Kamala Khan is getting her first shining moment in the live-action sun. Ms. Marvel is an absolutely delightful introduction story for the teenage Pakistani-American nerd from Jersey City. We get our first glimpse into her epic powers as she tries to discover herself and her heritage while being inspired by the great Captain Marvel. One of the most fun aspects of Ms. Marvel (out of many) is the show’s penchant for infusing in pop culture. We saw this with the trailer using The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” but the show takes it up a notch. There are some great songs from Pakistani artists and much more pop culture fare that make Ms. Marvel a wholly unique addition to the MCU.
Here are the best pop culture references in Ms. Marvel.
Episode 1 – “Generation Why”
“Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd
Ms. Marvel brings that Weeknd song back again, playing it over the logo and the opening voiceover scene. We get an excellent look at Kamala’s wonderful artwork and her vivid imagination as the pop tune plays in the background.
Many, Many Nods to the Avengers
There are far too many references and images of the Avengers to begin to list. It’s worthy of a whole separate post but that makes total sense. Imagine being a nerdy kid in a world where actual superhuman beings exist! Kamala loves them deeply, from her videos to her fanfiction to the many doodles and posters on her wall. Of course, her fave is Captain Marvel, so she shows up pretty much everywhere. She’s got pins on her bookbag, a lovely Captain Marvel costume, and of course there is AvengerCon itself with many costumes and replicas of the heroes.
Speaking of AvengerCon, this is an obvious nod to the many geek and nerd conventions we love. From big productions like SDCC to smaller local comic conventions, it reaffirms that Kamala is one of us in so many ways. We love a relatable cosplaying hero.
“Deal With It” – Riz Ahmed
Editor’s Note: The above video might contain NSFW language.
The music in Ms. Marvel is a nod to Kamala’s heritage, featuring many South Asian—mostly Pakistani—artists. This rap song by Riz Ahmed plays as we see Kamala walking into her chaotic high school, where people are mean to her and mispronounce her name. Ahmed is a British Pakistani actor and musician. “Deal With It” is from his album The Long Goodbye, which tells a story of the effects of colonialism on Pakistan and South Asia, centering it as a toxic relationship. Ahmed regularly tackles his experiences as a British Pakistani Muslim in his music and his work as an actor.
Smash Bros. Hangout
Kamala’s homegirl Nakia wants to know if she’s being invited over to play Smash Bros. The crossover fighting game has been around for a long time, including Nintendo characters like the Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Sonic the Hedgehog. The question is… which gaming console are they playing it on?
Mulan’s “Reflection” for Motivation
“Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?” Well, for high school guidance counselor Gabe Wilson, it’s Kamala. He makes the reference to the popular Mulan lyric while trying to give her a pep talk. It actually reflects Kamala’s story a lot, as we see later on in the episode. Her mother tells her to dig into herself and discover who she is and more about her family heritage. Like Mulan, it seems that Kamala will go on a quest of understanding self. Also, we’re glad that Kamala knows (and presumably loves) a throwback film like Mulan.
“Ko Ko Koreena” – Ahmed Rushdi
This song is from the Urdu-language film Armaan and is widely regarded as one of the first pop songs of Pakistan. In Ms. Marvel, we hear it playing while Kamala runs market errands with her mother, giving us a chance to see a slice of their lives. Ahmed Rushdi was one of the most influential singers in the Pakistan film industry in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Darth Vader Mom
Bruno tells Kamala to take a chill pill over asking her mom about AvengerCon, saying that she should stop acting like her mom is Darth Vader. I mean… he is right. She might be strict and wary of the world around her daughter but she’s certainly not Darth Vader.
Smushee’s Like a Slurpee
Kamala’s delightful drink of choice is a Smushee. It’s a clear play on the Slurpee, a popular frozen sugary dyed drink at 7-Eleven. They were a staple in many kids’ childhoods and bring a little burst of joy to us kids at heart, too.
Kamala Loves Felicity
Kamala might be a Gen Z girl but she’s really a millennial at heart. We see Kamala checking out an episode of Felicity featuring Keri Russell before that infamous haircut. Totally a ‘90s kid after school activity.
Zuzu Is Alexa
Bruno makes a home device for Kamala’s family and it is rather familiar. Zuzu lets you change channels, turn off lights, and much more. It sounds a lot like our version of Alexa or Google Assistant.
