If there’s one thing that helps me write and keeps up my enthusiasm for my books, it’s listening to music that reminds me of the characters, plot or themes. Ages ago, I made and shared a playlist for The Cavaliers, which you can find here. Today, I’ve decided to share a snapshot of some of the songs that I associate with the Dictator’s Wife. It’s quite a mix of musical styles, which seems fitting for a book that can’t be neatly slotted into any one genre.
If anyone has read The Dictator’s Wife and has any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.
You can listen to the whole list here:
Blank Space – Taylor Swift
“Darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”
You want an antiheroine/borderline villain protagonist? This song delivers it in spades. Almost more than the lyrics (which suit Marianne beautifully), it’s the accompanying video of this which really reminds me of The Dictator’s Wife. That vibe of beautiful blonde woman in vintage clothes and tall, dark, handsome guy alternating between romance and violence and a stunning mansion – it could pretty much be a trailer.
- You’ll Be Back – Hamilton Soundtrack
“You say, the price you my love’s not a price that you’re willing to pay.”
If I was only aloud to pick one song for this list, it’d be this. In the actual musical, this is King George III complaining about America declaring independence, presented like a psychotic break-up song. But to put it another way, it’s an absolutist British ruler losing it because someone he loves has left him. And as such, each and every lyric is perfect for the way things stand at the start of The Dictator’s Wife and for the overall themes of the book.
The combination of jaunty tune and chilling lyrics captures Julien’s demeanor perfectly and the slightly too forced attempt at a cut-glass English accent is exactly how I imagine him speaking.
One of the most memorable lines of the song is”I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love” – which is literally what Jules does: “It was total overkill. He flattened the town. But he did it in memory of you, so in his eyes, he did what he had to do.”
- When We Were Young – Adele
“You still look like a movie, you still sound like a song, my God this reminds me, of when we were young.”
This gorgeous ballad is all about meeting up with someone years after you were together and hoping there’s still some magic there. It perfectly captures the moment that Marianne returns to Somerset House, unsure whether she’s going to be killed or reinstated as First Lady. And the focus on reminiscing about how things used to be works perfectly with the novel’s duel timeline.
- The Bagman’s Gambit – the Decemberists
“They flashed a photograph, it couldn’t be you
You’d been abused so horribly
But you were there in some anonymous room”
Lots of the Decemberists songs – particularly their older ones – have a lot of plot going on. But this one, which appears to be about an American Government official and a Russian spy in the early twentieth century, is particularly involved. The specifics of the complex narrative don’t particularly tally with the story in my book, but the general themes of political plotting and a cycle of obsessive love and violent betrayal are very similar. Plus, the song jumps back and forth in time “It was ten years on, when you resurfaced in a motorcar” in a rather familiar way.
That said, the lyrics quoted above absolutely capture that moment that Julien finds Marianne held prisoner and tortured by his own men and, let’s say, does not deal with the situation in the calmest manner.
While I’m on the subject of the Decemberists, the song I listened to the most while I wrote the first draft was one of their newer releases, Make You Better. As a result, that song is also indelibly associated with it in my mind, though apart from the line “like the perfect paramour you were in your letters” I can’t find much of a logical connection.
- I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You – Evita Soundtrack
“It seems crazy but you must believe
There’s nothing calculated, nothing planned
Please forgive me if I seem naive
I would never want to force your hand.”
Quite simply, the best song I’ve ever heard about a scheming woman getting together with a military dictator. There are a couple of references to Evita scattered through the book (generally whenever Peter is trying to wind Marianne up) and it should come as no surprise that my favorite ever musical was a major inspiration. As a result, whole swathes of the soundtrack would be relevant to this playlist, but I’ve settled on this one, as it’s genuinely romantic and beautiful, while still functioning as a hymn for Lady Macbeth types. I see this song as the perfect backdrop for the moment in the initial flashback chapter when Julien and Marianne meet for the first time.
- Run This Town – Jay Z/Rihanna/Kayne West
Basically, it’s a song about power – the highs of it, the lows of it, and the things people will do to get it. I see this as the song for J&M’s coup, when everything could go horribly wrong for them but they choose to take their chances.
And what I really love is that it’s the guys who are making all these bold claims about their wealth and their control and how their enemies are going down, but it’s the woman, with her chorus of “Life’s a game but it’s not fair, I break the rules so I don’t care” who’s the really sinister one.
Plus, even if Taylor Swift and the man in the Blank Space video look rather more like the way the characters are canonically described, I just love the idea of Jay Z as Julien and Rihanna as Marianne. I guess that would make Kayne Peter…