Even in a fast-moving film like Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” there are some easter eggs you just can’t ignore — and one that has caught more than a few viewers’ eyes is the bizarre preponderance of characters wearing T-shirts featuring alt-rock bands from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
It starts with the character Angel (Brandon Perea) wearing a Wipers T-shirt — the legendary Portland band beloved by Kurt Cobain. Then you see one with a Mr. Bungle logo — the oddball California group Faith No More singer Mike Patton was originally in, and which he pursued as a parallel career. And by the time you see Emerald (Keke Palmer) prominently wearing a Jesus Lizard T-shirt (above) and O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) wearing a Rage Against the Machine one, and there have been brief flashes of Butthole Surfers and Earth tees, it’s like, “OK, these aren’t your garden-variety Nirvana smiley-faces. What the hell is with all these early ‘90s alt-rock T-shirts in this film?”
On the surface, to quote a song by another band from the same era, it makes no sense at all. Emerald is wearing a Prince tee early in the film, and most of the records in their house seem to be old soul and pop, like the version of Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By” that’s featured early in the film (well, except for the slowed-down appearance of Corey Hart’s ‘80s hit “Sunglasses at Night”).
But of course, it’s no coincidence, and Variety caught up with the film’s costume designer, Alex Bovaird (“White Lotus,” “Sorry for Your Loss,” the forthcoming “True Detective” season 4) to explain.
“We were struggling for wardrobe to fit with Angel’s random career, and we’d had him in these kind of happy outfits, and the actor [Perea] is just naturally upbeat,” she explains. “So we were trying to find a way to actually make him a little more, like, depressed, and have his clothes be a bit more depressing. So [the directors] said, ‘He’s the kind of guy who’s standing at the front of a concert, or rocking out with earplugs in.’ We said, ‘OK, let’s put him in band T-shirts — what kind of music is he listening to?’
“Well,” she laughs, “Jordan, [producer] Ian [Cooper] and I are all exactly the same age and listen to that music and went to those concerts. Some of them were Jordan’s suggestions, some of them were mine. Poor Brandon [Perea] — we actually had to make a playlist of those bands because he’d heard of maybe Rage Against the Machine, but barely!”
And while that doesn’t explain why the O.J. and Emerald characters are wearing the shirts as well, the answer lies in a minor off-screen plot point: After the disasters at the Haywood ranch, the characters had regrouped at Angel’s apartment and the siblings borrowed some of his clothes.
“You don’t see them changing clothes,” Bovaird says, “but that’s the that’s the implication, because they’d gotten wet. Some time had passed, they all got stoned. And by the time they get to the café, O.J. has the Rage shirt on and it’s kind of a turning point, where they’re really fired up, ‘We’re gonna do this thing!’ So I wanted those particular shots to be very, like ‘RAAH!’ (she kind of roars), and Jordan went for it.”
She also says that there is “kind of a Nirvana-like thread to this,” mentioning the presence of the most obscure band featured on a T-shirt in the film: Earth, an instrumental duo led by Cobain’s friend Dylan Carlson. “Earth was the band that Kurt Cobain’s best friend started, and Kurt loved the Wipers and the Jesus Lizard.” (In fact, Nirvana covered the Wipers’ “D-7” and “Return of the Rat,” and released a split 7″ single with the Jesus Lizard in 1992.)
Bovaird says the shirts also reflect a minor plot point that didn’t make it into the film. “At one point they were gonna have Angel discussing how much money he’d paid for the T-shirts — it was going to be a character point. Emerald was going to say, ‘How much did you pay for it on eBay?’ and then steal it, because she’s a bit of a magpie, you know?
“But,” she sighs, nodding to an occupational hazard of costume design, “we always build these stories into the [film’s] clothes that nobody ever knows!”