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The Crown Uses 1980s Pop Music To Break Princess Diana


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Season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown uses 1980s pop music to cleverly reveal the conflict in Princess Diana’s tense marriage to Prince Charles.

The Crown season 4 introduces fans of the long-running Netflix flagship show to Princess Diana (played exceptionally by Emma Corrin) as it tells the story of how she became a part of the Royal Family. In the wake of her whirlwind romance with Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Diana’s struggles to integrate and the show’s over-arching exploration of the dangers of loss of identity culminate in a creative musical choice that sees The Crown temporarily embrace 1980s pop music.

Corrin’s chameleon-like performance as Diana Spencer and the assassination of Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) kick-off one of the most important arcs of The Crown‘s chosen tumultuous period of focus for season 4. Isolating Charles and reinforcing his fractured relationships with his mother and father, Mountbatten’s murder is the catalyst for change as the Prince of Wales seeks to settle down and put his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles behind him. As history confirms, that didn’t go as Charles initially planned and Diana’s integration with the Royal Family becomes further problematic by Charles’ frequent abandonment of her either for duty or stolen time with Camilla.

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Related: The Crown Season 4 True Story: What Really Happened (& What Changed)?

The season expertly navigates Diana’s unraveling mental state, bravely exploring her eating disorder in unflinching detail and juxtaposing her modernity and the adoration of her by Royalist fans (precisely for her difference) with the traditions and stoic unchangeability of the Crown. At times, it feels like Diana is losing herself, and The Crown’s season 4 chooses to map out how her identity is threatened with total destruction in the face of expected behavior through the use of music. When Diana is her own self, the classical score gives way almost defiantly to 1980s pop songs, and when she is dulled, the music stops playing for her. It’s a remarkably clever choice and one that adds pathos and a hint of tragedy even as the season ends.

The Crown: Why Season 4 Uses ’80s Pop Music (And Then Stops)

Prince Charles and Princess Diana in The Crown

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When Diana first appears, in a somber episode crowned by Mountbatten’s death, her first anthem is Blondie’s “Call Me”, later she listens to Diana Ross in her car, dances with her girlfriends to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen”, wakes up to Ultravox’s “Vienna” and then in a disarming moment rollerskates around Buckingham Palace listening to Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film”. Each is a narratively loaded choice, taking in themes of romantic affairs, defiant feminine identity, and the invasion and adoration of the press, but they also reflect Diana’s normalcy. She is presented as a breath of fresh air compared to the Royals.

Elsewhere, The Crown season 4 uses pop music to reflect the same things. Michael Fagan’s episode is accompanied by songs by The Cure, The Specials, Joy Division and The English Beat – all in their own way protest songs or songs born of Thatcher’s Britain very pertinently. Each are just as politically loaded as the choice to use “Inglan Is a Bitch” by Linton Kwesi Johnson over the end of episode 8’s Commonwealth crisis finale and all are a reflection of how different life is outside of the palace walls. Even Princess Margaret gets her own moment, dancing to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, which becomes almost a swansong to her fading hopes for her own individualism. It’s fitting that it is she who mentions the strain on Diana to acquiesce or break.

And acquiesce Diana does, for a while. As she toes the line more, her music disappears for a time, reflecting how her identity is being suppressed, even as Dianamania rages around the country and the Commonwealth. But at this point, The Crown switches again more subtly, using Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” as a point of contention in Charles’ relationship with Diana. The whole of The Crown season 4 explores the tension between them and Charles’ apparent jealousy and as he realizes in the penultimate episode again that she will always upstage him, the pop song becomes as much a taunt to him as it is a sign of hope that Diana will never lose every part of her. And while that may seem hopeful, to a degree, Diana’s sad fate in the future of The Crown is sewn in this moment and in the perceived invasion of her self into royal life.

Next: The Crown Season 4 Cameo Connects The Original & New Casts

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Updated: November 17, 2020 — 10:46 pm

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