Mood Dissonance

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"It's hitting bed crisis time, and I just don't know where I can physically fit any more severely ill children on my ward. Still, listen, sorry to unload on you; how was your day at the ice cream factory?"


The mood of a story or scene is the net effect of many different elements: the dialogue between the characters, the soundtrack, and the use of light and color in the background, to name a few. Artists will specifically select those elements that work together in unison to create the desired mood... Or not.

Some artists will introduce one element into a scene that completely rubs against the prevailing mood. However, rather than undermining the prevailing tone, this Mood Dissonance can make it stand out further. Rather than drowning each other out, the contrasting elements resonate against one another.

Of course, that's when it's done well. When Mood Dissonance is done poorly or unintentionally, the varying elements simply cancel each other out, rendering the final product a confusing mess, or worse.

Note that cases such as the page quote are very common (and often done deliberately) in Real Life, since people with jobs dealing with sickness and death are still human, and there's a need to avert Darkness Induced Real Life Apathy. This can also occur in shows with cutesy eyecatches and/or opening/ending themes when they are left unchanged after dramatic shifts in tone and narrative.

Inversions of Empathic Environment (such as It's Always Sunny At Funerals) are common. Crap Saccharine World is when the dissonance is an inherent part of the story's setting. Soundtrack Dissonance and Lyrical Dissonance are music-specific subtropes. See also Mood Whiplash and Daylight Horror. A Happy Flashback can be used to render a sad present scene more poignant.

Examples of Mood Dissonance include:


