SKAM: A Look from a Musical Perspective
SKAM is the latest hit teenage drama, hailing from unlikely Norway. Its starking realism has hit the hearts of people all around the globe with stories of friendships, breakups, relationships, sexual assault, mental illness, and homosexuality. But what exactly sets this show apart from the hundreds of young adult series already in the market? The answer is in its layered, detailed and true portrayal of what exactly it's like to be a teen. Something I never got out of the high glamour, dramatic Hollywood cliches. Aside from its simplistic goal to tell a story straight up and raw, I was enamored by the brilliant music selection. Ever since the first episode, SKAM has blown me away with the usage of music. It just may be one of my favourite aspects of the show and one of the most important. This piece focuses on the use of existing contemporary music and briefly touches Christian Wibe's original composition. Let's get into 5 reasons why this show's selection of music is that good.
1. Using Current Mainstream Hits
It seems like a no-brainer to include the latest viral sensations. The question is can you successfully link the scene's objective and the music's tone? SKAM achieves this with ease. When popular music is brought in, the show feels more current. This is happening now, in our time, in this day and age. This simple move increases the relevancy of the series. The audience recognizes both artists from both America and Europe, creating an connection that extends beyond borders. Artists like Kanye West, Radiohead, Passion Pit, Childish Gambino, etc are easily recognizable around the world. It's the show's way of paying tribute to today's pop culture and mainstream music as well as signifying a differential factor viewers may use as a connection between fiction and real life.
2. When Songs replace Lines
Sometimes there isn't a need for spoken words between the characters. The visuals and music are enough to provoke a response. Then, there are times when the music pinpoints the exact emotions it wants to provoke the audience to feel.
Episode 3: The iconic party scene where Isak and Even stare at each other while they kiss other people. The song literally screams in your face to Call Your Girlfriend (Robyn) and break up with her. Here is a song literally telling you what the scene is about. It's instructing you how to interpret the interactions between Isak and Even. The song is the communication, not the lines. What complete genius. The production team is telling you straight up how to feel. No need for any verbal exchanges. It's a fun and engaging way to add more value to the music and more focus to the visuals.
3. Directing the Scene
Music is often in the backdrop, only present to support. However music can take a more prominent role when given the spotlight. This lead position can bring more out of personalities. How do characters react to the music? What does the music tell us about them?
Episode 8: The morning after, Isak and Even are in the kitchen, having a chat over making breakfast. The radio is always present, barely audible for a large portion until Even purposely draws attention to it. The radio is at an audible level and our ears are exposed to the infectious pop radio hit. Fem Fine Frønker (Gabrielle) is no longer an incredibly catchy number. It is the director of the scene, the captain of the ship. It is the essential element to what the two characters are aware of and reacting to. The song becomes synonymous with this scene and that's something to be amazed about. Because not all scenes create a lasting memory with the inclusion of a particular song.
4. Transition between Scenes
When a song carries on throughout scenes, it carries with it emotion, tension, and buildup. Placement of a song must be crucial to both scenes and contribute to each of the scene's unique purposes.
Episode 8: Even and Isak are going up, sharing a soft moment in an elevator. The slow ride up, almost ethereal and unbelievable accompanied by the pre-chorus. Then the bass breaks in shattering the soft kisses and gentle hugs into something more fierce and intimate. When a song plays over two different scenes, it carries forward the mood and buildup set from the previous scene. Starboy is a stirringly understated connection.
Episode 9: To the bench where they sat down together and actually got to know each other, Isak is running back to save Even. Memories flash on screen, one by one counting down to their first encounter. Everything is in slow motion. Time feels eternal for them. The wait drags on. The song O Hegla Natt is the central theme between Isak's reunion with his parents to the long run back to school bench. The long run back to the the beginning.
This song is slow and potently powerful. It is as haunting as the cold darkness of the night. Yet strangely warm and comforting. The rich strings engulf you, breaking off into stagnant lingers accompanied with quivering vocals. So very lovely. It ties everything from the nervousness Isak feels when he meets his parents, to the moment when qualms fade away as Isak and Even reassuringly embrace. Elongated high pitch violins contrast beautifully against the shorter, lower notes of cello. This song successfully sustains the present, uneasy uncertainty until the very end of the episode. Everything will be alright. No one left alone in the cold darkness of the night.
5. Cutoff to Heighten Humour
When two characters are engaging in some conversation or action and the screen/music cuts off, it is one of the most entertaining things in the world to experience. You, as a viewer, are left in awe. Because everything happened so quickly and it ended so abruptly. Humour is a central part of the show and music is no bench player in contributing to its success.
Episode 4: Aka the pool scene. Isak and Even are enjoying an underwater make-out session. It's suppose to be this beautiful moment captured in slow motion. Calming in its sculpted aqua tones and exhilarating as the pinnacle moment of their first kiss. I'm Kissing You (Des'ree) plays in the forefront and communicates the heart-wrenching emotions of the two main characters. All that needs to be said is through the music. Then the music stops. And you're left, hanging. You want to see this moment lag on. Yet it doesn't. Interrupted by this young, little girl staring at the two. She is clearly confused at why there are two teenage boys kissing in her pool in the middle of the night. And you are clearly amused at this whole situation. Nothing emphasizes the end of a romantic moment more than the sudden lack of music.
Episode 6: Isak is walking through the schoolyard. This all-too cool, stoic and angry Isak is storming through. Refusing to look at anyone, cutting people off with his earbuds. Tension built with the choice of Hate Me Now (Nas ft Puff Daddy). The song cuts off with Isak is flung backwards after humping into somebody.
Episode 7: This one is my personal favourite. Isak is talking with this friends at home, when Even rings the doorbell. All of the sudden, his friends are being kicked out and scramble to the back door. The music fades in. Confusion and rush emphasized by the eccentric guitar riff. Ticking time directed by the steady drum beat. The door closes just as the music stops. Cues the end of the humourous scene. I love this particular moment because the music builds tension in the most comedic, lighthearted way.
While this review has only touched Season 3 of this wonderful tv series, there are still more musical layers to discover in previous seasons. I encourage you to pick up the show, if you haven't already done so. SKAM is an brilliantly executed show in terms of acting, plot and production. It is genuinely one of the freshest TV projects of 2016.
You can check out the entire playlist for Seasons 1 to 3 on Spotify. Find out more about the SKAM on the Official Site.