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 then, for a brief moment, a Butthole Surfers T-shirt flashes by — it’s like, “OK, these aren’t your everyday Nirvana tees. 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 general 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 says. “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] were like, ‘Oh, he’s the kind of guy who’s standing at the front of a concert, or rocking out with earplugs in.’ We said, ‘Okay, let’s put him in band T-shirts — what kind of music is he listening to?’ Well, (laughing), 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 [Dalo, on the music team], we actually made a playlist of those bands because he’d heard of maybe Rage Against the Machine, but barely!”
And while that doesn’t answer why the O.J. and Emerald characters are wearing the shirts as well, there’s an implicit plot point: After the disasters at the Haywood ranch, they’d regrouped at Angel’s apartment and borrowed some of his clothes.
“You don’t see them changing clothes,” she 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 (she kind of roars), and so Jordan went for it.”
She also says that there is “kind of a Nirvana like thread to this,” mentioning that a shirt featuring the even more obscure band Earth, an instrumental duo led by Kurt Cobain’s friend Dylan Carlson, almost made it into the film. “Earth was the band that Kurt Cobain’s best friend started, and Kurt loved the Wipers and the Jesus Lizard.” (In fact, Nirvana and the Jesus Lizard released a split single together in 1992.)
She 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 discuss how much money that he’d paid for the T-shirts — it was going to be like a character point, Emerald was going to say ‘How much did you pay for it on eBay?’ and she was going to steal it, because she’s kind of a bit of a magpie, you know?
“But,” she sighs, nodding to an occupational hazard of costume design for films, “we always build these stories into the clothes that nobody ever knows!”