Spoilers for Carole & Tuesday.
Content Warnings: Discussions of racism, immigration and xenophobia.
Carole & Tuesday is an original anime series on Netflix about two girls who share an immense love for music and aspire to become famous musicians on Mars. While the series initially follows the girls’ rise through the music industry, the focus eventually shifts to the political unrest going on around them—and how they can use their music to fight back against an oppressive regime. The series has admirable goals, but it struggles to convincingly show how music can be an effective form of resistance, leading to an overly simplistic and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.
The first half of the series focuses on Carole and Tuesday’s relationship to music and how they dealt with their personal problems by finding solace in creating music for themselves. While it doesn’t seem apparent at first, the historical context of how humans ended up on Mars has had a huge impact on Carole and Tuesday’s lives.
The series doesn’t really explain what kind of socio-political and economic problems are happening on Earth, but the ecosystem has been destroyed, making the Earth nearly uninhabitable and leading to a huge migration to Mars. These events created immense displacement, which caused children like Carole to become stateless and due to the increasing number of refugees it became difficult to find suitable homes for orphaned children. Famous musicians that Carole admired inspired her to have hope and work through her trauma by creating her own music, which would give her the strength to help others, too.
While Tuesday grew up primarily in a rich white neighborhood, she dropped out of school because she felt like an outsider and a failure for not living up to her mother’s expectations. Tuesday was also able to find solace in creating music and ran away from home to pursue her dreams to become a professional singer. Despite their different circumstances, the two girls are able to understand each other’s pain through their music and find their personal liberations by forming a close bond.
Carole and Tuesday’s partnership is unique because, with the rise of AI technology on Mars, there aren’t many artists writing their own music anymore. Throughout the series, there is an over-reliance on using AI for almost everything, leading to limited employment opportunities for humans. While the narrative never explains what kind of jobs are available for people on Mars, it’s clear that plenty of artists like Ertegun use AI not only to write and create music, but also to manage their daily affairs.
While the first half of the series covers the enormous appeal of AI music and how difficult it can be to navigate the industry, it’s clear there is still a need for music that can resonate with the human soul. It’s no surprise that Carole and Tuesday are treated as a rarity for being able to write and produce their own work in a time when other alternative resources are available for entertainment.
Through its two costars, Carole & Tuesday explores how music can be a vehicle for self-empowerment and makes a strong argument for its transformative power on an individual level. Perhaps if the series had remained focused solely on Carole and Tuesday’s path to stardom, the narrative could’ve been more structured and led to a more rewarding conclusion.
However, during the second half of the series, the show quickly shifts from a personal narrative to focusing on Valerie Simmons’ campaign to become President of Mars, which it uses to explore the socio-political problems between Mars and Earth. Valerie uses anti-immigrant sentiment to gain support and is in favor of deporting undocumented people (particularly Black immigrants) back to Earth.
The fact that the series wants to talk about real world issues is commendable, but the show glosses over these brutal realities to make a point about how music can become a powerful tool to resist systemic oppression. It ultimately feels superficial and is not handled with the seriousness it deserves.
Despite the weaknesses in the story’s execution, it’s still meaningful that Carole & Tuesday wants to examine how music can effectively be used to challenge social injustice and demand radical changes for marginalized communities. Historically, music has always been important to capture people’s experiences with their cultures and politics. Music has also been used to express complex human emotions and pass on ancestral knowledge for the next generation.
Oral Tradition has been foundational to many societies. During periods of oppression (whether through colonization, slavery, or other forms of persecution), songs were often the only way to pass on stories and histories in the hopes of sustaining the cultures and identities of marginalized communities. Music was also fundamental to challenging violent institutions and regimes.
The ruling powers didn’t underestimate the importance of music, either. When enslaved Black people arrived in the Americas, their instruments were taken away to prevent them from communicating with each other. Similarly, in residential schools, Indigenous children were beaten for singing songs in their languages.
