The first image in the opening credits for Sharp Objects, the recent HBO miniseries starring Amy Adams, is a needle on an LP. Anyone who has seen the show would agree it’s a fitting introduction. The music featured throughout the series plays a far more important role than merely providing an adequate soundtrack. The relationship the characters have to music is an intriguing, thoughtful and genuine representation of our own attachments to certain records.
The show revolves around the murder of two young girls in the rural town of Wind Gap, Missouri. The mystery of who may be behind the crimes is less interesting than what the murders do to the self-image of the town, and its most socially esteemed family. Amy Adams’ character, Camille Preaker, is a journalist who grew up in that family and is commissioned to return home to cover the murders. It is here where she finds reminders of a traumatic upbringing, a comprehensive list of death, self-harm, neglect, substance abuse and sexual assault.
Camille manages to quiet her destructive urges through consistent drinking but also through an iPod inherited from an old friend, Alice, who she shared a room with in a self-harm rehabilitation clinic. Led Zeppelin feature continually throughout, an interesting choice for her character for a number of reasons. Primarily though, the band fits Camille’s character in a darkly seamless manner due to their awful track record in how they treated women (see Lisa Robinson’s tour diaries). Like some of her other unhealthy behaviours, Camille can’t seem to move on from a band that conjures some inexplicable feeling of security, in spite of their troubled history.
The means in which Camille accesses music is also telling, especially when considered alongside that of her stepdad, Alan- a submissive individual who is trying to survive a stagnant marriage. Integral to maintaining this passionless but comfortable home life is ignoring the devastation his wife quietly orchestrates. Alan immerses himself in music to come to terms with the instability of his situation. Camille’s aforementioned iPod is cracked, with seemingly the same library of songs she found it with. Alan, however, has put together an intricate, elaborate hi-fi system, costing over one hundred thousand dollars and an extensive, diverse collection of classical and jazz records. Camille’s relationship to music is raw, organic and emotionally charged whereas Alan’s experience of music is a whole process, a means of distraction from a world precariously balanced.
Camille’s attachment to her iPod and its unchanging contents are explained through the aforementioned Alice. The memories of their friendship is unveiled over a number of episodes, including scenes of them bonding over shared earbuds in Alice’s iPod which transports the two away from the tension of the rehab centre and its monotony and isolation. This story line culminates in Alice’s suicide, which for Camille is yet another debilitating personal trauma to deal with. Through revisiting the music Alice listened to, Camille is able to maintain their connection and compare current difficulties to this previous emotional onslaught.
Amma is Camille’s half-sister, a precocious teenager who maintains her mother’s admiration at home but indulges in OxyContin and ecstasy when she sneaks out to parties. Her relationship to music is the most interesting of the characters mentioned; it doesn’t appear to hold the same personal sentiment evident in her dad or sister. Amma uses music to further her abilities of manipulation, her knowledge of the power of a song resulting from an upbringing surrounded by Alan’s vast collection. In one scene in particular, Amma wants to quench her mother’s increasing suspicions and uses 2pac’s ‘Dear Mama’ to soundtrack an embrace in the kitchen. In a later episode, she manages to convince the house party DJ to cut the rap music short and play ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’, consolidating the party’s focus and her and her friends.
Sharp Objects’s production isn’t an outlier, the interdependence of plot and soundtrack also featured in another HBO drama from last year, Big Little Lies. Similarly to Sharp Objects, Big Little Lies exhibited a character who recognised music’s influential capabilities, a first grader called Chloe. Her taste is wildly sophisticated, with a detailed knowledge of the back catalogues of Elvis and Fleetwood Mac, as well as contemporary critics’ favourites like PJ Harvey and Villagers, whose music she twice uses to sooth her mother. The correlation between the two shows, as well as Amma and Chloe, is not a coincidence- both shows share a director and music supervisor. In fact, the very first Emmy for music supervision was awarded to Big Little Lies. It’s exciting to think that producers will begin to recognise the capabilities music has in shaping character development. As well as stimulating the music obsessives, intertwining music and plotlines ensure a more captivating and well-rounded artistic expression.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor