Music has always been an important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who could even think about the original Guardians of the Galaxy without wanting to start humming "Hooked on a Feeling"? And Iron Man's entrance in The Avengers would certainly be less iconic if AC/DC's "Shoot to Thrill" wasn't playing.
So it's no surprise that Black Widow features several songs and covers that affect the overall tone of the film and make certain moments more impactful. Read on for the songs featured in Black Widow and what they mean for the movie.
"American Pie" by Don McLean
"American Pie" is one of the most important songs used in the film. It's Yelena Belova's ((Florence Pugh) favorite song, but the song's significance is that it's really a symbol of the relationship between her and Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour). In fact, we have David to thank for the song being in the movie at all. In an interview with Insider, he revealed that it was his idea to include the number.
"We were sitting around talking about the family structure and in the bedroom scene with Red Guardian and Yelena Belova, my character is fumbling trying to be a father and in the end, he fails. She tells him to get out. In the script, he says something and leaves," he said. But David didn't believe that simply saying something and walking away was enough to show the relationship dynamic between the two.
"I felt there's gotta be something a little more profound and I said, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if back in America when she was little and was terrified having been taken from her family the Red Guardian would put her in the car and drive around and play 'American Pie'?' So from then on, she tells daddy to put in the tape," he revealed. This backstory is why that bedroom scene ended with him bringing up the song.
"So for this bedroom scene, I'm thinking, he's a failure as a father what can he do at the end of this scene? This narcissist who also has a big heart. And so he brings up the song, basically as him saying, 'I tried.'" With so much of Black Widow delving into family dysfunction, having the Red Guardian sing the very song that he used to play to comfort Yelena as a child is a way to show that there was great love in their little faux-family, even in the hardest moments.
Though fans have tried for decades to piece together every little line's meaning in "American Pie," there's still much debate today about who and what the song is about, but many agree that it's a story of disillusionment. It's about growing up and losing innocence and watching the world change before your eyes, seeing the American Dream die in front of you. Though Buddy Holly's death is a major factor for this demise in "American Pie," Don McLean sees so much more around him that contributed to it.
Yelena's American Dream is a heartbreaking aspect of her story, and viewers watch her struggle to pretend that the kind of disillusionment that Don sings about never happened. She lies to herself and others to convince herself that the day the music died never arrived. David perhaps couldn't have picked a more fitting song for Yelena's plot.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Malia J
In contrast with Yelena, who was younger when her "family" fell apart, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) was old enough to understand more of what was going on. The disillusionment with the American Dream was something she was able to come to terms with. The very emotional and sweeping cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Malia J is something of an inner voice for Natasha. The song, originally done by Nirvana, fits the '90s setting of the opening credits in which it plays.
As Natasha's world falls apart, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" plays to remind the audience of the world that Natasha was raised in, one in which she was torn from the people she loved and conditioned into something that she considers to be a monster. The haunting bars of Malia J's cover are a way to make us all emotionally invested from the moment the opening credits end.
But the song is almost a response to "American Pie." Whereas the overall boppiness of "American Pie" allows many to sing it joyously, without really understanding the lyrics' tragic meaning, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is the opposite. Malia's haunting melody plus the overall perceived message of apathy and cynicism hides the call to arms that the song really is.
When asked about the song in a 1991 interview, Kurt Cobain said, "The generation's apathy is getting out of hand. [I'm] pleading to the kids, 'Wake up!'"
Throughout the MCU, we do indeed watch Natasha wake up, find a new family, and fight back against those who wish to use her as a weapon.
"Cheap Thrills" by Sia and Sean Paul
Strangely enough, "Cheap Thrills" is the song that was chosen to play on the radio when Taskmaster attacks Black Widow while she's on a highway in Norway. In comparison, "Cheap Thrill" doesn't have quite the same impact as "American Pie" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The meaning of the song is generally considered pretty straightforward — enjoying where you are in the moment, without the need for luxuries.
It's a generally positive song and may be trying to lighten the mood of the film and Black Widow as a character. The song feels somewhat out of place in the movie, but that might be the point. It's often the moments in MCU films that feel out of place that are the ones that fans remember and love the most.
Still, Marvel could have picked pretty much any upbeat song to fit the scene and it seems weird to have a song sung by someone who experienced so much controversy this year. But, then again, Black Widow has been in the works since 2017, long before Sia's much-maligned Music debuted.
Catch Black Widow in theaters or on Disney Plus Premier Access now.