Music has many superpowers—it can evoke emotions, transport you through time, or force you to get up and start moving your body. The same song can produce something distinct for an individual, simultaneously connecting people from different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic locations. Kimberly Belflower uses many aspects of music’s power in her new play, John Proctor is the Villain, as she explores the confusion, relationships, norms, and culture of a high school in rural Georgia.
Speaking of high school...do you remember that? Perhaps it is a very distant and dreaded memory, or a vivid and joyful one; maybe you’re still in high school, or maybe you didn’t attend at all.
Now, what did high school sound like for you? It’s a weird question, but try to take a minute and consider: what was your soundtrack? Which songs were popular at the time—did you listen to them on repeat with your friends, or did you make it a point to ignore what was on the radio and find your own tunes? Do you remember the artists that just seemed to get you? What about music from your family—were there singers that were meaningful to your family or songs from “back in their day” that you listened to?
No matter your relationship with high school, it’s fair to say that there is a soundtrack that could accompany your formative teenage years, and the same can be said for the ensemble of characters that we meet in John Proctor. In fact, Belflower uses the dialogue of her characters, specifically their pop culture and music references, to give audience members a chance to peek into the internal monologue of these students, as well as the things that are on their minds throughout the day.
John Proctor centers around quite a few deep-thinking students, so it’s no surprise that many of the students’ musical interests are paired with an analytical opinion or discussion. Here are just a few of the artists who are important to the characters:
As a teenage country singer and musician turned adult pop star, Taylor Swift has covered quite a bit of ground stylistically and won more than a few awards throughout her 15-year career. Taylor is known for her heartfelt, catchy, and lyrical catalogue, much of which is inspired by the men she has dated throughout her life. Her ability to turn failed relationships into top hits has led some to deem her a feminist icon, and others to call her an opportunistic man-hater. Recently, Taylor has gone through some major legal battles surrounding mistreatment from her former label and her attempt to purchase the masters for dozens of songs that she wrote. Taylor’s fans, known as Swifties, are anxiously waiting as she re-records her first six albums to have full control over her work.
Singer, rapper, actress, activist, flutist—is there any job that Lizzo doesn’t do well? Lizzo first started releasing music in 2013 and has been gathering fans around the world ever since, with special thanks to the 2019 spike in popularity of her 2017 song “Truth Hurts.” Having dealt with body image issues throughout her life, Lizzo makes it a point to celebrate confidence and self-love in her songs and is well known for her social media presence and career choices that highlight body positivity. Lizzo’s immense vocal range, seamless transitions from singing to rapping, and keen songwriting abilities have won her three Grammys and many other awards, and afforded her opportunities to work with musical legends including Missy Elliot, Beyoncé, and Prince.
Well-known for her unique vocal quality and beautifully written lyrics (are you sensing a pattern here?), Lorde, who was born and raised in New Zealand, skyrocketed to international fame through the release of her single “Royals” from her debut studio album Pure Heroine in 2013. Lorde’s music often reflects her views on mainstream culture and her experiences with heartbreak, all with a bit of angst and a driving, electronic beat. In 2017, Lorde released her wildly popular second album, Melodrama. Following its release and Lorde’s subsequent tour, the artist went silent for a few years, leaving people to wonder whether she’d stopped recording. But four years later, Lorde released her newest album, Solar Power, and fans could not be happier with the return of her contemplative lyrics and memorable melodies.
We’ve created a playlist of these and other artists mentioned in John Proctor, including Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, and Harry Styles. And we’ve taken some artistic license to add our picks from artists that help to set the scene of a modern-day high school in a small Georgia town.
Dive into this playlist to prepare for what you’re about to see on the stage, post-show to debrief and meditate on the art that you consumed, or honestly, at any other time. Because let’s face it—the songs are catchy, and you’ll probably find yourself singing them throughout your daily routine for weeks to come, just like the characters in the show.
—Maya Louise Shed