Every CW series has a soundtrack comprised of Billboard Hot 100 hits, mixed with a handful of indie gems that then blow up once they’re featured on a show. Since shows like One Tree Hill and The O.C. hit the air in the 2000s, it seems like showrunners are always trying to incorporate music in new, interesting ways. Even The 100 isn’t immune, though it’s weird to hear pop music over a post-apocalyptic setting.
Over the course of four seasons, The 100 has only featured a handful of songs. Some of them stand out more than others; the weirdly literal use of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” in the pilot episode still makes me laugh whenever I introduce someone new to the show.
Pop music can be fairly innocuous, even on a series that takes place hundreds of years in the future, as long as it’s used well. In the case of The 100, it’s pretty hit or miss. I’ve compiled a list of some post-apocalyptic pop music moments across the series. Some of them worked beautifully. Others missed their mark.
S01E01, “Pilot”: Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”
As I said above, the use of this pop song makes me laugh every time I watch the pilot. It’s just a little too on the nose. After 97 years in space, the Ark sends its 100 juvenile delinquent prisoners to Earth. The radiation-soaked planet isn’t projected to be inhabitable for another century, but the spaceship is running out of oxygen. If the Ark doesn’t find a solution soon, everyone on it will die. Sending the 100 to the ground is the first step in a long, messy survival plot.
When Octavia Blake becomes the first person to set foot on the ground in a century, Imagine Dragons starts to play. The song, “Radioactive”, was still getting radio play when the show premiered in 2014. It was two years old by that point, but apparently The 100‘s creative team just couldn’t say no to such a perfect song.
S01E01, “Pilot”: Youngblood Hawke, “We Come Running”
Two pop songs in one episode? Thank goodness that wasn’t the trend for The 100 post-pilot. “We Come Running” was also two years old when the pilot aired in 2014, though it was getting a ton of radio play still. Its usage in this scene is really celebratory, as Jasper successfully traverses the river like Tarzan (to impress Octavia) and discovers a sign marking Mt. Weather on the other side. Then the music abruptly cuts off when he gets a javelin to the chest, and the delinquents realize they’re not alone on Earth.
This song feels as weird as “Radioactive” in the context of the episode, but at least it’s not as on the nose. No one is literally running, after all, and the only sound is the music and the kids screaming in triumph.
S01E13, “We Are Grounders Pt. 2”: Radiohead, “Exit Music (for a Film)”
“Exit Music (for a Film)” is best known for its use in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. When Romeo enters the church and finds Juliet in her death-like sleep, then kills himself — the two of them making eye contact one last time before he dies — the song plays and adds a deep, disturbing ambiance to everything.
In S01E13 of The 100, this song makes a pretty big impact, too. The Ark has sent its people to Earth in a last-ditch attempt at survival, although several pods are lost in fiery crashes. Meanwhile, the delinquents have lost a fight with the grounders, destroying the only home they’ve known since coming to the ground in the process. It’s chilling, and Radiohead playing over each scene makes the emotions hit even harder.
S02E16, “Blood Must Have Blood Pt. 2”: Raign, “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”
The season two finale of The 100 remains one of the best, most emotionally-fraught episodes of the entire series. The entirety of season two builds a moral argument that ends with Monty, Bellamy, and Clarke irradiating an entire population of people in order to save their own. Upon returning to camp, Bellamy offers Clarke forgiveness, and she says goodbye. It’s… easily one of the worst moments of the series, and it leads to a whole lot of hell in season three.
Raign’s cover of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” is used beautifully in this scene. The emotional beats of the song are enhanced by Raign’s vocals — howling and intense — and it’s a solid fit for what’s happening on screen.
S03E01, “Wanheda Pt. 1”: Violent Femmes, “Add It Up”
Jasper mourns Maya’s death by listening to her iPod non-stop and drinking himself into a stupor. But when he and a team of his friends go on a mission for camp, he plugs the iPod into the rover Raven is driving. Together, Jasper, Raven, Bellamy, Monty, and Miller all have an impromptu sing-along to “Add It Up” — which is fitting for the characters in different ways.
I don’t fully buy that an iPod would still work that far in the future, especially since I don’t know anyone whose cord lasts longer than a few months, but okay. This scene is really delightful, and gives the delinquents a much-needed bonding moment. I’ll suspend my disbelief just to watch Miller grab Monty’s arm like that. Every time.
S03E01, “Wanheda Pt. 1”: Shawn Mendes, “Add It Up”
The CW loves to have pop stars guest star on its shows. It’s a promotional goldmine, usually, and that’s fine! Get those ratings. But Shawn Mendes’ appearance on The 100 is frankly just silly. The piano apparently came from Mt. Weather, but why would the Arkadians bother bringing a piano out of the mountain and into their camp? Music can be healing and good and this show does try to put emphasis on living rather than just surviving, but… come on.
The song itself isn’t bad, but its placement and its execution don’t work. The 100 likes to use songs more than once, subbing in covers once the original has already been featured. It’s a good way to shake things up, but it’s still weird as hell to see Shawn Mendes just playing a Violent Femmes cover in the middle of this post-apocalyptic world.
S03E13, “Join or Die”: Koda, “Radioactive”
This flashback features the 100 delinquents piling onto the dropship for their trip to Earth. A Koda cover of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” plays over the slow march. Then the scene transitions into the show’s present time, and Kane is literally crucified for refusing to take A.L.I.E.’s chip. Everyone has come a long way since we first heard the song on the series, and using a cover of it definitely reflects that.
The song is a weird callback to the pilot, again hitting things way too on the nose. However, Koda’s slowed-down version of the song is far more interesting and appropriate than the original. It’s a good thing that The 100 creative team didn’t opt to use Imagine Dragons again.
S04E09, “DNR”: AWOLNATION, “Kill Your Heroes”
S04E09 is a hard one to swallow. It deals explicitly with suicide and does some strange things with characterization (that are mostly rectified later). Several of the delinquents have decided not to go with Skaicru to the bunker, and are going to die when the death wave comes — or before, if they can manage it. They’ve decided that surviving is not the same as living, and they’re tired of only doing the former. So they’re saying goodbye to their life on Earth with a massive party.
AWOLNATION’s “Kill Your Heroes” exists in the background of this scene, as the song that’s playing at the party. It’s… frankly perfect, although it again suffers from the ongoing issue of being really on the nose for what’s happening. Pop music can enhance a scene or destroy it when the lyrics are so perfectly in tune with the plot, but in this case, I think it works.