Anime and Manga

  • Clannad‍'‍s ending theme is a cute, soothing tune that also doubles as Nagisa's theme, which conflicts with the dramatic moments that several episodes end in. The second season proved to be far worse. Episode 16 ends with Nagisa dying after giving birth, a flashback over Tomoya's happy moments with her, and Tomoya wishing he had never gotten involved with her so that she might still be alive. With the words "I should have never met her", the screen fades to white, aaaaaaaand... cue the cheerful, bouncing ending theme (which showcases the whole cast, ending with Tomoya and Nagisa)!
    • "Dango Daikazoku" could and could not be. While it seems to be cheery in contrast, it definitely highlights the main point of the show - family - as well as how happy things could be. Still, it's a stark contrast to the rest of the show.
    • Definitely a case of YMMV. There are some who, beneath the surface cuteness, find the song to be oddly melancholic in tone, making it more Lyrical Dissonance rather than Mood Dissonance.
  • Later episodes of Magical Project S suffer from a minor case of this.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Mood Dissonance becomes more prominent as the series ticks down to the Gainax Ending. Mind Rape? Why not add the Hallelujah Chorus? Kaworu's death? Add 'Ode to Joy!' Shinji strangling Asuka as the last remnants of his sanity are stripped away, not to mention every human being on Earth being turned into a liquid? Cue the light jazzy pop! Of course, it is Komm, süsser Tod so it isn't as Mood Dissonance as you first think it is.
    • And then in the second Rebuild film, while Unit 01, controlled by the Dummy Plug system, is mutilating and disemboweling and eating Unit 03 -- piloted by Asuka in this version—a bright and cheerful song about being best friends forever (this song) plays as everyone but Gendo is either too horrified to look away or all but openly weeping.
  • Code Geass R2: In the last episode, Nunnally sobbing over Lelouch's dead body is set to the uplifting Continued Story and the rallying cheers of "ZERO! ZERO! ZERO!"
  • In the middle of one of the most climactic scenes in Gunbuster, Noriko - alone in the cockpit of her giant robot - suddenly rips her shirt and bra open, exposing her breast. Now, this is one of the anime that the phrase "Gainaxing" was coined for, but still.
    • Mind you, it made sense since it's a Motion Capture Mecha and she had to tear out its core -- located roughly where the human heart would be -- in order to activate the Jupiter Bomb. Still, the bare breast was probably unnecessary.
  • Any time a thoroughly dramatic moment in The Slayers is followed by a ridiculously peppy commercial bumper.
    • Evolution-R managed to avert this: in the few thoroughly serious episodes, the eyecatch has a different, moodier music.
  • The anime of The Violinist Of Hamelin has one of the most inappropriate opening themes. The sequence is very light and upbeat with an uplifting song, while the anime itself is very dark and depressing. Not to be confused with the manga which is a comedic parody of shounen action fantasy.
  • Bleach provides an excellent example of a cutesy ending theme left unchanged after dramatic elements. Skoop on Somebody's upbeat, peppy "Happy People", the closing Anime Theme Song during much of the Soul Society arc, seems incongruous when it follows a hard-hitting or violent episode—especially "Rukia's Nightmare", which explores the titular character's Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Narutaru's ridiculously over-the-top cheery introduction can have this effect, given that inevitably it will only take a few seconds after it's ended for the anime to start recapping how the plot went Gone Horribly Wrong last episode.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei's plot so far: A depressed-to-the-point-of-attempting-melodramatic-suicide-on-a-daily-basis man becomes the homeroom teacher for a class filled to the brink with borderline psychopaths, social misfits and mental cases (except for that one girl who is normal), and he has offered a handful of the students to commit double suicide with him. Depressing? Not one bit, much thanks to the fact that it all gets so bizarre and fudged up with all the different and extreme personalities, you simply cannot take the show seriously. The fact that the show doesn't seem to take itself seriously, but provides so many forms of dissonance it's pretty much a Mind Screw on drugs, also helps.
  • Prétear has a (possibly unintentional) one—the ending theme for the series is a very cute, bubbly song that shows Himeno wandering around wistfully in her bedroom clad in cute pajamas while the Leafe Knights and other supporting characters are shown framing the scene drawn as chibi angels. This theme stays throughout the show, even as the tone gets darker and darker. The last time this theme is used in the show, it's right after Sasame, having previously betrayed the Knights, jumps in front of an attack meant for Takako and dies in the process. Seeing Sasame die and then represented as a cute, flirtatious angel in the ending theme immediately after is jarring, if not a downright Tear Jerker.
  • Tenchi Muyo!: One example that comes to mind of a sad ending going into an inappropriately cutesy closing song is episode 5, which ends with Kagato blowing up Ryu-Oh, seemingly killing off Tenchi, causing even Ryoko to start crying. Hey, look, Ryo-Ohki's planting carrots and flowers are dancing to a cheesy love song!
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The music of the song Soldiers of Sorrow in the 2nd movie has a very light-hearted, upbeat tune, which does make the song's message of the tragedy of war and man's unending folly/absurdity in glorifying it stand out further. The movie's earlier releases placed this music in the climactic battle. The seemingly-incompatible light intro amongst the action slaughter can make the viewer take notice of the whole scene, and as the music and the battle progress they intertwine, becoming one profoundly emotional experience. The tune's upbeat element underscores the valiance of both sides, while at the same time its light merry-go-round-music aspect underscores the "here-they-go-again-killing-each-other-off" message. (One focus is the portrayal of Kai Shiden, where he shows his cemented resolve to see the war through due to a recent personal tragedy, and thus jumping into the carnage.) Later releases of the movie had Soldiers of Sorrow displaced by some action music, changing the feel of the moment. (It was then turned into the movie's closing music.)
    • On the subject of the music, Victory Gundam is just as infamous in having peaceful, shiny music backing the bloodbath.
  • Episode 8 of Paranoia Agent is probably one of the cutest, funniest and most light-hearted episodes in the entire series. It follows three people, one being a young girl, attempting to commit suicide. And, unwittingly, succeeding.
  • A (probably) unintentional example of this can be found at the end of episode 9 of Nanatsuiro Drops. At the end of the episode Haru Tsuwabuki, the male lead, is turned into an inanimate doll "forever", but they decide they decide to use the same, upbeat ED theme they used to end the previous episodes with.
  • Most of the Soul Eater episodes for which the peppy and cute 'Style' was the ED. The Kid Heroes not only fail to stop the bad guy, they fail in a very unpleasant fashion with some of the series' prime examples of Nightmare Fuel. Although the tune does allow for the adorable version with a young Maka and Crona. In contrast, the fourth ED 'Strength' is considerably darker than what the final episodes actually depict though it spoils the general setup.
  • In Majokko Tsukune-chan, much of the humor involves cutesy characters reacting in inappropriately cheerful or blasé ways to horrible events.
  • Hellsing Ultimate will randomly insert chibi-style animations into what is otherwise a very gory series, which is often very jarring.
  • The Really Dead Montage of Setsuko's ghost/spirit/memory playing around the pond in Grave of the Fireflies is sad enough... but when that's accompanied by a lovely rendition of Home, Sweet Home being played on the record-player of a family that had kept everything while the two children we'd been following had lost everything... It just makes that scene all the more poignant.
  • In Digimon Tamers while Henry and Renamon were having a deep conversation about Rika leaving her, Calumon and Terriermon were laughing right between them.
  • Pretty Cure All Stars DX 3 plays a cheery, upbeat theme for its end theme as we're treated to still scenes of twenty-one Precures crying over the loss of their Mascot Companions followed by clips of how they met. The post-script scene after the credits fixes that problem.
  • In the opening credits of the second season of Ah! My Goddess, "Flights of Fancy," one part seems a little strange. There's a short clip of Belldandy being surrounded by darkness, and she has a pained look on her face as the mark on her forehead glows with dark energy...all the while the cheerful introductory song plays in the background. Uh...yay?

Comic Books

  • The Joker lives and breaths this trope. He's a clown, something that's supposed to be lighthearted and happy, that does awful and horrible things to people in a way that's occasionally funny. One description that sums it up goes that when the Joker's written right, he should be terrifying, should make you laugh, then hate yourself for laughing at him.
  • Umbrella Academy uses the bright, clean style of Gabriel Ba, while the plot is a mix of dramatic confrontations, violence, and absurdist humor.
  • The ending of Keno Don Rosa's Scrooge McDuck story "The Old Castle's Other Secret or A Letter From Home": the last main panel contains several smaller panels around the edges, combining into a single scene with multiple viewpoints. Central is Scrooge reunited with his estranged sister and looking at the letter from his long-dead parents that confirms that, contrary to what he began to fear during the story, they were proud of him and trusted him. The other panels play into this theme and into the generally uplifting spirit of the goal of the adventure having been achieved and the villain defeated... except the last one, which features Donald frantically trying to fix the Holy Grail, which he accidentally broke earlier. When it works, the effect is basically to make the reader be moved to tears and laugh at that last panel at the same time.


