Movies & TV

The Bridgerton Music Brings New Meaning to the Misplaced Instrumental Cover

Sorry Westworld, but there's a new contender for most distracting instrumental pop soundtrack.
IMAGE ELAINE CHUNG
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It's one of Bridgerton's first balls—maybe even the first one, since you can and will lose track of how many you'll watch over the course of Bridgerton—of the courting season. Daphne pulls up in a carriage like Cinderella, bright and wide-eyed. Bless Julie Andrews, Lady Whistledown narrates the scene, pleasantly offering the lay of this land of romance and intrigue, the men and women of Shondaland's latest, greatest creation, lining up and curtsying to each other before one, grand dance. You hear the strings coming in, the violins and the cellos and the mandolins. Ah. Bliss!

Wait. Back up. The tune sounds familiar. Is that... "thank u, next"? The song about Pete Davidson? In this fancypants, Regency Era show? Now, you're thinking about "thank u, next," this strings cover of "thank u, next"—which may or may not be good, not good, awful, or best thing you've ever heard—and Ariana Grande, who, now that you're thinking about it, would make for an exceptional Bridgerton debutante. In other words: You've been punted from Bridgerton's beautiful world of make-believe, back to hyperawareness of pandemic world and the kinda-busted couch your ass is about to fall through. You realize that Bridgerton, for all of its triumphs—including a hell of a performance from its leading man, Regé-Jean Page, who just might be the next James Bond, people—has one fatal flaw, one that all the townspeople of our shared Bridgerton Netflix watch party must be gossiping about.

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The deployment of The Misplaced Instrumental Cover.

If you've watched a few episodes of Bridgerton, it's hard not to notice. Courtesy of The Vitamin String Quartet, the show features swelling, instrumental anthems of Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy," Shawn Mendes's "In My Blood," Maroon 5's "Girls Like You," and more. The Misplaced Instrumental Cover, which we'll define in a minute here, usually rears its melodramatic head during Bridgerton's courting balls (forgive me: still not up on my royal-period lingo). Now, as you probably know—or have heard a "Mad World" cover in any TV show, ever—an awkward cover of a mainstream-ish song is far from a new companion to the moving image. But Bridgerton's use of The Misplaced Instrumental Cover only has one true peer: Westworld. (The show of Esquire's worst nightmares.) Similar to Bridgerton, HBO's western dystopia has a penchant for dropping something like a sad-boy piano cover of Radiohead's "No Surprises" on top of humans and robots and humans who might be robots trying to kill each other.

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In the spirit of Bridgerton? It looks like we have a duel on our hands for the crown of best covers of songs you would rather not hear. By the end of this investigation, only one will make it out alive.

First: You need to know a little bit about The Misplaced Instrumental Cover (Full name: The Misplaced Instrumental Cover of a Modern Song During a Time Period The Song Definitely Does Not Fit In), which was really only a Westworld thing until Bridgerton came along. If you're unfamiliar, Westworld is set in 2053, where theme parks are populated by robots you can shoot, pal around with, or fuck. In a Westworld park's bar, there are pianos. At that piano, there's usually a robot playing a haunting version of a song like "Sweet Child O' Mine" while the guests dick around. While the song is modern to us, the viewers, it's presumably a 70-year-old throwback for the Westworld peeps. Begging the question: Why are these rich people from 2053 listening to nothing but Radiohead, Journey, Kanye West, and The White Stripes? Is there not music in the future? Do they just like oldies? (Similar to Bridgerton, we only get needle drops, never answers.)

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The best way to understand The Misplaced Instrumental Cover is by watching the time Westworld dropped a cover of C.R.E.A.M. by the Wu-Tang Clan during a scene in Shogun World. At first, you don't know that there's any cover happening at all. Just a song! Watching whatever Westworld wants you to watch. Then, slowly, but surely, you start to think... this might sound familiar? Maybe? You're not thinking about the scene anymore. The song speeds up. Faintly, Method Man creeps into the back of your head: Cash rules everything around me... Holy shit, you think. Westworld just covered the Wu-Tang Clan. You think it's cool for a second. Then you think better of it, considering you just spaced out for two minutes and missed a line of dialogue that'll suddenly become important five episodes later. It was cool when a "Runaway" cover played during Westworld's Super Bowl ad because, you know, it was a trailer. Not so much when we heard "Heart-Shaped Box" during one of Season Two's most dramatic moments.

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Shows like Westworld and Bridgerton—which sketch wildly different worlds than ours, decades in the future, centuries from the pastare all about escapism. When you hear the Journey song of choice at Karaoke Night, or the Ariana Grande song that's always bleeding through your neighbor's wall, it kills any sort of immersion you had in the first place. Seriously: imagine the world-building Westworld could accomplish if it actually showed us what the world's most popular band in 2055 is? And you, Bridgerton. Sometimes, in a Victorian drama, when two people love each other and decide they want to dance about it, you just want to hear a violin swell! And not think about Adam Levine.

I'll say this. In Westworld, like most of the show, you really don't know when the needle drop is coming. In Bridgerton? At least you can expect the 2021 jukebox to speak up come waltz time. The series does reach a genuine high during the "In My Blood" cover, when Daphne and Simon make their pretend-relationship agreement—while clearly feeling much more. Though, I did say, out loud, "Is this that Shawn Mendes song?" when I watched it. But I don't want to ruin the moment we have going here. Like Westworld, Bridgerton's use of The Misplaced Instrumental Cover is a tad distracting, even if you'll absolutely try find the song on Spotify afterward. But here's the difference between Bridgerton and Westworld: Bridgerton knows it's being a little silly. Sometimes? It revels in it.

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(I promise to revisit this case if—and only if—the next season of Westworld finally, gloriously covers "Old Town Road.")

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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BRADY LANGMANN
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