AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio


AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio


AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio


The Musicality Genius of A24’s “Waves”
The promotional poster for the movie “Waves,” distributed by A24. Photo credits:

Spoiler warning for the movie “Waves”


“Waves” is a 2019 film directed by Trey Edward Shults. The movie has two distinct parts with the first half of the film following older brother Tyler Williams and his descent towards destruction, the second half of the movie follows Tyler’s younger sister Emily and her emotional journey of healing and peace finding. The movie opens with Animal Collective’s “FloriDada. As the camera pans around two of the main characters, the summer sun streaks the screen, and the crystalline blue water of Florida shimmers. An idyllic and beautiful depiction of youth and frivolous beauty. The bridge of the track echoes as the two sing along.  

Where’s the bridge that’s gonna take me home
The bridge that someone’s fighting over
A bridge that someone’s paying for
A bridge so old so let it go 

The choice to use this song as the opener is quite smart. Not only does it provide context for what is about to unfold, but it also develops the unique vibe this movie attempts to encapsulate. In so many ways, this movie is a masterful period piece of the late 2010s. The use of hit indie, electronica, hip-hop, R&B and experimental pop from artists such as Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Amy Winehouse, Tame Impala, Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and many others successfully encapsulates the sound of the decade: a genre of music intersection and meshing. The soundtrack makes the film, and the result is a cinematographic music video of feature film length.  

Tyler is a popular senior with a girlfriend, a successful wrestler and a plethora of Instagram followers. Countering this seemingly ideal life is a father with oppressive standards and a shoulder injury that is further extenuated in his senior season when pushed too far. Reeling from the extremeness of his injury and the news that his career is over, Tyler begins to spiral. His madness only grows once Tyler learns his teen girlfriend Alexis is pregnant, and a domestic dispute over abortion leads to the two fighting and their penultimate ending. Distraught, Tyler turns to drugs and alcohol to mend his wounds, invisible and physical. We watch him descend into madness, destroying his room, Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” interluded behind him, bass boosted and all.  

Uh, Martin had a dream
Martin had a dream
Kendrick have a dream 

All my life I want money and power
Respect my mind or die from lead shower 

As the song fades away into silence, the ringing from Tyler’s intense misuse of substance starts to drone the screen, and across from a flickering bonfire lies the disappointed eyes of Alexis. This song is irrefutably catchy, a song of sheer testosterone and angst. Perfect for the breakdown of an 18-year-old man-child. Lamar’s request for excellence represents Tyler’s urgency for freedom from all his woe, a turn to bad choices to cope with tragedy intertwining the two. In the end, the anger wins and after a drunken interaction with Alexis, Tyler unintentionally kills her from blunt force trauma after shoving her. This mistake costs him his life as he is sentenced to life in prison.

Here the movie turns to focus on Tyler’s sister Emily and her journey of grieving. Emily meets and falls in love with Luke. The two join in a beautiful connection of acceptance and shared experience, with Luke bringing needed beauty to her life and Emily bringing healing to his heart. In a moment of disclosure, Luke tells Emily about his absent father, an abusive ass who is currently dying of cancer. Emily shares how her biological mother died from an overdose, and how her stepmother raised her. The two giggle in a moment of shared understanding. Animal Collective’s “Bluish” gently streams from the radio and Emily turns it up.  

I’m getting lost in your curls
I’m drawing pictures on your skin
So soft it twirls 

In parallel to the opening scene, the young couple looks out from the car they are driving in and Emily hangs her head out the window just as her brother did. Young love before life gets in the way. The song backs the two as they gallivant between sprinklers on a golf course, tripping on ecstasy in a faded way.  

In the scene directly following the two are on a nighttime drive now. Emily, feeling the effects of the hallucinogen, places her head out the car window, the breeze in between her curls. SZA’s “Little Birds” featuring Isaiah Rashad encapsulates the scene. 

You are but a phoenix among feathers  
You’re broken by the waves among the sea  
They’ll let you die, they’ll let you wash away  
But you swim as well as you fly 

In a moment of earned peace, Emily is able to embrace the high. In another parallel to her brother, this scene is full of beauty and grace compared to the violent and angry drug-fueled scenes prior.  

“Waves” is a well-crafted movie that utilizes music not just as a crutch but as a formative role in character development and cinematography. These are only a few examples of a much larger soundtrack. The use of era-relevant music encapsulates this film with nostalgia. If you have not seen this movie or heard of these songs, kill two birds with one stone and experience a visual and auditory story of love, tragedy, resilience and growth.  

View Comments (2)
More to Discover

Comments (2)

All WVAU Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • A

    AmyFeb 29, 2024 at 12:15 am

    The impending doom lifted through grace. Spot on review and yes a glorious soundtrack to bring it all home.

  • G

    gabsFeb 27, 2024 at 1:25 pm

    MARLEY!!!! you’re so awesome this is so well written