When The White Lotus premiered in the summer of 2021, audiences were immediately taken by the off-beat and entirely unique main title theme and score offered throughout Mike White’s acclaimed limited series. A thumping, tribal beat mixed with animalistic groans, the series’ score became an unexpected favorite as audiences tuned in weekly. Credit composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer for engineering a wholly original, yet fully thematically appropriate, take on the score.
When starting on the project, de Veer worked only from White’s scripts, taking his cue from the project’s themes and overall narrative.
“There is a certain natural aspects inherent in the script of somehow almost like having nature screaming back at you or screaming against colonialism or how tourists can be abusive. So I suppose there’s lots of tension that I felt I could represent in the music. I think that’s where all the screaming and tribal drums maybe came? Representing the chaos that is going on with these people,” de Veer recalled. “It’s so hard for me to put into words how the music becomes what it becomes because, at first, I have no words at all. It’s really a subconscious thing. If I read a script and the music comes out, it’s because that’s the first thing that comes out. I suppose that’s why I’m a musician and not a writer.”
de Veer considers the tension and interplay between the characters akin to watching animals in a zoo. His score, as well as the series itself, elicits both a horrified and comedic response from the viewers.
To create the score, de Veer mostly relied on human voices and percussion, as minimalistic and primitive a sound as possible. He also forces more on the moments offered within the scene over creating specific themes for the characters. For example, he uses a slowed down variant of the main theme to accompany a buzzing Jennifer Coolidge as she saunters back to her room about to encounter the man who would become her lover. Variations of the theme appear across the entire series in such scenes as Armond’s (Murray Bartlett) on-going feud with Shane (Jake Lacy).
But the animalistic tones dissipate when Quinn (Fred Hechinger) loses his electronics and begins to appreciate an intense connection with nature.
“There, the music becomes a lot more honest and straightforward. It just a good feeling,” de Veer explained. “For me, it expresses a disconnection with nature. It has a lot to do with the relationship between humans and nature. Humans, meaning us people from the city, we’re kind of disconnected from things like that.”
But the huge reaction to his main title theme surprised him as it managed to please not only himself but also millions of listeners across the world.
“I did feel like like there was something strong about this theme, but it was more of a personal thing. I was happy about it, but I didn’t know how people would react or if it’s any good for the rest of the world, but it seems like maybe the timing was right for something like this,” de Veer mused. “If you listen to a lot pop music and stuff like that, it’s very controlled. Everything is auto tuned and perfected. This music is not done like that at all. Nothing’s corrected, and everything is kind of wild and imperfect. Maybe that has something to do with it. In standing out and giving a different vibe. People will tell me that they feel lots of anxiety, but they couldn’t stop listening because, at the same time, they feel something savage. So, I’m really happy that those feelings come out of the music.”