Eighth Grade's Soundtrack Is Just As Blisteringly Honest As Its Movie

Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s film debut, can be summed up best as a total cringe-fest.

This, of course, is the intended effect, and audiences should expect for things to get a little uncomfy. The effectiveness and pin-point precision of the film’s uncomfortability, however, is less likely to be expected. Audible gasps and various sounds that can only be made when one is just too uncomfortable to keep to themselves filled the theater throughout the showing I attended, and for that feat I say to Mr. Burnham: excellent work. The fact that this film can seize such strong emotions out of an audience only forecasts Eighth Grade to become a classic coming-of-age-film; it’s just waiting to be deemed so.

However, among all the "lit"s, dabs, and a stellar debut performance from Elsie Fischer, there’s one aspect of the movie that I believe gives the film that extra shove of unease. An aspect that I was absolutely baffled, puzzled, and on later inspection, unquestionably floored by: The film’s original soundtrack from Anna Meredith.

If you asked moviegoers right out of the theater about the music of Eighth Grade, the unanimous feedback you’d likely get would be, “It was really loud. Too loud.” And that’s true. Unrelentingly blaring synths confidently blast through – and sometimes smother – numerous scenes in the movie, which is undoubtedly done as an artistic choice. The film and its soundtrack work together to convey the childlike desire to use deafeningly cheery, triumphant music to drown out the insecurities and anxieties that eighth graders are old enough to experience yet too young to have any idea how to handle. Every track perpetuates this to a tee. For example, the bombastic “Nautilus” bursts into the film with confidence – much like how main character Kayla starts the scene – with horns literally a-blazing. Much like the scene it accents, however, the track quickly veers into an anxiety-ridden calamity, bursting with tense energy that would fit more in a Blumhouse horror flick than a scene taking place at an eighth grade pool party.

But not for Kayla. To her, the pool party is her own personal horror film.

The soundtrack helps exemplify that the hardship of growing up can stem from one’s inability to gauge the severity of any given situation. Dead serious doom-and-gloom pieces – such as “High School” and the aforementioned “Nautilus” – accent scenes where Kayla wants to look cool in front of her peers, which is the thing she strives for throughout most of the film’s runtime. Conversely, one of the more severe, gripping moments is supplemented by the spacey track “A Lot At Once,” which spends its minute-long runtime meanderingly wading around, displaying how completely lost Kayla feels in an extremely tense situation, one that she’s trapped in by her own desire to be easy-going and “fit in.” The tragedy is that she brings it upon herself, through no fault of her own.

Eighth Grade’s music is just as harsh and abrasive as the truths it sets out to shed an unflinching light on. Whether it’s through the blistering, uncompromised giddiness of “Being Yourself” or the nervous exploration of “Honeyed Words,” Anna Meredith’s soundtrack works not only as an accurate mood-setter for the film it accompanies, but also as a detailed emotional map of the protagonist’s psyche.


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