Brow Beat

The Trailer for Kirsten Dunst’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida Is a Valuable Reminder That “Angel of the Morning” Is the Perfect Song For (Some) Occasions

Kirsten Dunst riding a motorbike with a baby strapped to her chest, smoking a cigarette.
A multitasking multilevel marketer.

Showtime released a trailer for their upcoming series On Becoming a God in Central Florida, and it looks like show creators Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky might have a doubt or two about capitalism. The show is set in the early nineties—you can probably figure out the where from the title—and Kirsten Dunst plays a minimum wage water park employee who claws her way to the top of a multi-level-marketing pyramid scheme. Take a look:

The first thing that jumps out here is that Kirsten Dunst is making smart choices about what parts to take. She’s developed an uncanny ability to weaponize positivity—see, e.g., Fargoand outside of science fiction, no time, place, or vocation has ever embodied weaponized positivity more than “a multi-level marketing scheme in central Florida in the 1990s.” And casting Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine as an MLM founder with serious Seconds vibes is undeniably a coup. On the other hand, there is something a little depressing about the fact that artists have been pointing out exactly how capitalism exploits hope to ruin people for centuries, and nevertheless, here we sit while an Amway heiress runs the Department of Education into the ground.

The second thing that jumps out, once we’ve finished shaking our heads at the intractability of a political and economic system that stinks on ice, is that there is no better song for this trailer than Juice Newton’s recording of “Angel of the Morning.” (Fun fact: Chip Taylor, the songwriter, also wrote “Wild Thing,” and is the brother of actor Jon Voight.) The song would probably work in any trailer—a finger on the monkey’s paw ominously curls closed—because it’s all crescendo: four straight minutes of giant, cinematic swells lined up in a row, with big booming drum fills to cut on. It’s easy to see how important that is in the parts of the trailer that do not feature “Angel of the Morning.” Listen to how much of the incidental music is nothing but percussion added to emphasize a cut or action—the first ten seconds use a literal tick-tock to pace the editing. (For a very different use of “Angel of the Morning,” see the opening credits of Deadpool: Over a continuous shot, the strings and acoustic guitar seem to propel the motion—although that first drum fill is still too irresistible to not use as a starting gun.) On Becoming a God in Central Florida’s trailer focuses on the drums above all, which is why the awkward audio splice before Dunst flips the bird is so distracting: It throws the rhythm off. But when the music comes back, for a chorus that pairs the drum hits with images of destruction that escalate from a watermelon getting smashed to a yacht exploding, it feels like something essential about that recording of the song is being explored.

And it has to be that recording of the song, at least for this trailer, because it’s not about the melody or words, it’s about the orchestration and production. Joya Landis’ version is killer, but it wouldn’t work at all in this trailer (or the trailer for On Becoming a God in Jamaica in the Late 1960s, if it existed and were edited in the same style) because it doesn’t have those drum fills:

And the fills aren’t enough by themselves: They have to be hyped up to Juice Newton levels. This becomes apparent on listening to Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts’ version, which mixes the percussion in a much less aggressive way:

Both of those recordings are better versions of the song “Angel in the Morning,” than Juice Newton’s, if you’re just looking to listen to the song “Angel in the Morning.” But if you’re cutting a trailer to it, accept nothing less than the smooth sounds of 1981:

What it comes down to, I think, is the comically vast difference between the soft orchestration of the verse and the percussive snare-doubled-with-electric-guitar fills. (The first time the drums come in has always been hilarious to me—it’s like a Facebook post where WORDS are suddenly CAPITALIZED for NO APPARENT REASON.) If the original recording weren’t theatrical enough, the drums in the trailer’s version of “Angel of the Morning” have been punched up by synchronizing them with sound effects like Dunst’s chorus line handclap or the striking of a match. It’s not just that the drums seem inappropriate, it’s that there’s something about them that sounds insincere, even more than most country-pop. Which means it’s absolutely perfect to pair with images from the world of multi-level marketing, the least sincere business enterprise humanity has dreamed up so far. We’ll see if On Becoming a God in Central Florida can convince Americans—or at least Showtime subscribers—that they deserve better when the show debuts on August 25. Until then, remember: Drums are loud because they’re hollow.