The songs on The Act soundtrack play an important role in setting the tone of this true-crime tragedy that results in Gypsy going to jail for the murder of her mother, who is believed to have suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental health disorder in which someone makes up an illness or injury for the person in their care. This led Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) to insist her daughter Gypsy (Joey King) was sick with everything from leukemia to epilepsy to muscular dystrophy, which kept her wheelchair-bound despite her being just fine. The Act uses its music carefully, strategically, and sparingly over the course of its eight episodes, often setting a sinister tone. Gypsy’s life is consumed by fairytales, but the music of this series relates to the audience just how trapped this princess was in her castle.
There are some episodes where there’s barely any music beyond The Act's score from Jeff Russo, who’s worked on other prestige projects like HBO’s The Night Of and FX’s Fargo and Legion. Other episodes are filled with symbolic song choices in which the title gives the mood away or offers a tongue and cheek nod to the horror going on behind the closed doors of that pink house. Let’s just say it’s now even harder to hear the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” without cringing.
There are more than a few songs on this show that might sound familiar and there are several nods to Velvet Underground and numerous connections to Bonnie and Clyde in this playlist filled with French singers, alt-country ballads, and doo-wop.
The truth of Gypsy’s life certainly isn’t pretty, but the sounds of The Act sure are.
Episode 1: Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane”
This slowed down 1988 alt rock cover of the Velvet Underground’s 1973 banger soundtracks Gypsy’s first act of rebellion
, eating a very pink frosted cupcake despite her mom’s insistence that she’s allergic to sugar. It also appeared on the soundtrack to 1994’s Natural Born Killers,
about a young couple who end up going on a killing spree, not unlike Bonnie and Clyde.
Episode 2: Dolly Parton, “When Someone Wants To Leave”
Dolly’s song off 1974’s Jolene
offers some very tongue and cheek commentary on how Gypsy wants to leave but there’s no way Dee Dee will let that happen. We see how much she does for Gypsy in this scene which shows Dee Dee’s prescription ritual, in which she grounds her daughter’s seven medications in her pestle and mortar to be administered through the feeding tube that her daughter may or may not really need.
Episode 2: Jhay C feat. Robyn Johnson, “Get On It”
While Gypsy still listens to kids music, courtesy of whatever animated fairytale she’s watching, Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb)
, like any other teenager, is listening to pop music, specifically this party jam from the Australian producer.
Episode 2: Nigel Westlake, “Babe’s Round Up”
This track off the Babe soundtrack
is the musical cue for when a social worker stops by to check on Dee Dee and Gypsy, who is given medication by her mom to keep up the ruse that she’s really as sick as her mom claims. It’s a triumphant song for Babe, but for Dee Dee it’s more like a close call.
Episode 2: Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There”
Yes, Dee Dee and Gypsy’s song, which pops up three times in this episode, is supposed to feel a little sinister, according to The Act’s showrunner Nick Antosca
. But it's Gypsy Rose’s high-pitched a cappella rendition of the Jackson 5’s 1970 love song
that will give you chills.
Episode 3: Suicide, “Surrender”
Gypsy’s meet-cute with Wolverine includes a dreamy Back To The Future photo
opp straight out of Twin Peaks
due in large part to this 1988 doo-wop charmer from the American duo that literally sweeps her off her feet.
Episode 3: Chrissie Hynde, “You Or No One”
Flirty texts with Wolverine, real name Scott, about winter weddings and G-rated kidnapping fantasies are set to the Phil Spector-like sounds of The Pretenders’ lead singer’s
track of her 2014 solo debut.
Episode 3: Françoise Hardy, “Say It Now”
Gypsy cares so much for Scott she shows up at the hospital in her Ariel wig looking to play nurse and escape her mom. This French singer’s English cover of this blue-eyed soul ballad from Bobby Skel
feels like the entrance music Gypsy needs in this vulnerable moment.
Episode 3: Cults, “Bad Things”
After doing a bad thing — trying to escape her mother for good – Gypsy Rose’s punishment
is that she has to keep pretending to be a sick child confined to a wheelchair. Not to be flippant, but the Cults’ Wall of Sound-biding 2011 single makes this all sound a little less bad.
Episode 4: Zola Jesus, “Exhumed”
After her mom catches her with a computer, Gypsy Rose is tied up to her bed by Dee Dee and decides her new boyfriend Nick (Calum Best) is the only one that can save her. As Gypsy asks whether he’s willing to protect her from anyone, the credits roll and Zola Jesus’ gothic orchestral pop
begins to play.
Episode 6: Brigitte Bardot & Serge Gainsbourg, “Bonnie And Clyde”
Just like the title of the next episode, “Bonnie and Clyde” from these Frenchies – the only
song in this episode – tells the tale of the famous couple on the run en français
. (It’s actually based on the poem Bonnie Parker wrote
before she and Clyde Barrow were shot to death.) Soon, Gypsy Rose and Nick will be just as famous as these outlaws for their bad deeds.