  • The opening of Saving Private Ryan shows the D-Day invasion in horrific detail, with intense cinematography designed to give a "you are there" feeling. It's quite sickening. In the middle of all this, there's a brief moment in which a soldier's helmet is struck by a bullet and gets dented. He takes it off to look at it, with a puzzled expression on his face. A moment later, a bullet goes through his head, killing him. It's oddly hilarious, even though it has no right to be.
  • In The Incredibles, partway through the movie, there is a montage in which Superhero fashion designer notes the drawbacks to capes. The montage is of several superheroes and superheroines getting into quirky cape related accidents. The accidents are so hilarious that you don't dwell on the fact that most of them were probably fatal.
    • Probably? Oh no, they were. It's confirmed in the NSA Profiles section on the Bonus Features disk.
  • In The Dark Knight the Joker's two funniest moments are when he makes a pencil disappear and when he has to fiddle a bit with his detonator to get a hospital to explode.
    • Speaking of The Joker... in the online viral ad campaign for The Dark Knight you can find a site that's essentially the Gotham Times as defaced by the Joker- The Ha Ha Ha Times. It's wickedly funny in parts, and eerie in others, but it does not prepare you for what you get in the movie. Things that are benign when first read, or just another throwaway joke, get... rather disturbing in light of TDK's actual plot.
  • Natural Born Killers presents a scene of domestic violence and child abuse in the style of a '50s sitcom, complete with a Laugh Track.
  • The brief random Intermission scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • The random jumprope scene in Big Buck Bunny.
  • Stanley Kubrick loves this trope:
  • Serenity
    • : Book, stop making jokes as you die, gorramit.
    • How about when after navigating a very difficult sequence with some deft maneuvers, Wash is impaled MID-SENTENCE? Puts a real damper on the "whew we got through that one!" feel.
    • Much earlier in the movie, of course, as relationships and moods are imploding left and right, River hears the impossibly cheery Fruity Oaty Bar commercial, complete with kawaii-but-disturbing visuals, which triggers her Waif Fu so hard that she maims or incapacitates nearly everybody in the bar. Including Jayne!
  • In The Howling, Robert Picardo plays a lycanthropic Serial Killer who leaves smiley-face stickers at the scenes of his crimes.
  • Watchmen. The song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen was already meant to be ironic and melancholy. The use of the word "Hallelujah" in contrast to the general mood of the song only emphasizes its mood, making it even more melancholy. Perfect for a sex scene! This was intentional, since Snyder thought the scene was already ridiculous.
    • Likewise the opening scene of The Comedian's brutal murder with the romantic song "Unforgettable" playing in the background. This was also deliberate, as one theme of the story is the eroticism of violence and how, for The Comedian especially, masked heroes only felt alive when they're beating the hell out of somebody. The song is also symbolic of the murderer, Adrian Veidt having never forgotten how The Comedian was the only person to ever defeat him in combat. Veidt also considers himself unforgetable. In his defence, he's certainly anything but dull.
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Darth Vader has just been mutilated, is imprisoned in an awful suit for the rest of his life and has just discovered that he killed his wife, his entire motivation for his turn for evil which was directly responsible for his prior two predicaments. Of course it's the dramatic peak of the movie and possibly the franchise, the moment where the whiny hero Anakin Skywalker truly dies and Darth Vader rises as a force of evil. Wait, what? It's not? Then what.... Nooooooo!
  • The Avengers 1998 has a scene where the Big Bad of the movie has a meeting with his henchmen; two of them indicate that they want out, and he promptly kills them. It would all be very serious if everyone in the scene was not dressed in a giant teddy bear costume.
  • The entirety of Ed Wood is based on this trope. Despite Wood's movies constantly earning scorn from the audience and his increasingly pressing financial problems, the movie almost never stops being as upbeat and optimistic as a Rags to Riches story.
  • Towards the end of the film adaptation of Matilda, Miss Trunchbull is having her Villainous Breakdown and collapses in Matilda's classroom. The students cautiously advance on her, as she awakens and immediately grabs one student to throw him out the window. Matilda immediately uses her powers to open the window and helps him fly around a bit, making him laugh as light music plays in the background before bringing him back to crash into Miss Trunchbull and continue her Humiliation Conga.
  • When Harry Met Sally...: The "Mr. Zero" scene is a hilarious description of a -- divorce.
  • In The Godfather, Michael attends a baptism while his subordinates, on his orders, assassinate a bunch of his rivals. The scene repeatedly cuts between each event - seeing Michael attend a religious ceremony stands in pretty stark contrast to what is being done with his say-so, particularly when the priest asks Michael if he renounces Satan (to which Michael says "I do").


