TRACK MARKS 2021: “Final Girl” by Chvrches

Track Marks is a recurring feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them around the turn of a new year, looking back at the previous year in music.

The music of Chvrches has always had a widescreen quality: With its swooning synths and pealing guitars, it’s virtually engineered to soundtrack a Michael Mann epic. But on “Final Girl,” the Scottish synth-pop trio isn’t just making music fit for the movies; they’re placing themselves within the movies. The title, as those steeped in pop culture well know, refers to the sometimes-virginal victim of a horror film, the last woman standing (and screaming) after the killer has eviscerated her hapless friends. Is lead singer Lauren Mayberry equating the burdens of feminine fame to the terrors of haunted-house mayhem, with toxic internet trolls swarming her with the destructive zeal of an inexorable slasher? She certainly seems battered, if not broken; whereas in the past she “could drown it out by filling up the silence with an organ sound,” now she’s wondering if she should just quit and go get married.

Final girls can’t give up, though. They’re defined by their endurance, their pluck, their defiant survival. And if a decade of commercial success has sapped Mayberry of her artistic enthusiasm, that’s news to Chvrches’ listeners, because “Final Girl” represents a band at the peak of its musical powers. Structurally, there’s nothing fancy about the song; it’s just a couple of verses, along with the usual pre- and post-chorus. But the compact, muscular arrangement bristles with precision and verve, the steady repetition paradoxically creating kinetic momentum. All of the harmonizing instruments—the glittering keyboards, the sliding guitars, the punchy percussion—are perfectly synchronized, and appropriately subservient to the clarion beauty of Mayberry’s voice. (During the chorus, she muses whether she should have changed her accent to make herself sound more attractive, a wistful piece of self-reflection which ignores the fact that her accent totally rules.) This exactitude lends the imagery a chilling vividness; when Mayberry conjures the vision of someone finding their daughter in a body bag, you can practically see the coroner pulling up the zipper.

“Final Girl” deftly mingles the personal with the professional—it’s an introspective diary entry that’s been crafted with brash, boisterous confidence—but in the spirit of the best slasher flicks, it saves its biggest twist for the finale. Mayberry has already mentioned the track’s title on her initial run through the post-chorus, but the second time around she asks, “There’s a final girl / Does she look like me?” It’s a jolting question, one that ponders just how much of ourselves we see when we’re staring at a movie screen. “She should be screaming!” Mayberry sings, her voice cresting with urgency as the mix gradually dissolves into an extended hiss of reverb. It’s a fitting non-ending, one that primes you to anticipate a sequel. And why not? With music this rich and taut and assured, Chvrches deserve a whole damn cinematic universe.

Jeremy Beck