The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 is once again filled with interesting music choices that complement or juxtapose its shocking scenes. Here’s every song.
Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episodes 1-4.
Here’s every song on the soundtrack for The Handmaid’s Tale season 4. Following a lengthy hiatus after season 3 ended in August 2019, The Handmaid’s Tale returned to Hulu for season 4 in April 2021, for a new run of 10 episodes charting June Osborne’s mission to take down Gilead from the inside.
While based on a book from 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has always been a show that reflects the world around it. Much has changed in that sense since the show last aired, with Joe Biden replacing Donald Trump as the US President, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. For June et al, though, not much has changed at all; The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 picks up right where season 3 left off, with June clinging on to life after being shot, following her helping the Marthas and over 80 children escape from Gilead.
As ever, June’s plight and that of those around her is accompanied by an eclectic mix of songs. The Handmaid’s Tale‘s use of music has proved notable several times before, ranging from Kate Bush to Bruce Springsteen, using their numbers to complement – or often starkly juxtapose – whatever (usually horrific) events are happening on-screen. The Handmaid’s Tale season 4’s soundtrack is no different.
Episode 1 – “Pigs”
“I Say A Little Prayer” – Aretha Franklin: The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 begins with the survival of June Osborne. Having been shot at the end of season 3, the fellow handmaids work to stitch her back together and quickly fix her wounds as best as possible, despite the odds – making Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer” a fitting number. It also follows on from the religious theme of June’s season 3 ending, where she quoted Exodus from the Bible.
“Ripple” – Grateful Dead: The next song in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 is Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” which plays at the Keyes household when June returns to find the other Handmaids letting their hair down and having fun. The song continues the religious themes of the show, with lyrics such as “Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,” often compared to passages from the Bible.
“A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel)” – Carole King: Another song commonly associated with Aretha Franklin, The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 uses Carole King’s version of the number (the original itself was co-written by King). The song plays at the end of episode 1, when Mrs. Keyes gets into bed with June following the murder of the guardian. Given their discussion earlier in the episode about Esther’s experiences, and June’s seemingly mother-like feelings towards her, then it’s another obvious song choice, allowing them to briefly feel something more natural than what Gilead ever allows.
Episode 2 – “Nightshade”
“Sara Culture” – Addie Pearl Rice: The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 2 doesn’t have as many songs, with just one coming towards the end, and even then it’s in the background. As June plots to take down the commanders, Addie Pearl Rice’s “Sara Culture” can be heard drifting in and out from the other room.
Episode 3 – The Crossing
“Heaven Is A Place On Earth”: While “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” was originally performed by Belinda Carlisle, The Handmaid’s Tale season 4’s use of the song instead comes from Elisabeth Moss. Having been once again captured and tortured by Gilead, June is locked in a small box as punishment, and begins to sing “Heaven Is A Place on Earth” to herself. There’s a sense of both irony and tragedy to this, but it also calls back to The Handmaid’s Tale season 3, episode 9, when Carlisle’s recording of the song played as June was in the hospital with Natalie, aka Ofmatthew.
“Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2” – Frédéric Chopin: Following her being locked up, June is given the chance to eat with Commander Lawrence, who hopes he can wine and dine the information Gilead needs out of her. The scene is accompanied by Chopin’s “Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2,” arguably the composer’s most iconic and well-known piece of music.
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – Radiohead: The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 3 comes to a close with Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” which plays as June attacks Aunt Lydia in the van and the Handmaids make their latest getaway attempt. The song continues through the slow-motion run, culminating in the deaths of several Handmaids while June and Janine escape. The song speaks to being caught inside a machine, of death, and of love – while Radiohead’s version is about capitalism, it isn’t hard to apply it to June’s fate in Gilead.
Episode 4 – “Milk”
“Let Me Take You Out” – Class Actress: The song plays on the stereo in flashbacks, as Janine prepares to visit what she thinks is an abortion clinic. The lyrics include lines such as “I know you feel all alone,” which speak to Janine’s frame of mind at the time.
“Three Little Birds” – Janine sings the Bob Marley song – known for its lyrics “Don’t worry about a thing” and “Every little thing is gonna be alright” – to her son, Caleb, in a flashback scene. The song is designed to be reassuring, even though viewers know every little thing wasn’t alright (indeed, nothing was in the end). It’s not the first time Janine has sung to one of her children on The Handmaid’s Tale, previously singing Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” to Angela.
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