  • In Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee, several sad scenes are punctuated with bizarre bits of humor. For example, the narrator states that "the train took a swan dive into the Allegheny River" while describing the train wreck that killed the protagonist's parents.
  • The Strugatsky Brothers often used this trope. In Hard to Be A God, for example, most dialogs are humorous, and witty. The story, about a man trying to study a medieval society and becoming less and less civilized himself, until his girlfriend's death sends him into a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, where he kills hundreds of people, is tragic and scary. Even more sad is "The Burden of Evil", which however also contains plenty of humorous and funny moments.
  • The ending of Jude the Obscure. Jude is dying, not yet thirty, abandoned by the woman he loves, after having lost all three of his children. Meanwhile, his amoral wife Arabella is out having fun -even going back out after she finds him dead because she can't be bothered. In fact, the whole of Christminster (Oxford), which represents all that Jude aspired to, seems to be celebrating while he dies. Ouch.
  • Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows : J.K. Rowling seems to be fond of this trope. More than one serious scene ends with one jarring note of humor. For instance,Harry is shocked at the realization that Umbridge has the Locket and accidentally lights Mundungus's eyebrows on fire, which are then quickly doused by Hermione.
  • Stephen King likes to employ Squicky moments in the middle of dramatic scenes. For example, in an early scene in the beginning of the second book in The Dark Tower, Roland is badly injured by a "Lobstrosity (essentially a carnivorous lobster the size of an alligator)." Having just lost a toe and two fingers—including his right trigger finger—one of his first thoughts is at least he jerks off with his left hand.
  • In The Wandering Inn:

It was evening. The sun cast long shadows across the plains. All was silent. Aside from the screaming rock-crab smashing itself in the head and the screaming human, there was no sound in the world.

All was calm.


Live-Action TV

  • Inspector Rex: This austrian cop show [1] is a poster child for Mood Dissonance. It's got cheesy theme music, a cute dog acting human, chocolate-box Vienna locations: everything points to a fun family show. And then you realise you're watching a plot about kids being kidnapped from the fair and forced to make child porn...
  • Heroes: Be it ever so humble, in California or Texas, being paid a visit by creepy, pedophilic -esque stalker serial killers, desperate hostage takers, The Men in Black or cute lap dogs, the Bennetts' house is always sunny and warm and welcoming. DVD commentary reveals that this is intentional.
  • Dexter: The combination of visuals and soundtrack in the opening makes a normal morning routine look sinister. It is the morning routine of a Serial Killer, after all. It gives new meaning to "blood orange."
  • Heroes does this with Sylar, also a Serial Killer, who provides his own Plucky Comic Relief on occasion, such as by eating Dippin' Dots while watching his prey.
  • Power Rangers RPM is made of this trope. For the guardians of the Last City on Earth, fighting killer robots who turned the planet into a bombed-out wasteland, with most loved ones dead and a single loss meaning total extinction, the characters are disturbingly peppy.
  • Battlestar Galactica: In the original, the colonies are all wiped out, same holds for most battlestars, but the show tries to maintain a light, comedic mood.
  • The finale of Life On Mars ends with Sam waking up from his coma and returning to his life in 2006... and then realising he feels nothing. So he goes up to the roof of the police station, and with a huge smile on his face and David Bowie rising triumphantly on the soundtrack, he runs to the edge and leaps to his death.
  • The Byker Grove episode that ends with the death of Jemma Dobson has the same upbeat credits as every other episode, and the laugh at the end of the song comes up just as the image of Jemma's dead body comes on screen.
  • Fringe does this in the episode "Dreamscape" where a man jumps through a skyscraper window and classical music is playing while he's falling to his death.
  • From Blue Peter:

Steven: (in Doctor Who clip) No! Not that one! Katarina! (Off-camera, Katarina depressurizes the airlock and she and Kirksen die) KATARINA!
Cut to Blue Peter studio.
Peter Purves' co-hosts: A star is born!

  • Doctor Who: On the Daleks The Early Years VHS, the footage of the extermination of Kert Gantry, a security agent for the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire, had no sound, so they used the 1964 novelty Christmas song "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With a Dalek."
  • Scrubs : Similar to some of the anime examples above, sometimes the light and upbeat credits music gets the show in trouble. While most of the time the music fits just fine, Scrubs is known for having several very serious episodes per season. The episode with Ben's death is a good example. To go from that to the downright twinkly credits is...jarring.
  • The West Wing has the same problem as Scrubs, but its credits are even more lighthearted and sparkly than Scrubs' -- it wouldn't be out of place in a circus or carnival. Just listen to this and then ask whether or not you'd like to hear that two seconds after the show fades to black during an assassination attempt, or the president holds back tears while coffins carrying the bodies of several pointlessly killed DEA agents are carried past him, or Leo breaks the news of Mrs. Landingham's death.
  • One Foot in the Grave: Mood dissonance is practically the bread and butter. Many episodes revolve around Victor Meldrew being driven to fuming indignation by a series of increasingly absurd comic mishaps, then in the final scenes of the episode, the tone abruptly shifts as he (or his long-suffering wife Margaret) draws a comparison between what just happened, and how it is simply another example of the unfairness of life, usually on the theme of mortality and the trials of growing old. Then, with a resigned sigh, normal life resumes. Aside from this staple, the show also randomly drops in tragic moments, often as a counterpoint to a farcically comic scene, such as the death of a relative, or revealing Victor and Margaret having lost a child early in their marriage. Though it doesn't always hit its mark, at its best these scenes can be genuinely sad.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: In the last episode of series four, a sketch about an elderly Sherlock Holmes succumbing to dementia and Watson desperately trying to pretend for his sake that nothing has changed is initially played for laughs... until Holmes, in a sudden moment of clarity, reveals he knows what's happening to him.

