There are a lot of ways to give characters on TV depth and personality. One way is by establishing what kind of music they listen to. Sometimes this is done well, and it makes sense for the character. Take, for example, Clarissa Darling’s affinity for They Might Be Giants. That just tracks. Ben Wyatt loving Letters from Cleo? A clever pull, and perfectly sensible. On the other hand, on occasion, it feels very clumsy or tacked on. Sometimes a musician appears on a show, and now everybody has to be fans of said musician. Other times, a character’s fandom is seemingly limited to posters tossed up on a bedroom wall. Even if this is the case, it becomes canonical. In theory, these characters are fans of the musicians plastered upon their wall.
We are going to explore this phenomenon by drilling down into one specific show, the paragon of ‘90s culture that is Saved by the Bell. Nobody can accuse Saved by the Bell, or its creators, of putting a lot of thought and effort into such details. But the show does suggest that its characters are fans of certain musicians. Does it work logically, though? In short, would the characters of Saved by the Bell be fans of these particular bands?
Zack’s bedroom had a few looks over the course of the years. He had all sorts of things on the wall and in his room, including a full-sized cardboard cutout of Kelly Kapowski, which is supremely creepy. However, at one point, he also had posters of Paula Abdul and The Bangles. Abdul tracks, if only because Zack is a heterosexual teenage boy. She was still a big star in the early ‘90s, so she was definitely a likely source of schoolboy crushes. The poster on the wall isn’t exactly provocative, but Abdul could be considered, say, the Britney Spears of her time.
While The Bangles aren’t exactly lacking in the looks department themselves, this feels different. Would Zack Morris be a fan of The Bangles? First, we must think about who Zack is. He’s a rabble rouser, a troublemaker. He’s a schemer and a ladies man. His view of women is fairly reductive, so it seems unlikely that he would be particularly supportive of a band of all women, at least from a feminist perspective. On the other hand, it would make sense for Zack to relate to a song like “Manic Monday.” It’s about wishing it was the weekend and disliking Mondays. That’s exactly how Zack feels about school! Does he like Boomtown Rats, as well?
This being said, The Bangles are an ‘80s band. Their prime came in 1986 with Different Light, which features “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and a delightful cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls.” By the time Saved by the Bell was on, they were defunct, and an afterthought. Zack is very much a trendy guy. He even sets the trends. It seems unlikely that he would be listening to The Bangles in the ‘90s. A more extreme version of this came later in the series, when Zack’s room was redecorated, and, suddenly, he had a UB40 poster. You know, the band that did “Red Red Wine.” Nobody would have a UB40 poster, much less a teenager in the ‘90s. This does not make sense.
Lastly, on another note, Zack’s mom’s favorite band is Peter, Paul, and Mary. There is no word on Zack’s dad’s favorite band. He works with computers, though, so probably Kraftwerk.
Remember the episode in which Jessie is addicted to caffeine pills? Of course you do, and you remember her climactic freakout. During that scene, you may notice over her bed a poster of The Cure. In a vacuum, this would work. The Cure’s earnest, morose, mopey music is resonant with teenagers to this day. There’s probably some kid subtweeting their ex with lyrics from “Pictures of You” as you read this. They are, however, actually a contemporary band during the run of Saved by the Bell. “Friday, I’m in Love” came out in 1992. The question isn’t whether or not a teenager would like The Cure, though. It’s whether or not Jessie Spano would.
For starters, Jessie isn’t really all that mopey. She suffers from self-doubt a lot, and is obsessed with success and perfection. She definitely feels negative emotions plenty, probably more than any other member of the main gang. Yet, it still feels unlikely that she would turn to The Cure for solace. She’s feels too high strung for The Cure’s softer, janglier music. Furthermore, while The Cure sing about heartbreak a lot, Jessie has probably the most successful romantic life of anybody on the show. For a solid portion of Saved by the Bell’s run, she’s dating A.C. Slater. Sure, he’s a macho pig, but she still seems happy with him more often than not. That doesn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the sounds of “Pictures of You,” but it wouldn’t be all that resonant, one imagines.
Let us go back to Jessie’s caffeine pill freakout once more. In that episode, part of that problem is that she is burning the candle at both ends studying, and also being in a girl group with Lisa and Kelly called Hot Sundae. Their music is nothing like The Cure. They do a cover of “I’m So Excited,” and their single, which has an inexplicably expensive-looking music video, is very ‘90s pop.
