A quick thought on the music of Mindhunter (Netflix)

I have a small ditty on Mindhunter’s music after watching the first two episodes:

On one hand, Mindhunter uses a very delicate string score, and uses it very sparingly. This is what I’ve noticed at least: it’s a beautiful instrumental score, but it’s under-present since the show relies more on environmental sound.

But on the other hand, Mindhunter uses pop music tracks very openly, right at the forefront. The difference is obvious and the intention is interesting (and probably obvious to those more critically-aware than I): the use of pop music evokes not only the time, but the zeitgeist (the ‘spirit of the times’).


Mindhunter begins with an open discussion of the ‘mainstream murderer’ of 1979, how their motives seem absurd to what’s ‘expected’ of criminals, to the norm. The use of pop music, so loud and overt in the score, speaks to how this thinking – this ‘deviancy’, to quote the show – is somehow, farcically, a reflection of the times they now live in.

It’s an easy call-out but I’m tired, so: the use of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ at the end of Episode 2 is interesting to quickly dissect: a song released in 1977, first played live in ’74, specifically of the ‘New Wave’ genre, a “genre of rock music popular from the late 1970s to mid 1980s with ties to 1970’s punk rock”.

(Yes, I took all that from Wikipedia, leave me alone.)

The tongue-in-cheek subject aside, ‘Psycho Killer’ is a song that’s distinctly located in the late 1970’s, the time Mindhunter is specifically set, and calls this specific time to mind when you hear it.

Mindhunter connects these aspects of the late 70’s zeitgeist together – the music and the carnage – and hints at the underlying concept of criminal profiling: dissecting and understanding the human psyche, how the human psyche is conditioned and motivated by one’s environment.

An oversimplification, but it’s interesting and wonderfully twisted: 70’s pop music represents the 70’s as a period in history, in culture; but so does, rather grotesquely, the nature of crime in this period, especially the most heinous the show focuses on.

Mindhunter asks: Why are these crimes committed in the 1970s? Why ‘now’? ‘Why’ at all?

The use of period-specific pop music, especially so loud and obvious in the score, implies a sickeningly similar origin point. An origin capable of irrationally producing both the time’s art and its horror. Its beauty and grotesquery. Its joy and violence. The terrible spectrum of mankind’s potential.

John Reeves writes stuff sometimes, though usually about games. Catch him here, on Tumblr, on Medium, and on Twitter.

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