The bassline: ‘High Fidelity’ offers modern spin on love and mixtapes

Portrait of a young woman on a stack of red, orange, and blue CDs labeled "High Fidelity"
(Chloe Frelinghuysen • The Student Life)

On Feb. 14, a new series called “High Fidelity” was released on Hulu. The show follows protagonist Rob (played by Zoë Kravitz) as she revisits old relationships through playlists, so naturally, the show is steeped in great music and pop culture, with the soundtrack spanning several decades and almost every continent and genre.

The characters of “High Fidelity” work in a record shop in modern-day, gentrified Brooklyn. The show includes a range of tracks, such as “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie, “Is It Any Wonder?” by Durand Jones & The Indications, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Ann Peebles and “Nikes” by Frank Ocean, all of which come together to spin a memorable tale.

“High Fidelity” was originally conceived as a novel by Nick Hornby, which was published in 1995 and then made into a movie starring John Cusack in 2000. The soundtrack is different in each medium but somehow still carries Rob’s narrative, building upon the template of the same storylines, emotions and secrets that each character possesses. 

Like in the film, the TV Rob breaks the fourth wall throughout each episode to expose the character’s innermost thoughts and complicated relationship with relationships. But unlike the film and book, the TV protagonist is a woman.

Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka, co-creators of the Hulu series, turned the iconic male-centered story into a modern and feminine take on love, complete with Spotify mixtapes and impending loneliness. Many scenes are built around the soundtrack, and they mimic the way the novel was so beautifully able to articulate universal feelings. 

In the book, Hornby wrote: “It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I don’t understand it, some people, as far as their senses are concerned, just feel like home.”

The protagonist, like in the book and movie, lists her top five most memorable heartbreaks and takes the viewers down memory lane to try to figure out what went wrong in each relationship. The soundtrack influences the narrative, at times serving as background music in the record store, sparking an argument or instigating a flashback. The voices and the memories of the music drive the plot forward in every scene. 

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“[Silk Rhodes’ ‘Pains’] was a selection [from] our editor Kate Hickey. … She put it in and said, ‘Maybe it’s just a starting point for conversation.’ … It drove the way that we edited the scene and helped us build the emotion in what was one of our biggest emotional peaks of the entire season,” Kucserka said in an interview with IndieWire.

While watching the show, I was taken aback by the way that a few of the songs’ associations in my mind immediately evolved. Watching the characters connect to the music in such a beautiful, powerful way changed the way I would forever hear each song.

For example, at the end of the first episode, Rob sits in her apartment as she listens to a vinyl and smokes cigarettes while a storm passes. She looks into the ominous gray night as Ann Peebles sings, “I can’t stand the rain / Against my window / Bringing back sweet memories / I can’t stand the rain / Against my window / It just keeps on haunting me.”

When I tied the songs to my own memories, they became even more special, joyful or poignant depending on the mood the “High Fidelity” writers fabricated. I have re-listened to the show’s soundtrack on Spotify several times, and the melodies that were once a part of Rob’s story are now intertwined with my own. 

It’s just like what Hornby wrote: “Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.” 

Reminiscing is a part of human nature, and music is such an easy way to enter that time capsule. But Rob discovers that she can’t hold on to the past forever — as she sells her beloved, rare David Bowie album to make a friend’s dream come true. 

By the end of the first season, she propels herself to recognize her weaknesses and regrets, and then she simply plays the next song. 

Kyla Walker PO ’22 is TSL’s music columnist. She loves playing guitar, reading any and all fiction and probably belongs in the 1960s.

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