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Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleur” in Jordan Peele’s “Us”

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Minnie Riperton's "Les Fleur" in Jordan Peele's "Us"

Oh, you think think-pieces about Us are totally Two Thousand and Late-teen? Well, that’s because everybody only concentrated on one of the songs used in the movie. It feels like whenever music in Us was mentioned, it was always about “I Got Five On It” by Luniz. Yes, that song was expertly utilized. Yes, the remixed and re-interpolated elements of the song in the score were effectively unsettling. No, it was not the pop music moment in that movie that has stuck with me the most since I saw the movie in theaters. That particular distinction belongs to Jordan Peele’s use of Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleur” in the film’s climax.

Before we get into why that moment was so great, I think it’s important to point out two other uses of pop music in Us that really go above regular soundtrack duties. I’m speaking, of course, about the duel use of NWA’s “Fuck the Police” and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” One is a great joke, the other is one of the more unsettling needle-drops in modern horror. The gag is great: While being attacked by their “Tethereds,” the awful family played by Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss shout out to their AI assistant, asking the unit to call the police. The Alexa-like Ophelia responds by playing “Fuck the Police,” and it’s hilarious. It just works so well. It really shows how much a song can change the mood of a scene.

The Beach Boys track, on the other hand, is used pretty much the same way “Singin’ in the Rain” was used in A Clockwork Orange. It’s a cheery song that is juxtaposed by savage imagery. The context changes how we hear “Good Vibrations.” What is usually a bright and pleasant song instead scores brutality, and the “vibes” feel like they shift to a minor key or something. It makes the song sinister. Instead of surf boards and bikini tops, now “Good Vibrations” conjures visions of Manson and the wave of the ‘60s crashing violently.

US Wilsons

But let’s fast forward to the end of the movie. We’ve learned the big reveal. Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Adelaide, is in truth her own Tethered, Red. The two had switched a long, long time ago under that same Santa Monica pier. You know this. It’s the crux of the movie, and one of the better twists in recent memory. Please recognize that if you haven’t seen the movie Us, I don’t understand why you’d be reading about its soundtrack. This is not a spoiler, the movie is years-old now. Anyway, it’s the end of the movie, we know who’s who. We’re questioning EVERYTHING we just saw, because we’ve been following an untrustworthy narrator. Even her son is looking at Adelaide (or whatever her real name is) differently, unsure of who his mother really is.

But then, the focus shifts. We go from the microcosm of the family of main characters, and zoom out to see the ramifications on a macro scale. We see hundreds of the Tethered holding hands, finally enacting the grand Hands Across America plan. And soundtracking all of this is the angel-voiced Minnie Riperton with her 1970 single “Les Fleur.” The crescendo in the song perfectly scores what feels like a crescendo in the movie. We’ve been so concentrated on the drama the WIlson family is enduring that it’s a shock to just see the reach of all those underground dwellers holding hands stretched from coast to coast. If we just take the music at its face value, and focus on the emotional pull of that crescendo, it fits perfectly.

The song explodes into something new. It’s no longer an intimate, singer-songwriter ballad. Now it’s a full chorus singing in this dynamic, all-encompassing harmony. Just like the Tethered spanning coast to coast, now the song is in full stereo, surrounding you from everywhere. It’s a huge level-up, and in the context of Us, it’s honestly unsettling. Because just like how the song is no longer just Minnie Riperton singing, we know the implications of seeing these thousands of Tethered. It’s no longer just the Wilsons. Everybody is either dead or on the lam. Everybody in the whole country.

Us 2019 Still

We haven’t even considered the lyrics yet, and again, under that lens too, the song is rich with parallels to Us. “Les Fleur” was co-written by Riperton’s husband Richard Rudolph. Rudolph, a Pittsburgh native, began his music career as a staff songwriter at Chess records in 1969. Together with famed Earth, Wind and Fire producer Charles Stepney, Rudolph penned this song, a beautiful ode to flower power. Without knowing too much about Rudolph, one can infer that he shared a lot of the conservation-based ideologies of the hippie movement of the ‘60s. The song speaks directly of the beauty of flowers and what value they bring to the world.

The first verse of “Les Fleurs” is completely atypical in its presentation. It is, in this way, unlike any song I can think of, really. Crucially, the song is sung from the perspective of a flower, not from the perspective of the observer. As the petalled chartreuse that speaks for her green, growing friends, Minnie Ripperton adopts the point-of-view that one might expect a daisy or a daffodil to have. “Will somebody take me to the fair?” she asks. “Will a lady pin me in her hair?”

Now think back to what’s happening in the movie during the song. Jason, Adelaide’s son, has just a moment earlier stared at his mother with a disbelief that may belie her true identity. The way Jason looks up at his mom, the mom he thought he knew, just carries such weight. Whether he’s hip to her secret identity, Jason did just follow his mother’s whole violent journey. So at the very least, he has witnessed his mother murder with zero regard. But if he does know who she really is, if Jason knows that the Adelaide he’s known switched with Red decades ago, then that changes his whole life. The person who raised Jason did so under incredibly misleading pretenses. She’s not the woman she says she is, and she’s never been the person she claimed to be. She is a Tethered.

Us 2019 Jason

The best part though? We fell for it too. We were just as clueless as Jason. But we’d followed Adelaide this whole way. We were rooting for her. We thought she was the hero. We were in the dark about her real identity, just like Jason was. It was all on purpose, too. The movie intentionally misleads us, pairing us with Adelaide/Red the whole time. We identify with her, and then we’re shown that she’s an untrustworthy narrator. We’re on her side.

And it’s all because of an atypical perspective. We’ve seen the whole thing from a point-of-view we weren’t expecting.

The lyrics themselves take on a much more sinister feel within the context of the Tethered taking over:

“Ring all the bells, sing and tell the people everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness and rejoice for the darkness is gone”

What are your favorite music moments in Jordan Peele’s Us? What are your favorite music moments in horror? I’d love to hear your thoughts either down below in the comments or on Twitter, where you can find me @billreick!

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