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10 Great Songs Featured in The Handmaid's Tale

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by Marisa Quinn-Haisu (subscribe)
My name is Marisa. I am a fiction writer, a blogger, and a freelance journalist.
Published July 23rd 2020
Blessed Be The Pop Music
10 Great Songs Featured in The Handmaid's Tale
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth

Memorable Quote:a

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches."

Offred, The Handmaid's Tale, "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum"

The Handmaid's Tale (2017 – present) is an American utopian dystopian television show created by Bruce Miller and starring Elisabeth Moss. The series was created for the streaming service Hulu and is based off Margaret Atwood's bestselling 1985 book of the same name. The show creators use music to get effect throughout the show to set the scene and to develop characters and explore their motivation. Here are 10 Great Songs Featured on The Handmaid's Tale. This article will contain spoilers.

1. You Don't Own Me

Artist: Lesley Gore
Album: "Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts" by Lesley Gore (1963)
Episode Featured: "Offred" Season 1, Episode 1

"You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore is a classic 60's style pop song. It was written by songwriters John Madara and David White and produced by Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson's music producer. Lesley Gore recorded the song in 1963 when she was just seventeen years old. The song raced up the charts to become her second most successful song and it was her last top-ten single. "You Don't Own Me" is a song about female empowerment. Gore sings about her desire to be independent and to not be controlled by a lover that feels entitled to tell her what to think and what to say. Gore doesn't want to be one of his toys or something he puts on display. She wants to be herself, to be free, to live her life however she wants and to do and say whatever she pleases. It is a roaring, defiant, powerful feminist anthem about women freeing themselves from the power and influence of men. "You Don't Own Me" has become a rock and roll legend associated with the rise of the feminist movement. On 27 November 2016, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as testament to its lasting impact in music. It is very fitting that Gore's finger-wagging song about standing up to men was featured in "The Handmaid's Tale". The song starts playing at the end of the first episode of season one after Offred vows to herself that she intends to survive Gilead.

2. Cloudbusting

Artist: Kate Bush
Album: "Hounds of Love" by Kate Bush (1985)
Episode Featured: "Liars" Episode 11, Season 3

In the second half of season 3 June decides the best way to get revenge against Gilead is to kidnap a large number of children and deliver them to freedom in Canada. In order to do that, she convinces her commander, who is in on the plan, to take her to a nightclub called Jezebels so she can make contact with people who might be able to assist with the plan. While there, she is attacked by another commander, who tries to rape her. June kills him in self-defence, and later in the episode we see a band of Marthas come in and clean the room. As the women work to remove all evidence of the murder, "Cloudbusting" by Kate Bush begins to play in the background. This song was great in this episode. For a show like the Handmaid's tale, which is very dark and grim, this was a very light and positive song that tied in well to June and her plan to rescue children from Gilead. The song starts with strings and has a very steady rhythm, which makes me picture people working together as a team, or marching in a line. As the song plays, we see the Marthas working together to clean the room, showing the power of women working together. The lyrics in the song talk about "the sun coming out" and "Oh, I just know that something good is going to happen" and about trying to hide people from the government. The inclusion of this song in this episode was a real "Go get em' June" moment.

3. This Woman's Work

Artist: Kate Bush
Album: "She's Having a Baby" movie soundtrack (1988), "The Sensual World" by Kate Bush (1989)
Episode Featured: "June" Episode 1, Season 2

"This Woman's Work" is featured in the opening scene of the season two episode premier "June". Offred, along with several other handmaids, are collected by guardians and driven to an abandoned baseball field. As punishment for disobeying Aunt Lydia in a previous episode, the women are muzzled and forced at gunpoint to climb onto a platform which has been erected with nooses. The women each have a noose put around their neck and that is when "This Woman's Work" starts to play in the background. Fearing they are about to be hanged, the handmaids begin to cry, and some of them reach out to hold hands. "This Woman's Work" is a brilliant fit for this scene. It is a slow piano ballad that builds to high crescendo as the emotion builds up in the scene. The lyrics in the song are haunting, talking about all the things they should have said, all the things they should have done, and how much they would kill to have those moments back again. It is a wonderful song that perfectly describes the life of a handmaid and the woman's work they are forced to do.

