Warning – contains spoilers
The BBC Three adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People has captivated people all over the world. Released on April 26th, the series has garnered vast amounts of praise for the depiction of the complex relationship between its two young Irish protagonists, Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (played by Paul Mescal), as they navigate their lives first at school and then later at university.
Similarly, the show’s soundtrack has received much acclaim and is one of the reasons why Normal People has had such a lasting impact on its viewers. Each song unobtrusively heightens the emotions created by the actors during each episode. For example, in Episode 2 the use of Imogen Heap’s song “Hide and Seek” brings the headiness of first love to the viewer’s imagination. Heap sings the opening lyrics, “Where are we? What the hell is going on?” over a montage of scenes depicting the start of their secret relationship. The audience feel the uncertainty between Marianne and Connell whilst simultaneously reminding us of our own experiences beginning past relationships.
In fact, most of the overall feel of the soundtrack is predominantly a singer-songwriter one. Soft guitar and piano accompanies ethereally beautiful vocals to create hauntingly emotive songs that echo the themes of the story. The melancholic “Warped Window” by Anna Mieke evokes innocent yearning in Episode 1, as Connell and Marianne are drawn to one another. Similarly, we hear the first male/female duet in Episode 11 with “Strange Weather” by Anna Calvi and David Byrne. This is after Connell and Marianne have reunited for the second time the hypnotising track highlighting their eternally intertwined lives. Interestingly, the only time that up-tempo songs feature are during party scenes, with Frank Ocean and London Grammar. This is an expertly chosen mix, as the use of such contemporary and recognisable music helps to anchor the story in modern day. The acoustic soundtrack lends an air of authenticity to the relationship between Marianne and Connell. Their love, just like any first love, does not depict the ‘perfection’ shown in pop music videos. Instead, it is emotional, raw and beautiful in its own way.
Another interesting thing to note about the soundtrack is the inclusion of many different Irish artists. Although this comes as no surprise, it is refreshing to see such representation shown throughout the whole show. Music supervisor Juliet Martin told Harpers Bazaar that she began curating playlists before being hired. Using specifically Irish artists, capturing the sense of place and atmosphere that is consistently present throughout the novel is achieved. The songs do not necessarily constrain to a single time period, as people love music from across the generations, as shown by using “Disco Inferno” by SUPERfreak during the Debs and “99 Luftballoons” by Nena during a Trinity party.
Finally, it would be unforgiveable to talk about the soundtrack without devoting time to the final track. “Sometimes” by Goldmund beautifully plays during the end credits, just after Connell and Marianne break things off once more. With Connell moving to New York for a prestigious writing programme and Marianne remaining in Ireland, the ending is devastating. It leaves no hints as to whether the two will reunite in the future, and Goldmund’s otherworldly instrumental track adds to this by extending the viewers sorrows well after the credits have ended. Truly, there could not be a more fitting end song and a more well-curated soundtrack. As a show that has managed to captivate audiences around the world, we have felt not only the heart-rendering devastation of heartbreak and loss, but the pure beauty and joy of first love as well.
Words by Yasmin Bye
Images from the BBC