Holmes: I know, John. I do know. I can't get the fog to clear.

  • The Fast Show: The "Rowley Birkin QC" monologues are generally unintelligible but very funny anecdotes. One, however, seems to be about a woman he was in love with during WW 2, and who apparently died. The whole scene is melancholy, and the final line "I held her in my arms... (long pause)... I'm afraid I was very drunk." is unutterably sad.
  • In Sherlock, the fact that the ringtone on Jim Moriarty's phone is the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" just underscores how batshit crazy he is.
    • Also in Sherlock, in The Reichenbach Fall, the episode starts with a sad scene, complete with rain, and John saying that Sherlock Holmes is dead, but then immediately jumps to the rather upbeat title sequence. Talk about Mood Whiplash.
  • On The Amazing Race 3's final elimination leg, "wonder twins" Derek & Drew missed the clue box, and, in their confusion, ended up making their way to the Pit Stop. The final scene had sad music playing, Derek & Drew being confused and distraught at their eminent elimination, Flo upset because she caused the elimination of her future boyfriend by telling Ken & Gerard where the clue was, and Ken & Gerard grim but resolute in their decision to ditch the twins in order to save themselves, and, in contrast to all that, Zach laughing away at the twins' mistake, happy to finally be rid of Drew, the man who had spent the entire race flirting with his teammate.


  • "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People is certainly a catchy, even relaxing song with a music video seemingly designed to appeal to hipster kids. Of course, with lyrics like "All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you better run, better run, outrun my gun," it appears to be sending the exact opposite message.
  • "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" by She and him sounds like a pleasant melody without watching the video, but the light red blood and the scooby-doo like spooky graphics are a very good showing of mood Dissonance. The music video
  • Regina Spektor, "That Time". "Hey, remember that time when you OD'd?" "Hey, remember that other time when you OD'ed for the second time?"
  • The New Order song True Faith is about the singer's struggle with a drug addiction ("I used to think that the day would never come that my life would depend on the Morning Sun"), but the video features dancers jumping around in colorful inflatable suits.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "I Remember Larry". Happy lively song that sounds like it's a cheerful remembrance of someone? Check. All the lines about all the horrible things Larry did to the singer? Check. Final verse about the singer's subsequent kidnapping, (implied) murder, and leaving in a forest of Larry? Check. Funny as hell? Definitely.
    • A lot of his songs go for this effect, everything from One of those days

The Bank called me up and told me I'm overdrawn
Some freaks are burning crosses out on my front lawn.
And I can't believe it, all the Cheetos are gone

    • To I Was Only Kidding which starts out as a crooning love ballad until the singer says he's only kidding prompting a shift to a much crazier melody where Weird Al basically lists all the ways their relationship has been a lie.
    • Not to mention Good Old Days, which is a nice and sweet song about young memories - of someone who is probably singing this from death row, to Generic Blues which the singer weighs the choices of suicide, or just going bowling instead.
    • Bohemian Polka is another Weird Al candidate for mood dissonance. It's not only a Speedy Techno Remake of the original, but it also comes with zany sound effects. Now, the original lyrics tell of a young man destined to be stoned to death, because he supposedly shot another man.
    • Since You've Been Gone summarizes all the strange feelings he is going through after the breakup (like chewing on tin foil), until the last line states, "I feel almost as bad as I did when you were still here."
  • Pretty much any up-tempo song by Wednesday 13 or any of the bands he fronts (Murderdolls, Wednesday 13, Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13, Manic Spider Trash, Gunfire 76, or Bourbon Crow) will be one of these. Expect plenty of upbeat songs about graverobbing, necrophilia, cold-blooded murder, obnoxious drug addiction, and cross-dressing. Sometimes all at once.
  • The song Blue by The Birthday Massacre whiplashes between light, airy verses with upbeat keyboard accompaniment and a much heavier chorus with dark lyrics sung in something approaching a growl. It's jarring, creepy, and highly effective. The music video follows the same idea, with added Mind Screw and horror.
  • Kylie Minogue "Better the devil you know" appears to be a catchy pop song about an abused wife/girlfriend.
  • The Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". A cheerfully, peppy number. About a psychotic serial killer.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," another cheerful song about a not-so-cheery topic:

Hope you are quite prepared to die...
Don't go around tonight
Well, it's bound to take your life

  • Much of the music by The Cure, especially around the "Head on the Door" and "Kiss Me" albums, falls into this. Major key pop-songs with jangly guitars and upbeat keyboards, with lyrics about loneliness, isolation, drugs and heartbreak.
  • 1999 by Prince. The world ends today, wheeee! Par-tay!
  • Fuck You by Cee Lo Green is a very upbeat Earworm. However the song is a bitter rant against the singer's ex and her new boyfriend.
  • Lily Allen seems fond of this. In particular, "LDN" is the most obvious.