4. Heaven Is a Place on Earth

Artist: Belinda Carlisle
Album: "Heaven on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle (1987)
Episode Featured: "Heroic" Episode 9, Season 3

In the season three episode "Heroic" June is confined to a hospital room and forced to kneel at the bed of a handmaid in a coma as a form of punishment. As days turn into weeks, June's sanity begins to fray, and she gets the song "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" stuck in her head. "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" is a classic 80's dance-pop song that has elements of pop-rock and power rock and features keyboards, synthesiser, and a classic 80's style drum sound. "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" works really well in this episode because of the stark contrast it paints to the situation June finds herself in. June is haunted by her memories of life before Gilead and is deeply traumatised by being separated from her daughters and forced to work as a handmaid. Her life has become a literal hell on Earth that she cannot escape from. June's time in isolation in "Heroic" forces her to reassess her previous actions and helps her come to a turning point in how she will continue her fight against Gilead.

5. Fuck the Pain Away

Artist: Peaches
Album: "The Teaches of Peaches" by Peaches (2000)
Episode Featured: "Late" Season 1, Episode 3

"Fuck the Pain Away" is a hard-hitting, sex-positive song by Canadian electronic singer and performance artist Peaches. Peaches is a sex-positive feminist who uses her songs to present a sexually aggressive image designed to stun and shock. Her songs frequently tackle themes like gender identity and gender roles and her lyrics and live shows blur the lines between male and female. "Fuck the Pain Away" belongs to the electroclash genre of music, which emerged in the late 1990s and peaked around 2002 and 2003. Electroclash blended elements of 1980s electro, new wave and synth-pop with 1990s techno, retro-style electropop and electronic dance music. "Fuck the Pain Away" uses synthesisers and a drum machine to create a heavy, rumbling bass with clicking noises and clashing symbols. "Fuck the Pain Away" is featured in a flashback to the time before Gilead in the season one episode "Late". June is listening to the song on headphones as she jogs with her friend Moira down a city street. The women are both wearing activewear and their breasts bounce as they run down the street, which causes a passing woman to glare at them. The song choice is a great fit for the scene. The aggressive undertones of "Fuck the Pain Away" perfectly describes the frustration the women feel when they are judged by others for their clothing choices and flaunting their bodies.

6. White Rabbit

Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Album: "Surrealistic Pillow" by Jefferson Airplane (1967)
Episode Featured: "Jezebels" Season 1, Episode 8

In the season one episode "Jezebels" June is taken on an adventure by Commander Waterford to a secret brothel and sex club called Jezebels where rebellious women are sent to work as prostitutes. The women sent to Jezebels are usually intelligent, educated career women who could not assimilate into the Republic of Gilead and were offered the choice of either working at Jezebels or being sent to the Colonies. When June arrives at Jezebels for the first time, "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane begins playing, to illustrate the strangeness of this forbidden sex den. For five years now, June has been living as a handmaid, and thought that places like Jezebels were forbidden. Commander Waterford tells her officially it is, but Gilead turns a blind eye to it, because men have needs and it is good for international diplomacy. "White Rabbit" is a classic 1960's style psychedelic folk-rock song with a Spanish influenced sound. It was written and the vocals performed by Grace Slick for the American rock band Jefferson Airplane for their 1967 album "Surrealistic Pillow". The song has had a lasting impact in rock and roll and has ranked in several lists of the greatest songs of all time including The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Slick was heavily influenced by Lewis Carroll's 1865 work of fiction "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and its 1871 sequel "Through the Looking Glass" when writing "White Rabbit". There are references to Alice, chasing rabbits, taking pills to change your size, smoking caterpillars, taking mushrooms and men on a chessboard telling you where to go. "White Rabbit" is a song about curiosity, social experimentation, and using drugs as a way to escape reality and expand your mind. The themes of the song fit the description of Jezebels, a den of depravity where people use drugs and sex as a form of escapism, very well.

