“Tropical kabuki”? Listening to The White Lotus’s Assumed Vernacular Music

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


HBO’s The White Lotus, is a six-part series, written and directed by Mike White, set amongst the guests and staff of an upmarket tourist resort in Hawaii. There’s a dispassionate quality to the show with real bite to its frazzled ruminations on race, class, and privilege. At the beginning of the series the hotel’s manager tells his Native Hawaiian trainee to blend into the background and not be a distraction – to perform “tropical kabuki”. This paper considers how Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score refuses to perform that kind of disappearing act. De Veer draws on aspects of Hawaiian music as well as Ba-Benzélé Pygmy music in constructing a provocative, distinctive “assumed vernacular”, to use ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin’s conception. If, as Slobin suggests, soundtracks are like ethnomusicologists of their fictional societies, this is one with a wry approach to issues of representation and ethnomusicological accuracy – the unusual music, constructed from rough vocal samples and chirpy rhythms, seems to taunt the pampered, entitled guests and mock their existential crises. In this paper I consider the narrative work the music performs and what it reveals about contemporary screen music approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2022


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