There was a little old lady who was walking down the road, she was struggling with bags from Tesco.
There were people from the city having lunch in the park, I believe that is called al fresco,
When a kid came along to offer a hand, but before she had time to accept it,
Hits her over the head, doesn't care if she's dead, cos he's got all her jewelry and wallet.

  • Fuck Buttons' "The Lisbon Maru" is an interesting take, if only for the name. Listening to it, it sounds like a hopeful soldier's march. The Lisbon Maru was a World War II Japanese ship filled with English POWs. Which the United States Navy sunk, not knowing the cargo (The Japanese didn't bother placing markings signifying it was carrying POWs).
  • Hadestown features "When The Chips Are Down," a very fatalistic song set to a very catchy, jaunty tune.
  • Microdisney made this their trademark. The cheerful sounding Town To Town starts with the lines "Got a peaceful feeling, I've found a reason, for taking life less seriously" and yet the bridge contains the line "Help reap the dead harvest".
    • There is also Dear Rosemary which is a charming acoustic song which starts off with sweet lines about friendship and love and then catches you off guard with the line "They want to build a land fit for heroes to starve to death in".
      • High And Dry with its synth-tastic 80s sound has serious mood dissonance: "Why'd you have to leave me for some Albanian gambler on the Beirut train. When I finished laughing, I celebrated with a glass of paint". To sum up this upbeat catchy song is about somebody whose lover has left them and now he's gone mad and is trying to commit suicide by drinking paint.
  • Ed Sheeran's song Small Bump.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons: One of the greatest modules from the early days, "I6: Castle Ravenloft", is a spooky gothic tribute to Dracula and various classic horror tropes, fondly remembered by generations of players who got their characters killed there. It's also got a basement full of crypts with horrible puns carved on them.
  • Magic: The Gathering this was used to try to make the audience feel an Uncanny Atmosphere to reflect the Crap Saccharine World that is Amonkhet, WotC tried to make most the art happy, but make the game play feel harsh and brutal.


  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The somewhat lighthearted and fun-to-sing-along-with Sondheim songs somehow make you feel like murdering people with barber razors seems like what should normally happen, and you find yourself happy that he kills the Judge in the end. The song that actually introduces the cannibalism is a light waltz full of silly puns.
  • The theatre of Bertolt Brecht is essentially based on this trope- he used Mood Dissonance to provoke the audience into thinking about the play, instead of simply absorbing it. Ideally, you're meant to laugh at it, then realise what you're laughing at and stare at it for a second, disgusted. Possibly the most popular example is his swingin' jazz tune Mack The Knife, a hilariously catchy song about a gory serial killer.
  • In the third act of La Boheme, both main couples sing a quartet ("Dunque è propio finita!") as they each break up. Mimì and Rodolfo's sweet, sad I Want My Beloved to Be Happy split is juxtaposed with Marcello and Musetta humorously Volleying Insults at one another.
  • Cyrano De Bergerac: At act II Scene VI, Cyrano heart is broken when Roxane confesses him that she is in love with Christian. Then the Duenna interrupts Cyrano and Roxane telling him she has eaten all the pies Cyrano give them. He comically sends her to read poems and closes the door in her face. The last four acts of this play have funny things and tragic things happening one after the other.

Video Games

  • Call of Duty 4 features a "shooting gallery" level, "Death From Above", in which the player controls the armaments of a AC-130 Spectre gunship and uses them in support of allies on the ground. The dissonance is in the calm, almost light-hearted banter of the crewmembers; when you send enemies flying with a shot from the 105 mm howitzer, they will exclaim things like "BOOM!", "I see lots of little pieces down there", "I see a guy running" and so on. This, of course, could very well be Truth in Television.
    • It pretty much is Truth in Television; operators of weapons systems like this, particularly aircraft, are often very emotionally detached from what they're seeing, to the point where they do not have the typical human psychological aversion to killing that troops on the front line experience. That's why it is significantly easier to kill enemy troops with artillery or air power - the soldiers operating these weapons are neither in much physical danger of retaliation nor do they really see their targets face-to-face and can thus carry out their missions with an almost disturbing level of calm.
    • Also, the potential for retaliation against that gunship was minimal, at least from the infantry armed with RPG's. Soldiers, even those in the safer battlefield positions, tend to become a lot less calm when there is a possibility, even the smallest chance, of a bigger fish coming along. Unlike a tank crew, these guys would probably have been safe from just about anything the Ultra-Nationalists holding the area could have used on them.
      • It's true. You cannot die in that mission, and you can't fail unless you accidentally open fire on a civilian, one specific building you're told not to destroy, or the friendly soldiers you're supporting.
    • After blowing up a truck full of enemy soldiers all the gunner has to say is "Shit, must have been a full tank of gas on that one".
  • At the end of the credits for Call of Duty: World at War, a number of real soldiers who fought in World War 2 are named, and thanked with fairly emotional words for their service and their help in crafting the game. Aaaaand then you transition into Nazi Zombies...
  • EarthBound is a fun, bouncy, delightfully absurd game. EarthBound's final boss is the embodiment of lost innocence, an indescribable dimension of horror ruled by a tragic monster who eats prayer.
This extends to the entirety of Mother 3. On one hand, it's colorful, creative and hilarious. On the other hand, there aren't enough people left on earth to maintain the human species for more than a few generations. Not to mention all the murder, death, and suicide. Y'know, for kids!

