On the “Blue Monday” WONDER WOMAN 84 trailer

The new trailer for Wonder Woman 84 is soundtracked to New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Originally released in 1983, the song sonically sets the film in its eponymous period. However, the trailer doesn’t appear to use the original 83 version, but the 1988 mix (by Quincy Jones) from the Substance album. The trailer risks this anachronism for a reason: the arrangement of the 88 version foregrounds different sonic elements than the original, and these sonic elements are key to representing what is good about Wonder Woman and distancing both the character and the viewer from what is bad (if true!) about a particular aspect of America.

The original version begins with four repetitions of a drum machine pattern that is repeated throughout the song: quarter, quarter, eight rapid-fire sixteenths, and then another measure of quarter notes. It’s fairly forward in the mix at the beginning and only drops out after the one minute mark when the verse/chorus part of the song begins. It returns briefly around 5:30. The iconic character of this beat, at least within the modern rock community, is evident in Ministry’s 1874 single “Every Day Is Halloween,” which uses a variation on this pattern.

The 88 mix barely uses this beat. It begins right away with the song’s signature arpeggiated treble synth. There are two iterations of the 84 mix’s beat in the very beginning, but they’re very much accompaniment to the synth’s lead voice. Featured most prominently in the bridge, the 84 beat has shifted from a core element to a contrasting one.

The Wonder Woman trailer begins much the same way the 88 mix does: though the introductory conversation between Gal Gadot and Kristen Wig is accompanied by some very faint bass motives, the second scene hits us hard with the lead synth voice from the 88 mix. This synth melody and the song’s main vocal melody serve as the core of the trailer’s soundtrack, while the action is choreographed to percussion motives…just never, you know, the lead 84 beat.

For example, around 1:20 gunshots are tacked to some dotted percussion rhythms leading up to a drop of sorts, and then that motive returns again at 1:40 to accompany an image of running Amazons. At 1:58 we see Wonder Woman and Steve pitted against bad guys with all sorts of machine guns. As before, those guns are soundtracked to some eighth notes, and Wonder Woman’s action is scored to more or less a drop. This repeats again, and as she stops a bullet with her gauntlets, we fade out to a title shot accompanied by the main synth groove from 88 “Blue Monday.”

The 84 percussion beat, with all those rapid-fire sixteenth notes, would be perfect accompaniment to all these machine guns in the trailer. That sixteenth-note/machine gun trope exists in modern rock songs from the remix’s late-80s/early 90s era. The introduction to Ministry’s (yeah, those same guys who nabbed the 84 percussion beat) 1992 “NWO” uses live-drummed sixteenth notes to represent the American machine gun fire behind the “New World Order” George H.W. Bush speaks about in samples repeated at the end of the song. KMFDM’s 1993 “A Drug Against War” uses actual machine gun samples in its song critiquing the first Gulf War. (Other precedents in the modern rock/post-punk world include The Clash’s “Tommy Gun,” where Topper Headon uses sextupplets to represent the sound of the eponymous machine gun.)

The choice of the 88 mix over the 84 original is a deliberate choice to avoid this trope and its connotations. Ministry and KMFDM used that trope to critique actual U.S. imperialism.

So, when thinking about “Blue Monday” in context of the genre/format New Order basically helped found (i.e., post-punk and modern rock), the sixteenth-note/machine gun trope recalls the fact of lots of bad, imperialist things the U.S. did in the 80s and early 90s. But the whole point of this trailer is to provide audiences with the image or feeling of an American-ness that is actually grounded in something like truth and justice. Setting up a not-at-all-thinly-veiled ersatz Donald Trump as the film’s villain, this trailer gives audiences a scapegoat for the nation’s present and past wrongs: then as now, the problem lies in a really dastardly bad apple, not the system itself. Ministry in particular has always been deeply critical of American imperialism and authoritarianism, so using the sixteenth-note/machine gun trope risks recalling the politics of the bands that used it, which happen to be far more progressive than the film’s itself. 

In choosing the 88 mix over the 84 original, the trailer gets a version of “Blue Monday” basically swept clean of the original’s sixteenth-note drum beat. And this sanitized version of “Blue Monday” is central to Wonder Woman 84’s sanitized representation of the United States: because, in the modern rock of the era, the sixteenth-note/machine gun trope was associated with a progressive critique of the systemic nature of U.S. imperialism, the trailer has to avoid it at all costs if is to succeed in representing Wonder Woman as the protector of a genuinely good, non-evil Americanness.