Classic TV Teen Fare
A dodgeball to the face to show that a person isn’t popular. Sneaking out of the bedroom window to go on a forbidden adventure. Your parent or responsible adult sitting in your room when you come back in. Biking around town aimlessly. Chillin’ on a building’s rooftop with your pal. A really cool room with neon lights and awesome décor. These are all things that kids may do or have in real life. But they are primarily shown time and time again in TV shows and films.
“Rozi” – Eva B.
The end credits of Ms. Marvel feature “Rozi” by Eva B, yet another pop culture gem. She’s one of Pakistan’s first female rappers to break through to the mainstream. The singer and rapper quickly rose to fame, often discussing the obstacles women face in her music. And she writes in both Urdu and Balochi.
Episode 2 – “Crushed”
“Feel So Good” – Mase
Kamala’s love for the ’90s continues with this rap song. She strolls into school with a newfound confidence for obvious reasons. She’s dancing around, correcting that idiot teacher who keeps saying her name wrong, and having a moment in the sun. Here for it.
Kamala makes a joke with Bruno about having Ant-Man powers, saying they are both charming and look a lot younger than they are. Love the cheeky reference to Paul Rudd’s fountain of youth.
“Goddess” – Krewella feat. Raja Kumari
Krewella are a Pakistani American singer and EDM duo of sisters Yasmine and Jahan Yousaf. They frequently meld Western and South Asian styles of music. Raja Kumari is an Indian American rapper and singer, incorporates Indian influences and Hindi in her music.
A Classic Training Montage
In the vein of the Rocky franchise, Kamala does a fun training montage to figure out her powers and test/refine what she can do with her “hard light.” She’s not in shape and she nearly falls, but Bruno makes a pretty good trainer. One who is obviously harboring an unrequited crush…
“Come Around” – M.I.A. featuring Timberland
Kamala and Nakia are at a worship temple preparing themselves while this song plays. M.I.A. is a British Sri Lankan rapper, one of the first South Asian female rap artists to make it big in the U.K and in global charts. Her music has always consisted of sharp political and social commentary, informed by her experiences growing up during the Sri Lankan Civil War and as a refugee.
“Jalebi Baby” – Tesher
Sound familiar? Jalebi Baby has made waves, especially on TikTok, as the song This is probably the most familiar song to audiences because of its popularity on TikTok, and its most recent remix with Jason Derulo. Tesher is Indian and Canadian, and incorporates bhangra and hip-hop in his music. And it is the perfect song to play at a party when Kamala sees Kamran come out of the pool. Also, the idea of introducing a male crush being soaking wet and half naked for no reason is such a pop culture staple.
“Anthem” – Swet Shop Boys
Swet Shop Boys is a group with members Riz Ahmed, rapper Heems, and producer Redinho, who often rap about politics and identity in their music. In Ms. Marvel, Kamala, Bruno, and Nakia are in Kamran’s car. Kamala begins to chat/flirt with him and realize that they have things in common.
Bollywood Movie Love
Kamala and Kamran bond over their love of Bollywood movies and debate which Shah Rukh Khan movie is better: Baazigar or Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (generally referred to as DDLJ). Shah Rukh Khan is one of Bollywood’s most famous and biggest stars. Baazigar (1993) was Khan’s breakthrough film about a young man looking to avenge the misfortune of his family. DDLJ is one of the most iconic Bollywood romances of the ‘90s in which the main characters fall in love on a trip to Europe, but they have to fight to win over their families. And, they also admit that their moms have a crush on Kingo (Kamala) and Kingo, Sr. (Kamran).
“Be My Baby” – The Ronettes
Ahhhh, the blush of a teenage crush hits Kamala. She arrives home with Kamran’s number and she is IN LOVE. We get a very cute (and far too short) lip synch dance routine that is so colorful and cute.
Hot Topic’s Goth Days
Apparently, Kamala’s brother Aamir went through a goth phase (as many of us did) and worked at the store long before it became a geek hub. It’s a delightful moment to tease him and also a very pop culture type of thing in general. Everyone apparently has some sort of goth or “dark” phase.
“Slippery When Wet” Makes Marriages
In quite the surprise, we find out that Kamala’s mom loves Bong Jovi and credits “Slippery When Wet” as the song that got her and Mr. Khan together. Oh my. It’s not something that you want to hear about your parents at any point but it also proves that Kamala and her mom are more connected as lovers of pop culture than they realize at this point.
