The Use of Music in The Curse

Curator's Note

The music in The Curse is uniquely transcendental in its sound because of its repeated and inspired use of Alice Coltrane's spiritual album Kirtan: Turiya Sings. However, the use of Coltrane in relation to the show's themes of gentrification, reality television, and classism (to name a few) makes the musical choice so impactful because it becomes a tool to critique White supremacy.

After the death of her husband, John Coltrane, in 1967 and meeting spiritual guru Swami Satchidananda, Coltrane began her journey into religious and musical transformation. Kirtan: Turiya Sings was Coltrane's first solo album—not signed to a record company—released through her Vedantic Center. The album is a recording of Coltrane signing Hindu devotionals and hymns. Pitchfork writes in their review, "The music emerged at the very moment Coltrane was trying to divorce herself from the material world" (Pelly). This makes its usage in The Curse interesting as the show is a critique of the vapid nature of reality television, the consequences of its material gains, and the relation of this to White supremacy.

The three times that Alice Coltrane's music plays in the show are pivotal moments, especially for Asher's arc. At the end of the first episode, Asher returns to Dougie's hotel room, where Whitney waits to hear if he gave the young girl who cursed him the hundred dollars. After a fruitless effort, Asher lies to Whitney, telling her he is successful. As Whitney returns to work, the camera focuses on Asher in a medium shot that zooms into a medium close-up of his uncomfortable face before he looks directly into the camera, and the camera darts away. The second time is after Whitney and Asher have a huge fight, which is recorded on camera. Whitney sits in bed, rewatching the fight before deleting it. The scene transitions to Fernando with guns setting up for his first night as security for the empty storefronts. The episode ends with a freeze frame of Fernando staring at the camera. Lastly, in the most jarring scene of the season, Asher floats into space unexpectedly while Whitney is giving birth. The music begins with Dougie realizing the consequences of his actions toward Asher as he sobs on the floor. Then, cutting to a content Whitney with her baby in the hospital as Asher floats away in space. The camera becomes mobile, walking through the hospital and then around the town back to Whitney and Asher's home, where police and bystanders are. Then, the camera enters the house one last time.

In several interviews, the show's composers discuss Fielder and Safdie's vision for the soundtrack. One of the composers, John Medeski for Pitchfork, says,

There was this idea that the music of Alice’s—this spiritual music—has a quality that’s neither happy nor sad. It’s both. It’s deep, contemplative music. Instead of the music defining what’s happening, it’s opening up possibilities. […] A lot of films are designed to make you feel something about what's going on in the scene, to represent the scene, to create the emotional impact of the scene. And Nathan and Benny wanted the series to be very dialogue driven and story driven, and to have the music actually be like another observer providing a perspective. They didn’t want any music to be too obvious. Sometimes the music is misleading to what’s going on in the scene even, and I loved that. The music has this other dimension that provides atmosphere. It isn’t just programmatic, it’s another character (Minsker).

The music as another character is showcased throughout the series, but especially with Coltrane as her voice takes on the effect of a Greek chorus foreboding what is to come. Nevertheless, including Coltrane and her inspiration in the soundtrack speaks to the show's soul, which examines Western ideology's corruptive and destructive power. The show's secondary characters, Fernando, Cara, and Nala, and the music—as Medeski's intent—demonstrate Western White supremacy's various consequences and issues on marginalized people and communities. The use of Alice Coltrane is not what makes these moments stark but what she is in juxtaposition with, which is the devastating power of Whiteness.


Work Cited:

Minsker, Evan. "John Medeski and Daniel Lopatin Detail Soundtrack Album for Nathan Fielder's The Curse." Pitchfork, 10 Nov. 2023,

Pelly, Jenn. “Alice Coltrane: Kirtan: Turiya Sings.” Pitchfork, 17 July 2021,

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.