Post-War Pop Songs: How World War Changed Wizard Rock
Something unusual about Harry Potter is how little we get to see of wizarding pop culture. Through the little scraps of information we get, we know that wizarding Britain has a music industry, a theater industry, and a publishing industry at a minimum, yet still, we are given so little information. What we know of music in the Wizarding World interests me the most since music can, in many ways, be used as a barometer for a society’s cultural standards.
Think about it – the ’70s psychedelia as part of a growing counterculture, angry Y2K pop-rock calling out George W. Bush – music can tell us a lot about what values are important to society. Let’s apply this same theory to wizarding Britain. Assuming that all of the songs featured in the Wizarding World franchise were written during the time period of their respective movies or video games, and yes, we can be musical archaeologists, using the sounds of the Weird Sisters and Celestina Warbeck to investigate the wizarding pop-cultural response to events of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The first step in our excavation is to dig out every pop song we have in the canon of the Wizarding World franchise. Within the timeline of Harry Potter’s story, 1979-1998, we’ve got Molly Weasley’s favorite crooner, Celestina Warbeck. Warbeck has an exhaustive list of songs, most of which can be heard at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida.
Another artist, or more accurately, group, featured in the seven novels is the Weird Sisters, a hair metal band comprising Myron Wagtail as the lead singer, Heathcote Barbary and Kirley Duke on guitar, Donaghan Tremlett on bass, Orsino Thruston on drums, Gideon Crumb on the bagpipes, Merton Graves on the cello, and Herman Wintringham on the lute. Their songs are most famously heard in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the Yule Ball.
Lastly, we have the period of Grindelwald’s rise from 1881 to 1945 as featured in the Fantastic Beasts films. The only pop song heard here is “Blind Pig,” sung by an unnamed goblin singer.
Looking at this data chronologically, we might draw a connection between World War I and “Bling Pig.” World War I is often called “The First Modern War” because it was with this war that we went from cavalry and muskets to trenches and machine guns. The new horrors of the First World War inspired a literary movement called the Lost Generation, where writers like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein wrote to make sense of all the needless tragedy they’d seen. They wrote of loss and disillusionment, just like our unnamed goblin singer with her disjointed, almost meaningless stories of loss and failure:
The phoenix cried fat tears of pearl
While the dragon snapped up his best girl
And the billywig forgot to twirl
When his sweetheart left him cold
The unicorn done lost his horn
And the hippogriff feels all forlorn…. (“Blind Pig” Fantastic Beasts and Where To FInd Them Soundtrack)
In contrast, the pop songs that Harry grows up with are extravagant dance songs. The discography of the Weird Sisters spans a narrow range, from love ballads like “Magic Works” and “This is the Night” to dance songs like “Do the Hippogriff” and “Blood Sucker.” Celestina Warbeck copies the trend with her loud and bombastic ballads for lovers and for holidays like her classic “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love” or “Accio Christmas.” All of these songs are full of levity and inane lyrics. For example:
Can you dance like a hippogriff?
Na na na ma ma ny na na ny na.” (“Do the Hippogriff”)
These songs follow a war as well – the turbulent First Wizarding War that killed Lily and James Potter and supposedly killed Lord Voldemort – but they represent a different response. While the First Wizarding War was filled with tragedy, that tragedy was given meaning and significance with the (assumed) death of Lord Voldemort. The sacrifices of the wizarding community were not made in vain, and by the time the war was over, they were exhausted, ready once again for joy and frivolity. So ready, in fact, that in 1981, one of many cloaked wizards celebrating in the Muggle streets:
…didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground [by Vernon Dursley.] On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passersby stare, “Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!” (SS 1)
It’s clear between the Weird Sisters’ dance songs and Celestina Warbeck’s love ballads that by 1981 the Wizarding World wanted to rest. They had no patience for deep, angsty music; they’d already had enough of that nonsense in their real lives. They needed an escape, and after two World Wars, the rise and defeat of Grindelwald, and two Wizard Wars, they most certainly deserved it.