In conclusion, no, it does not feel like Jessie would listen to The Cure. This doesn’t fly.
Kelly has a poster of Tony Hawk in her room. It has nothing to do with music, but it’s so bizarre that it must be mentioned. Kelly showed zero interest in extreme sports during the run of the show. She was a cheerleader, and she dated a college guy named Jeff, and her family was poor. That’s about it. However, she also seems to have a poster of George Michael. There doesn’t seem to be any words on it, and it’s in the background a bit, but it looks like Michael, and that makes sense. This could be a similar situation to Zack and Paula Abdul. It may be more about Kelly finding George Michael attractive. As Salute Your Shorts taught us, teenage girls of the era loved George Michael. Unfortunately for them, George Michael was one of the rare music stars who didn’t love teenage girls.
This makes sense. Kelly would be a fan of George Michael.
Screech’s bedroom shows no signs of musical fandom. It’s full of science stuff, and a poster of what appears to be a wizard. His bedroom does have a robot named Kevin, though. As the resident weirdo, Screech would have been saddled with some sort of strange music, to further make him seem out of touch and “not cool.” When he created a school song, it was basically a ripoff of “Home on the Range,” after all. However, Screech did step in for Jessie as a member of Hot Sundae, and he played keyboard for Zack Attack, so, clearly, he had some sense of music, at least.
On the other hand, Screech’s mom is defined almost entirely by her love of Elvis Presley. This makes sense, because Elvis is a timeless icon, although, for Mrs. Powers, it was a seemingly unhealthy obsession.
Lisa has a weird bedroom. It looks like an old lady’s bedroom from colonial times. She also has a little girl’s doll she sleeps with. This overall aesthetic is undercut in one episode by a poster of a shirtless hunk on a bike with the words “Student Body” on it. However, the poster is only there so Lisa can have a nightmare later with Screech’s face on it. Later, the poster is gone. Lisa was in Hot Sundae and Zack Attack, however, as the bass player. Alas, we have no real sign of Lisa’s musical tastes. She was basically defined by fashion.
We could find no record of any time spent in Slater’s bedroom. There’s a scene in the credit sequence of later episodes that features Zack and Slater doing some sort of hip-hop thing, but that doesn’t really teach us anything. Maybe in the college years, his musical tastes were indicated? Much like Lisa is defined by fashion, Slater is defined by sports. Though he did try his hand on the drums.
There is one more prime example of music fandom and the gang from Saved by the Bell, and that’s the episode “All in the Mall.” In this episode, Screech is left to wait in line all night for U2 tickets for the group. Of course, he ends up screwing it up, and then some weird stuff happens with some found money and a hidden camera TV show, but that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that, for these kids, U2 was a band worth going to extreme measures to procure tickets for.
Well, being that they make Screech stand in line for the tickets, and the rest of the gang treats Screech as sub-human, perhaps the measures weren’t that extreme. The lovable lads from Liverpool are one of the biggest bands of all-time. They were huge in the ‘90s, but, at least anecdotally, it feels like their audience skews a little older. They sang songs about violent political uprisings and so on. They were beloved, but feel more like an “adult” band.
More to the point, the mid-‘90s were a weird time for U2. They released Achtung Baby and Zooropa. This was the time of the Zoo TV Tour. This was not a kid-friendly time for the band. It would make sense for some of the gang to be casual fans of U2, but this devoted, at this time period? That doesn’t feel accurate. The show just needed an excuse for the kids to be in the mall, and to need money, and to make a joke about Screech sleeping in a line. U2 was just the band they filled into the blank.
There is another episode, “Save the Max,” wherein the old Bayside High radio station, KKTY, is brought back to life by the gang. However, a lot of the station is not dedicated to music. Kelly’s show seems to be focused on romantic music, which further backs the theory that she is a fan of George Michael. Zack calls himself Wolfman Zack, presupposing a knowledge of Wolfman Jack. Then again, this is also a show that had Casey Kasem on it twice, so old DJs and Saved by the Bell just go hand in hand.
Zack shows a knowledge of The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles. Meanwhile, Screech only knows of Paul McCartney, and doesn’t recognize the other Beatles. But the revelation here is that Mr. Belding was the renegade DJ of the station back in the day. Additionally, Belding says that he was The Boss, and that Bruce Springsteen stole that moniker from him. A middle-aged man liking Bruce Springsteen? There is nothing more plausible than that.