It’s difficult to imagine the amount of perseverance it took to survive that kind of violence, but in spite of it all, marginalized folks actively resisted their oppression daily. Since their instruments were taken away, enslaved Black people created their own spiritual musical to help them express their sorrows and hope. These same spirituals eventually became foundational to the creation of several different music genres in the United States of America and led to social justice music during the Civil Rights Movements.
Similarly, even though laws were passed to “kill the Indian in the child,” oral traditional knowledge still survived. This is due to the resilience of Indigenous communities actively defying racist laws by secretly practicing songs and ceremonies.
Carole & Tuesday clearly understands the power of music, and it comes through particularly in Ezekiel’s music. In “Crash the Server,” Ezekiel calls out Mars’ government on their anti-immigrant policies and criticizes the overuse of AI technology, pointing out how it has replaced human labor. His line “Seems a lot of real music has forever been banished” references how the entertainment industry uses AIs to create music so they can mass-produce artists quickly for corporate gains.
Ezekial’s criticism of AI isn’t just about labor and technology; it’s also a free speech issue. Valerie Simmons and other right-wing politicians are willing to support the passage of a law that would limit the freedom of speech of artists. Ezekiel’s call to action is based on the real sense of urgency that if politicians are willing to go this far to prevent artists from expressing themselves, what guarantee is there that human artists won’t be completely replaced by subservient AI that will spit out nothing but government-approved entertainment and propaganda?
In the end, the Mars government doesn’t want anyone to critique them, so they are willing to arrest or deport artists that attempt to express their freedom of speech. As Ezekiel points out in “Crash the Server,” this is “not a fight over music; this is my fight for survival.” Ezekiel’s music speaks truth to power and he isn’t exaggerating when he says “this is my fight for survival” because he is immediately arrested and deported to an unknown and bleak fate on Earth.
Sadly, this kind of artistic oppression isn’t difficult to imagine, given that there are real-world examples of how music can be used as violence. As mentioned in the documentary Tibet in Song, the Chinese government actively tries to replace traditional Tibetan music groups with their own idealized version of Tibetan culture in order to promote their own interests.
Carole & Tuesday doesn’t have a solution to the real-world problems the series is depicting, but the famous singer Crystal makes a good point that musicians have a duty to reflect the difficult times they’re living in. The creation of the song “Mother” is a direct reaction by many of the series’ musicians to show solidarity for fellow artists arrested for critiquing the government.
While the song doesn’t explicitly mention immigration or free speech, it does encourage listeners to “stand and fight together” and “let their voices be heard.” The fact that these musicians came together at all is a direct challenge to the government that is trying to silence them.
“Mother” is also a strong reminder of the fractured relationship the people of Mars have with Earth. While the series never mentions it specifically, the Earth’s destruction was most likely due to the effects of environmental racism and climate change. If humans are capable of that, who’s to say they won’t ruin the little resources that exist on Mars as well?
In the age of social media, the “seven-minute miracle” will definitely be recorded and remembered for its call for unity (in addition to just being a good song), but the message feels hollow considering the ominous presence of the police standing outside, ready to raid the concert. Despite Carole & Tuesday’s hopeful tone, there’s still environmental devastation on Earth, the ongoing refugee crisis, rampant anti-immigration sentiment on Mars, and Black musicians either in prison or actively being deported. It’s hard to believe anything has really changed.
Carole & Tuesday had good intentions in exploring how music can make a positive impact on individuals and society, but the series doesn’t offer any tangible ways to tackle these real-world problems. Ultimately, Ezekiel’s direct call for a revolution resonates more strongly, given both the current pandemic as well as the global Black Lives Matter protests challenging Anti-Blackness and demanding the complete erasure of violent white cis-hetero patriarchal colonial systems.
Rather than offer a conclusion that depicts how an organized, long-lasting social movement would look like for the future, we are offered a “miracle” to briefly give hope and let us imagine what comes next. For a series that wanted to examine so many complex issues, that’s a simplistic and unsatisfying ending.