7. Feeling Good

Artist: Nina Simone
Album: "I Put a Spell On You" by Nina Simone (1965)
Episode Featured: "Night" Season 1, Episode 10

In the season one episode "Night" June stands up to Aunt Lydia and refuses to stone to death her friend and fellow handmaid Janine. After she defies Aunt Lydia, the other handmaids join her in rebellion, dropping the stones to the ground and refusing to take part in the execution. Outraged, Aunt Lydia orders the women to go home. As June leads the handmaids away from the Red Centre, "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone begins to play, highlighting how the women in the scene must feel. They just stood up to Aunt Lydia for the first time ever and they got away with it. As June walks toward the camera, you can tell she feels emboldened by her act of defiance, because there is a small smirk on her face as her fellow handmaids walk in formation behind her like loyal soldiers. "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone is perfect for this scene because of Simone's connection to the Civil Rights movement in the United States. The lyrics in the song are positive and uplifting, talking about a new life beginning, a new dawn breaking, and birds flying high. It is a song about freedom and wishing for a better tomorrow.

8. Into Dust

Artist: Mazzy Star
Album: "So Tonight That I Might See" by Mazzy Star (1993)
Episode Featured: "Mayday" Season 3, Episode 13

In season three June fights backs against Gilead by smuggling a large number of children to freedom in Canada. At the end of the final episode of the season, June gets shot by a Guardian, but is able to shoot him in return before he is able to ruin her plan. Exhausted, June collapses flat onto her back, with one hand clutching at a bloodied wound in her stomach. She stares up at the treetops in the forest just in time to hear the roar of engines and to see a large plane fly past overhead. Her shoulders tremble, her eyes fill with tears, and she smiles shakily. Somehow, she has achieved the impossible, and gotten the children out of Gilead. Her relief is immense. For the first time in a while, she feels like she can rest. Later, as June is carried out of the forest by a group of handmaids, her thoughts turn to happier times she spent with her husband and daughter, and to the children that she just saved from the hands of evil men. This is when "Into Dust" by Mazzy Star begins to play. "Into Dust" is an alternative, indie rock music song, that features acoustic guitar and cello. The lyrics match the scene when June is being carried out of the forest with a gunshot wound so well. The song has a very ethereal sound and the lyrics seem to be talking about someone who is close to death, but is still clinging to life. "Into Dust" was a great song to end to the season on and tied up June's arc in season three to a satisfactory conclusion.

9. Can't Get You Out of My Head

Artist: Kylie Minogue
Album: "Fever" by Kylie Minogue (2001)
Episode Featured: "Faithful" Season 1, Episode 5

"Can't Get You Out of My Head" is a pop song by Australian singer Kylie Minogue. It was released in 2001 as part of her "Fever" album. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is a bouncy, catchy pop song, heavily influenced by Euro Pop, that features drum machines and synthesiser. The song has elements of midtempo dance, dance-pop, techno-pop and disco and is famous for its "la, la, la" line. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is recognized by many as a defining point in Kylie Minogue's career. It was her first single to sell over a million copies in the United States, received critical acclaim from critics, and reached the top of singles charts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, and Switzerland. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is one of Minogue's best-selling singles and one of the highest-selling singles of all time, with worldwide sales of over five million. In the song, Minogue sings about feeling obsessed about a love interest. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is featured in the season one episode "Faithful". In a flashback we see June and Moira listening to the song on Moira's phone. The women ask a stranger (Luke) who is passing by to critique June's tinder profile. This is the first time that June meets her future husband Luke. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is a funky, sexually charged song, about women being bold and making their own choices.

10. American Girl

Artist: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Album: "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" by Tom Petty (1976)
Episode Featured: "Night" Season 1, Episode 10

After refusing to stone her friend Janine to death, June returns home and waits in her room. She knows that there will be consequences for disobeying Aunt Lydia. June is in disgrace, she has sinned, and she knows she will be punished. She knows she should feel terrified, but she feels strangely calm, even serene, because she thinks there might hope for the future still. When Guardians arrive at her house to collect her, June walks out with her head held high, and willingly climbs into the back of a black van to meet her fate. She doesn't know if she is going to meet her end or if this is the start of a new beginning for her. As the doors close on her in the back of the van, "American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers starts as the credits roll. This was such a great song to finish the first season with. "American Girl" is a classic American folk-rock song that features electric guitars, electric base, drums and keyboards. The song is a great fit for the ending of the final episode of the first season of the Handmaid's Tale because it talks about American girls being raised on promises and having the freedom to explore a great big world.
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Why? The music of the Handmaid’s Tale brings an emotional punch to the dystopian television series.
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