"My son, the day you were born, the very forests of Lordaeron whispered the name Arthas. My child, I watched with pride as you grew into a weapon of righteousness. Remember, our line has always ruled with wisdom and strength. And I know you will show restraint when exercising your great power. But the truest victory, my son, is stirring the hearts of your people. I tell you this, for when my days have come to an end, you shall be King."

    • The accompanying video depicts Arthas, as The Lich King, waking and rising from The Frozen Throne in Northrend, drawing his sword Frostmourne and shattering the ice with it to raise his most powerful minion, the skeletal dragon Sindragosa, and empowering his Scourge army in preparation of leading them forth to destroy all of Azeroth.
  • In Star Control 2, the Orz are colorful, parrotfish-like Starfish Aliens with an annoyingly silly theme music, speak in engrish, and are generally friendly and helpful to the player. Oh, and they also come from a different plane, which the Androsynth discovered right before going mad and being completely wiped out in mysterious circumstances. The effect is suitably creepy—try talking to them for a while without feeling your brain melt out of your ears.
  • Both of the DS Drawn to Life games have this. In the first one, you're busy rescuing the Raposa and sending them back to town while getting pages of the Book of Life so that you can draw stuff they need (well, they may not need beach balls, but they send you to get them anyway). Then, Wilfre kills the Mayor, and the Hero kills him in return. In the second one, it gets worse. Wilfre is resurrected through being a symbiote on Heather, the half-shadow Raposa. The plot? Wilfre steals the color from various worlds, and it's up to the Hero and his friends to get them back. Along the way, Jowee makes a new friend with a Raposa named Sock. Near the end, it's revealed that Sock was Wilfre in disguise. When you finally go to confront Wilfre and restore color to the land, you learn that restoring color would cause the worlds to die. After Wilfre is defeated anyway, everything fades away, even the Creator (the Raposa version of God, and essentially you), the last thing being Heather, whose voice gets jumbled. Then, it turns out that the Raposa world is a dream of Mike, a human in the games who was turned into a Raposa, and Heather was his sister. Mike's family was in a car crash that killed his parents, put half of Heather's face in bandages, and put Mike into a coma. And you thought these were happy little pepper-uppers.
  • Final Fantasy VI is generally considered one of the darker games in the series—for example, absolutely every character has either been kidnapped, enslaved, abandoned, lost family members, lost lovers, lost the rest of their kind or their country prior to the start of the game at most and all before the Wham! Episode, wherein the villain destroys civilization and blasts the world back centuries, and then spends a year idly blasting what remains because he feels like it. After this point the game takes pains to impress you with the real tearjerkers of the game, because clearly things were not bad enough. And yet...the game has some of the most hilarious moments of the entire series, usually right after—or hell, even during—the soul-killingly depressing ones. Here's an example: A silly, witty character is hopping around like a flea while giving orders to gods and demanding to know why their smiting isn't up to snuff, gosh dang it! To the right! The right! That scene happens during the Wham! Episode. The one doing the ordering is the sadistic, psychopathic Monster Clown villain, and what he is directing the smiting at was once his emperor and conqueror of the world, but is now a broken and bleeding old man crawling on the ground. After the smiting connects, the villain kicks him in the ribs, tosses off a oneliner, then heaves his still-conscious body off to fall miles to his ultimate death. There are many scenes like that, where the general reaction is a combination of grief, horror...and laughing.
  • So we have Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, one of the games of the series in which a ton of the really bad shit happens, right? So we come to the end of the Trauma Conga Line for our three protagonists and what plays? None other than Hikari/Simple and Clean by Utada Hikaru. It felt really awkward to hear it this time around.
  • The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword features a scene where Ghirahim has finally kidnapped Zelda, is about to use her soul to revive Demise, and has summoned a massive army of monsters to hold Link back while the ritual is in progress. In the midst of all this, he performs an extraordinarily goofy, giddy dance around the unconscious Zelda, presumably from excitement over the prospect that his master will finally be revived. Granted, this is all perfectly in character for Ghirahim, but the context of the whole scene makes it stick out like a sore thumb compared to all the other times he has acted so crazily.
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2 has Chocolina, who was designed cheerful in order to contrast with the Darker and Edgier mood of the game.