“Peechay Hutt” – Hasan Raheem, Justin Bibis, and Talal Qureshi
Hasan Raheem is a Pakistani singer-songwriter and rapper, known for his hip-hop and R&B influenced style. Justin Bibis (sisters Saania and Muqqadas Tabayda) came to fame with their cover of “Baby” by Justin Bieber, hence their name. Talal Qureshi is a Pakistani singer, songwriter, DJ and producer on this song. A quick video FYI: Coke Studio Pakistan is one of Pakistan’s longest-running annual music shows, starting from 2008, and has featured many emerging and renowned Pakistani artists throughout the years. What a great way to end episode two.
Episode 3 – “Destined”
Djinn and Tonic
Kamala ends up having quite the night after discovering that her great-grandmother as well as Kamran and his mother Namja are all interdimensional beings. Namja explains more about her kind, which she calls the Djinn. When Kamala finally returns to Bruno to give him an update, she says they are Djinn and he hilariously replies “and tonic?” Oh Bruno.
Nakia’s Law & Order Love
The Damage Control crew comes into the mosque looking for Kamala. Nakia quickly reminds them that they have no legal authority there because they don’t have a signed warrant to enter a private space. She reveals that her excellent knowledge comes from none other than Law & Order. A fine place to learn about law code, indeed.
Kamala Goes Tik Tok Viral
Kamala lives many Gen-Z dreams when she goes viral on TikTok after her big rescue mission last episode. It’s too bad that this won’t help boost her followers because, well, a big part of being a hero is keeping it a secret. Especially when the Department of Damage Control and interdimensional beings are on your tail.
“Hadippa” – Mika Singh, Jaideep Sahni
“Hadippa” is from the 2009 Bollywood movie Dil Bole Hadippa, starring Rani Mukherji and Shahid Kapoor. Bruno, Kamala, Nakia, and Ruby (along with many others) dance to this song.
“Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Deewana” – Asha Bhosle (Translation: This Heart of Mine Is Crazed for My Love)
This song is originally from the iconic 1978 film “Don”, starring Amitabh Bachchan, one of the most famous actors of that era (and now), about the titular character Don, a cunning gangster who is trying to evade the authorities. It’s sung by Asha Bhosle, one of the most popular voices of Bollywood soundtracks since the ’60s. In Ms. Marvel, this is the first song that Muneeba, Yusuf, and other guests at the wedding dance to.
“Joote De do Paise Le Lo” – Lata Mangeshkar
This is a tune from the 1994 film Hum Aapke Hain Koun, and plays during the scene of the mehndi, one of the major events for the bride’s side in Pakistani and South Asian weddings where the bride gets her mehndi (henna) done. A tradition in Pakistani weddings is for the bride’s side to steal the groom’s shoes. The groom’s side then needs to bribe the bride’s side to get the shoes back. We see Gabe, Tyesha’s brother, participate in the same tradition, but instead, he hides all of Aamir’s shoes, as opposed to just the one pair, which Aamir points out is what the tradition is supposed to be.
“Tere Bina” – A.R. Rahman, Chinmayi (Translation: Without You)
“Tere Bina” is from the 2007 movie Guru. A.R. Rahman is an Oscar and Grammy-winning composer, producer, and singer songwriter, whose film-scoring career began in the 1990s. This song plays before the nikah, the ceremony in which the couple each accept each other as spouses thrice over.
This wedding continues to be a delight with a band called Brown Jovi. (Pretty sure this makes Kamala’s Bon Jovi loving mom quite happy.) Unfortunately, they don’t get through their set after Namja and crew crash the party in an attempt to force Kamala into giving up her bangle.
Classic Fire Alarm Distraction
What do you do when you need to clear a room or building? Pull the fire alarm of course. This quintessential TV/film trope works like a charm, setting the stage for Kamala’s first big, messy fight scene. Our little superhero sweetie is growing up.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” – Bon Jovi
This karaoke favorite (and likely a hit in the Khan household, too) plays while Kamala fights the Djinn collective. You could say Kamala is livin’ on a prayer that her powers and the skills she’s worked on so far will help her escape. Thankfully, they do…
“For Aisha” – MEMBA, Nooran Sisters, EVAN GIIA
“For Aisha” plays over the credits and is from the film The Sky is Pink, a biopic about the motivational speaker Aisha Choudhury, who tragically passed away at the age of 18. The song was dedicated to her by her brother and the artists who created it. It is used in Ms. Marvel as a nod to Aisha, Kamala’s great-grandmother, for whom she thinks she must get the ClanDestines home.
Originally published on June 8, 2022.