Season 4 of Stranger Things is very nearly here after a three-year wait. When the show launched in 2016, one of the main talking points was the show’s incredibly evocative music.
Every one of the three seasons to date has offered a slightly different mix of musical nostalgia. There have been strong sync placements from the 70s and 80s, but the musical star of the show has always been the synth-laden score from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
The story so far [SEASON 1-3 SPOILERS]
In Season 1, in a small town called Hawkins, a D&D-playing kid, Will Byers, goes missing. His friends go looking for him but find Eleven, a young girl with psionic abilities, a shadowy quasi-governmental organisation, the ‘Upside-Down’ along with its monstrous inhabitant.
Season 2 continues to follow the exploits of the kids of Hawkins, and we’re introduced to new characters such as out-of-towner Max, and her ne’er-do-well brother Billy. We also meet an even bigger bad: the Mind Flayer.
By Season 3, the baddie is back and nastier than ever, possessing Billy and turning teenagers into amorphous globs of flesh that reconstitute as a truly disgusting mirror-dimension beast. The showdown, bigger than ever, takes place at the town’s brand new mall. Unsurprisingly, both monster and mall get smashed to pieces.
But what can we tell about the original score for the first three seasons using our tagging AI? And how does this analysis correlate to the on-screen action, and what predictions can we make about the fourth season’s score?
When we use our mood classifier, the AI tells us that there have been some small but significant changes to the score’s mood composition as the seasons have developed.
What we see here is a marked uptick in dark and dramatic moods in the show’s third season. That’s with good reason. The third season’s plot made the stakes higher and the scope greater than ever. We see the darkness of the storylines reflected in the score.
There’s a marked increase in the on-screen action, and themes get darker as the seasons wear on, especially in the more gruesome third season (thank you, melted teenagers). The music does a fantastic job of supporting this growth. And we can see this in the data; whether or not viewers are consciously aware of it, the music perfectly supports the ballooning levels of action, developing in concert with the size of the third season’s monster.
But what does that mean for Season 4? We would certainly expect the score to be even more dramatic and for those dark moods to become even more prevalent as we veer further into the Duffer Brother’s Stephen King-inspired world of horror.
Energy is ramping up
We can also see that the average energy of the score has increased season on season.
What does an increase in energy mean? Well, everything has grown over the course of the show’s run. The monsters are nastier, the fights are bigger and the stakes are higher than ever. The score’s energy has ratcheted up in step.
We’ve got to tip our hats to composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein for so closely matching the energy levels of their scores to on-screen events. This slow increase in energy over the seasons seems too convenient to be anything other than deliberate.
Based on this upward trajectory, we expect to see even higher energy tracks in the Season 4 score. So hold on to your Eggos!
A wider genre mix
We’ve seen a slight creep up in rock genres with each season. Although there are only small amounts, we would expect to hear even more rock elements creeping into the soundtrack, especially considering the show’s fourth season places us in 1986.
What can we tell about Season 4 based on the show’s trailer music?
One final fascinating data nugget to throw into the mix is the way each trailer has telegraphed the mood of that season. The trailers for the second and third seasons had equal parts dramatic and tense moods – an extremely trailer-friendly mix.
However, for the Season 4 trailer, we have a completely different mood make-up, based on AI analysis.
The remix of Journey’s ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’ is majority dramatic with a hint of majestic. It’s a mood shift we’ve not seen before. The majestic mood could be pointing to something even bigger than ever before and is something we’d expect to see associated with even grander battles and loftier themes.
Directorial duo The Duffer Brothers have created a show that visually and thematically calls on 80s cultural touchstones from ET to IT. It’s a masterclass in repackaging 80s nostalgia that works whether you were there or not. But perhaps their masterstroke has always been in their choice of composers to deliver the underscore.
We already know that Season 4 is coming in two parts. We know that the runaway success of the show has meant the Duffers have an enormous budget. Some episodes are even set to be feature-length. With this massive increase in project scope, we expert bigger set pieces, more action and the music is likely to follow suit, with more energy, and a darker more dramatic (and possibly majestic) sound.