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The character on Killing Eve, Villanelle, is a white woman Photography courtesy of BBC America

5 key musical moments that define Villanelle’s character on ‘Killing Eve’

The show curated a multilingual soundtrack fit for the globe-trotting, stylish, eccentric assassin.

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BBC America’s beloved series Killing Eve is known for inverting the cat-and-mouse detective genre — and having a bit of stylish fun along the way. The show’s first two seasons explore the psychological parallels between Eve (played by Sandra Oh), an MI5 agent, and her elusive target, the psychopathic and fashionable assassin Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer). Lauded with awards for its storytelling, the series is also celebrated for its unique soundtrack. (A Spotify playlist of the show’s songs compiled by BBC America has attracted over 50,000 subscribers.) The soundtrack, full of retro songs with multilingual lyrics that evoke the mood of a pan-European thriller, also gives the listener an insight into the character of Villanelle and her complicated relationship with Eve.

In celebration of season 3 — the premiere is available to watch for free! — we’ve curated the songs that best evoke the assassin’s dynamic personality. Here are the tunes to listen for as you catch up on seasons one and two.

“Killer Shangri-Lah” by Pshycotic Beats (S1, Ep. 1)

At the start of the series we see Villanelle skipping through the streets of Paris with shopping bags in hand. The show’s core musical identity, washed out 60’s proto-Europop, is established by the dainty song “Il Voyage,” a song that sounds like the French inspiration for Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” The music is culturally ambiguous, lighthearted, and emotionally empty, just like the killer. If there’s just one song that captures her character, it has to be “Killer Shangri-Lah.” We hear it when Villanelle is sent on her first assignment to assassinate an Italian mob boss. While the party guests are gathered in the garden listening to “Tarantella Napoletana” — the classic Italian folk music burned into our memories by The Godfather, The Sopranos, and the Olive Garden — Villanelle seduces the elder patriarch in the master bedroom. Her first onscreen murder is gruesome. With a smile, she stabs the man in the eye with a poison hairpin. As soon as he collapses, the music enters. Psychotic Beats’ Pati Amor sings in a cold monotone, “I had to kill you, I’m really sorry, I had to do it.” Her voice is distant, echoing through a metal plate reverb. The plodding bass, dragging snare, and accompanying strings are blurred out using a Phil Spector-esque “Wall of Sound” technique. Since he pioneered the sound in the late ‘60s, countless producers have copied Spector’s large reverbs and multitracked orchestral instruments from songs like The Ronettes’s joyful hit “Be My Baby.” But “Killer Shangri-Lah” applies this method so heavily that the booming “Wall of Sound” effect sounds appropriately torturous.

“Contact” by Brigitte Bardot (S1, Ep. 2)

Villanelle is a cold hearted killer, but she has a weakness: she delights in building relationships with her victims. In the opening of the show’s second episode, she takes her time hunting down an office worker, taunting him with poorly aimed gunfire that attracts attention. When he screams “Why are you doing this to me?,” she responds with a smile: “I have absolutely no idea.” After firing the killing shot, Villanelle then stares longingly as the spark drains from his eyes. She is addicted to this debased form of connection and quickly seeks out her next prey. While preparing a deadly perfume, the psychedelic song “Contact” (1968), written by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by Brigitte Bardot (the French ‘60s singer, actor, activist and sex symbol), fittingly scores the scene. Bardot plays the character of an alien. She sings in a lifeless affect that she’s just landed on earth, injured from a meteorite that has struck her in the heart and in need of a doctor. A persistent one-note guitar line ticks like a clock as she screams “contact” over and over. But her pleas for help aren’t returned. Instead, her words reverberate out into space. Like Bardot’s character, Villanelle’s desires are alien to most people and cannot be reciprocated, resulting in an endless cycle of killing.

