WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Carole & Tuesday, streaming on Netflix.
From the jazz of Cowboy Bebop and Kids on the Slope to the hip-hop stylings of Samurai Champloo, Shinichiro Watanabe directing an anime is a guarantee of a stellar soundtrack. Carole & Tuesday, his 2019 series about two girls making their way through the pop music industry on Mars, particularly stands out for the variety and quality of its music. Every episode contains at least one new song, sometimes many more than that, and there’s not a stinker in the bunch (some are shallower than others, but that’s by design). An array of international talent came together to write and perform this music.
With such a consistently great soundtrack, picking out just five songs that represent the best of what Carole & Tuesday has to offer was a challenge. We evaluated these selections both by their individual quality as stand-alone songs as well as on how effectively they contributed to the emotional arc of the show. Many favorites missed the cut (sorry to “Galactic Mermaid” and all of Angela and GGK’s solo numbers), but in the end, these are the five songs that stick with us most when we think about Carole & Tuesday.
For the first season of Carole & Tuesday, “The Loneliest Girl” was essentially the series’ theme song. It wasn’t the actual opening theme (that would be “Kiss Me,” also great and under serious consideration for this list), but it was the song the show kept returning to. This was the first song Carole and Tuesday wrote together, the one that makes them go viral online and the last one they performed on the Mars Brightest competition show. As the duo’s big artistic statement, its simple piano melody and emotional lyrics make a strong case for what makes these girls so special in a world of artificial pop music written by AIs. Carole and Tuesday’s singing voice actresses, Nai Br.XX and Celeina Ann, perform beautifully together.
Flora is the character who inspired Carole to get into the music industry, and was one of Gus Goldman’s first big discoveries as a manager. After leaving Gus for a major label, she tragically spiraled into drug abuse and homelessness. Both her character and her musical stylings are directly based on Whitney Houston, though Watanabe gives her a much happier ending than Whitney had in real life. Carole and Tuesday do a moving cover Flora’s R&B hit “Give You the World” as part their performance at SXSW, but it’s Flora’s original version (sung by Jessica Karpov, AKA Harloe) that’s the real showstopper to listen to on the show’s soundtrack.
Carole & Tuesday‘s biggest get for hot young music talent has to be Denzel Curry, the rapper who performs the songs for Carole’s childhood friend Ezekiel. Since Curry’s a rising star with an exclusive contract, his Carole & Tuesday songs were not included on the show’s official soundtrack (neither were those by jazz artist Thundercat, who performed Skip’s music). In the show, however, they’re absolute highlights. “Crash the Server” pushed Carole & Tuesday‘s political narrative to the next level, packing tight wordplay, righteous rage and Flying Lotus’ killer production value into an explosive 80 seconds.
Carole & Tuesday is at its heart a show about perseverence in the face of tragedy, and “After the Fire” is perfect distillation of those themes. Carole and Tuesday perform this song about rebirth following distaster at the Grammys with Crystal (Lauren Dyson), the show’s equivalent to Beyonce. The lyrics (“Out of the ruins, flowers will grow/people rebuilding, stone by stone”) are a source of comfort in uncertain times; perhaps disaster cannot be averted, but life will still go on in some form. Note this song is listed twice on the show’s soundtrack, and it’s the “Grammy version” that contains the full song.
In the real world, supergroup charity singles tend to suck. They’re cheesy, overproduced and a display for the super-privileged to feign concern about issues they don’t really understand. They’re generally worth a parody from The Simpsons or Weird Al and not worth any more of your listening time. So of course Carole & Tuesday had to conclude with a fictional supergroup charity single a billion times better than any real one.
On paper, getting all of Mars’ biggest musical celebrities to sing away xenophobia sounds like the cheesiest ending possible for an anime grappling with serious political issues. In spite of everything, however, this “seven minute miracle” lives up all the hype built up to it throughout the series. It’s a beautiful piece of songwriting that makes use of the vocal strengths of all of its many singers, and its presentation in the anime, where the artists risk arrest to perform it, gives it enough bite to make it feel genuinely world-changing. There’s a reason this song was uploaded to YouTube as part of the cast’s message of hope during the coronavirus pandemic: it’s impossible to listen to this song and not come away both inspired and with tears in your eyes.
Carole & Tuesday is streaming on Netflix.
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With such a consistently great soundtrack, picking out just five songs that represent the best of what Carole & Tuesday has to offer was a challenge.