Web Comics

  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Antimony is in the middle of a bright, sunlit field when her Emotionless Girl facade breaks and she starts bawling her eyes out. Later, Kat's poignant goodbye to Alistair ends with her smiling dazedly and exclaiming, "How could I cry after a week like that?"
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship: Much of its Dead Baby Comedy is juxtaposed with cute, "innocent" artwork with situations ranging from adult to utterly horrifying. Even within a single strip, nice safe idealised artwork can become infected with realism: deliberate visual Mood Whiplash.
  • Pictures for Sad Children sometimes veers [dead link] into this too [dead link]. Okay, it's more like a harpin turn.
  • In this Sluggy Freelance strip, Oasis's series of dramatic flashbacks is broken up by a shot of "My Love" (Torg) going, "mmmmmmm, pork rinds." Whether this ruins the mood, provides a pleasant break from the mood, or enhances the mood (since the man she's compelled to love is so disinterested in her), is up to you.
  • In Breakfast of the Gods, after Cap'n Crunch dies and floats up to heaven, greeted by none other than the Quaker Oats Man. Really sad and touching, but the sight of the friggin' Quaker Oats man as God...
  • This page from Spacetrawler had me staring slack-jawed for several seconds from the suddenness of the mood shift.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del: The death of Embla is supposed to be a moving event, as she's the only other intelligent robot on earth and Zeke's only equal. It's tarnished due to Ethan acting like his usual "lolrandom" childish self, being insensitive by attempting to dump Embla's body in a recycling bin, and selfishly blaming his alcoholism on Zeke leaving. It's further warped when you realize Ethan is acting more emotional over Zeke, a robot who loved insulting him and blackmailed him into creating his mate, than his own unborn stillborn child.
  • Boxer Hockey: Young Rittz and Skip are having an intense discussion about whether they should stay friends (idealistic Rittz is appauled at Skip's shoplifting while Skip is clearly doing it to survive and each is the other's only friend) while Rittz is holding his dad's hand at his mother's burial service. Skip agrees to be good [[[Beat]]] and snatches someone's wallet on the sly.
  • Homestuck: Andrew Hussie is pretty much a master of this technique, using it to jarring perfection.
    • Right after End of Act 4, when dream-Jade has died, what's the first thing we see? Her stuffed corpse, in the same manner as her grandfather's, in a disarmingly cheerful pose.
    • Also, immediately after the Jade: Enter flash, the next page shows Bro, dead by his own sword. It is a tragic and terrifying Worf Effect moment. Of course, the very next page shows us Jack putting on his shades and gloves. It is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. You don't want to laugh at it, but you have to.
  • Darths and Droids frequently accomplishes this with the contrast between what the characters are doing within the game and what their players are talking about outside the game. Taken to the extremes in #607, in which Anakin is Force-choking Padmé and exclaiming My God, What Have I Done? while, out of character, Annie is pronouncing her love for Jim for roleplaying the scene so effectively.

Western Animation


"We were too busy being outrageously horny to notice the smoky red sky of decimation in the distance."

  • Courage the Cowardly Dog plays this for laughs. On one hand we have terrifying imagery, disturbing villains, and eerie music. On the other we have two oblivious old people and a Funny Animal doing wild takes. The result is hilarious. At least until Eustace and Muriel start freaking out.
  • The Simpsons: Lampshaded. Marge, Bart, and Lisa pay two hostages takers for Homer's release via cable car (which was Homer's idea), and the music in their cable car was making the situation lighter, so Bart changed it to be more dramatic.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Party of One", Pinkie Pie starts growing increasingly suspicious of her friends avoiding her; for her, not being liked would be the worst thing imaginable. She being a character that can't even sneeze without comedy, it's played for comedy—but gets increasingly disturbing with the growing element of her outward anger and inner pain (and the others' distress over how they can't just put her at her ease about it yet because they're hiding something). In the climax, falsely convinced she has solid evidence her friends want to disown her, Pinkie suffers a full-fledged psychotic break and starts holding a party alone with inanimate objects, with the surreal scene depicting her mental state vividly. At this point, the elements of the scene are so mixed that it's not even clear whether the dominant mood should be considered funny and even cute, or sad and disturbing as heck. (If Black Comedy were a mood, it would be easy to answer this.)
    • In "The Return of Harmony, Part 2", Twilight Sparkle slips past the Despair Event Horizon after the Elements of Harmony fail to work on Discord and her corrupted friends leave in a huff after a big argument. She sadly walks back to the Ponyville library, her head hung low... while a cotton-candy Personal Raincloud rains on her, silly things like dancing buffalo and an upside-down rain of pies happen all around her, and Discord shows up to mock her failure.
  • With its upbeat, J-Pop-ish theme tune, Teen Titans sometimes suffered from this after a dramatic opening sequence.
    • Example from Apprentice: Part 1. Robin wakes from a disturbing nightmare about Slade, in a cold sweat, to find Cyborg telling him that they've been contacted by the aforementioned villain. Seconds later: When there's trouble you know who to call...

Real Life

  • July 1 is the anniversary of the founding of Canada. It's a day of parties, fireworks, and fun ... except in Newfoundland and Labrador, where they remember the 1st Newfoundland Regiment was nearly wiped out on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916.
  1. Kommissar Rex in the original