“La Plus Belle Chanson” by Jacqueline Taieb (S2, Ep. 1)

The opening of season two finds Villanelle at her lowest point. Stumbling out of her Parisian apartment and bleeding from a stab wound, her trademark ineffable cool is upended by her need for medical attention. The day is grim, the streets are empty, and Eve has just betrayed Villanelle, stabbing her in the height of romance in the season one finale. As Villanelle winds through the streets, a carnivalesque French song in the style of The Beatles’ “For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” adds to the drama. “La Plus Belle Chanson” by Jacqueline Taieb opens with a chromatically descending bass line and dizzying psychedelic organ. The lyrics (translated to English) mimic the unfolding scene:

A rainy day in a sleeping city

It’s winter; it’s cold for good

And in the streets the wind howls to death

What a funny idea to make a song of it

This dreary chanson modulates into a major key approximating “the most beautiful song in the world” better than “Chopin’s melodies” and “Rimbaud’s lyrics.” But sadly the narrator “can only imagine” such a song. The instruments unwind into inharmonic cacophony, sending “La Plus Belle Chanson” back into the darkness of the verse, just as Villanelle’s world is collapsing right in front of her. Eve, her perfect song, has left her broken. Already injured and desperate for help, Villanelle lobs herself into a taxi and the music cuts off.

“Listen to Your Heart” by Roxette (S2, Ep. 8)

Villanelle only shows affection for two people: Eve and her handler Konstantin, an aging former Russian spy and proto-father figure to the orphaned Villanelle. Having lost Eve, Konstantin recruits Villanelle to go rogue as a freelance assassin for hire. They drive off in Konstantin’s car, reunited by a song: “Listen to Your Heart” by Roxette. The dated 1980s pop song is an aberration amongst the ‘60s-oriented soundtrack, but here it shows that Konstantin has taken charge, exploiting Villanelle in a moment of weakness. The song feels like a nod to the ex-Soviet soldier’s youth; it’s coated with cheesy digital pianos and programmed synthesized strings. The sentimental breakup song seems to be cathartic for Villanelle. She can project her own “breakup” with Eve into the lyrics: “You’ve built a love but that love falls apart / Your little piece of heaven turns too dark.” She sings along in her out-of-tune head voice. Annoyed, Konstantin turns off the music. Villanelle is incensed that he would cut off her performance: “Leave it, I like it.” When Konstantin tells her that Eve has moved on to investigate another assassin, Villanelle shouts, “Turn that shit off.” It was all a performance.

“Sigh” by Unloved (S2, Ep. 8)

Throughout the series we hear the music of the band Unloved. The group is made up of singer Jade Vincent, Keefus Ciania, and David Holmes — the latter two also scored the show (they won the 2019 BAFTA TV Craft award for original music). Unloved’s LA-noire sound pairs with the rest of the soundtrack: plucky ‘60s bass lines, suspenseful drums, psychedelic sound effects, and whispered vocals that slog at a haunting tempo. Unloved’s song “Bill” plays when Villanelle murders Eve’s partner (also named Bill) in a nightclub in season one. When Villanelle convinces Eve to cross over into the role of the assassin and kill a man, the eponymous “We Are Unloved” crescendos with cymbals crashing as Eve drops the ax. And in the final scene the dissonant harps and monastic vocal trails in “Sigh” are a fitting choice as a backdrop to the Roman ruins where Villanelle professes her love: “You’re mine, Eve!” But Eve rejects Villanelle, saying, “You don’t know what [love] is” — she is a psychopath, after all. The music cuts out and Villanelle makes a final plea, telling Eve, “I thought you were special.” Eve turns her back, only to be shot by Villanelle. The music returns: “There is something about the way you are that makes me…” The singer doesn’t finish — instead, she makes one last audible “sigh” and season two ends.

With Eve bleeding out in the Roman ruins and Villanelle left to deal with the repercussions of her actions, the soundtrack to season three will see these characters in a darker place than ever before — and we can’t wait to listen.

Catch-up on the season three premiere, available now for free, and watch Killing Eve on BBC America or AMC Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.

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