What is the Music from “Squid Game” Trying to Tell Us?

The world is obsessed with Netflix’s Squid Game. The South Korean drama is the #1 show in 90 different countries and recently became Netflix’s most-watched show of all time—in less than a month since its release. The story centers around a group of people drowning in debt, who are invited to a remote location to play a series of Korean childhood games, but with a deadly twist. Although the games are usually the front and center of the show, Squid Game also focuses on human connection. It explores the different emotions the players go through during the games, including trust issues, betrayal, hopelessness, sparks of love, and utter dread.

The story is compelling, but another area where the show shines lies in its incredible and strategic placement of music and use of sounds, especially during gory, horror, and uneasy sequences.

How does the music in Squid Game add to the story?

Squid Game is filled with Western classical music, as well as unique Korean tracks exclusively composed and produced for the show’s soundtrack. The way they utilize the music is very intriguing. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk mentioned in several interviews that during the games, Korean music is being played to further add to the show’s cultural identity. The traditional games unfold with Korean compositions playing in the background.

On the flip side, Western classical music is used at the beginning of the games, and at the end of them. Let’s explore two tracks:

Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto

Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat major is used in scenes where the helplessness of the contestants, as well as the power of the hosts and VIPs, are showcased. The track is often played at critical points, bringing a sense of unease to both the participants and viewers throughout the series.

Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto was previously used as signal music in a popular Korean quiz game named Janghak Quiz. The classic show ran from 1973-1996.

Due to its fanfare style, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto is a perfect fit for the scenes leading up to the games. The first morning, the players are also woken up by this song. In the real world, fanfares were usually used at opening ceremonies or at the start of wars and battles. That’s why this song was such a strategic choice, as the games combine both elements of war and ceremony.

Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube Waltz

Back in 1866, Strauss was commissioned to write a piece in order to lift the spirits of the people of Vienna. Austria had just lost the Austrian-Prussian war and over 100,000 people lost their lives. This is how The Blue Danube Waltz was born.

Squid Game utilizes the song in the same fashion. The song is used by the hosts to lift the spirits of the players before and after the games. Each game ends in carnage, with people losing their lives and players witnessing tragic losses, similar to what the people of Vienna went through after the war.

Classical music streaming went through the roof on Spotify

According to new data shared by Spotify and published by Pigeons & Planes, classical compositions featured in Squid Game have seen a huge increase in streams.

The data shows that streams of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat major (3rd movement) have increased by more than 325% since the show was released. Strauss’ By The Beautiful Blue Danube” saw an increase of nearly 80% and another classical song highly featured in the show, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Minor (2nd movement), surged 50%.

You can also listen to the original Korean soundtrack on Spotify.

Before you go…

In essence, the show depicts the huge discrepancy between the rich (VIPs) and the poor (the players). The rich bet on these human lives, similar to horse racing. There’s clearly a massive divide between the contestants and the hosts, and the Korean vs. Western soundtrack helps distinguish the two groups immaculately. 

A great score and a great soundtrack can add layers upon layers to any production. Music usually tells a story of its own, but sometimes, it makes a completely separate story even better. Scoring a project is hard work, but the end result is always worth it.

If you’re in need of help with a musical project, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Cutting Room Music team. We’re a trio of passionate composers that can’t wait to work on new, creative and exciting projects.

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