonist Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) driving with his legs out on the freeway as his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) sings along to “FloriDada” by Animal Collective. The track encapsulates the ever-freeing sentiment of being a teenager in love.

In the first truly pivotal scene of the movie, Tyler receives news from Alexis that she’s planning on keeping a baby that they accidentally conceived not long before. After a failed attempt to convince her to get an abortion, “IFHY” from rapper Tyler, the Creator starts playing as the protagonist gets up off his chair and begins to trash his room.

There could not be a better song to go with the scene as Tyler’s newly-formed resentment to his now ex-girlfriend fits perfectly with the “IFHY” about hating then loving a woman he dreams to be with forever. The track bounces back and forth from soft melodies to an aggressive hook where he yells, “I fucking hate you, but I love you.”

The movie quickly switches courses when Tyler, who can’t cope with the idea that his girlfriend is seeing someone (she isn’t), goes out to a party that leads to his eventual arrest.

Unsurprisingly, Frank Ocean leaves his mark all over the A24-produced film. Many tracks off of his beautiful Blonde and Endless projects make their way onto the film, especially in the first half, with songs like “Mitsubishi Sony” and “Rushes” eerily pointing out what comes next in the heartbreaking film.

The second half of the movie deals with the aftermath of Tyler’s actions. Particularly, it focuses on Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and how her brother’s arrest has forever changed her life. She meets Tyler’s old teammate, Luke (Lucas Hedges) and falls in love with him. The second half also puts Frank Ocean’s Endless on the forefront as three tracks from the project play in succession.

The ending of the movie pairs Radiohead’s beautiful “True Love Waits” with Emily trying to make amends with her estranged mother. The two had a falling out after Tyler’s indictment and hadn’t spoken to each other until Emily sent a tear-jerking text that paved the way for a hopeful, yet still depressing ending.

Waves’ reliance on a 2010s-heavy soundtrack is a sign that the movie is for our generation. Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Tame Impala, and H.E.R., among many others, make their mark on the heavyweight film that will resonate with the youth more than it might with adults. The story is universal; everyone will understand it. The soundtrack, however, is a direct glimpse into how music affects our thoughts and actions.

Waves is for everyone, but really, Waves is for the kids.

Graphic by @sundaeghost.

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