Last summer, the first season of Euphoria took America by storm, and audiences couldn’t get enough. Especially when it came to the show’s striking ability to put a finger on the pulse of our obsession with music. Labrynth’s original score and songs became one of the most buzzed about albums of the year. On top of the show’s original music, it also features one of the most eclectic soundscapes on TV incorporating sometimes 25+ songs into a given episode. Everything from an about to breakout Megan Thee Stallion to Randy Newman. The season came with so many unexpected musical choices for a teen drama that it even led to Donny Hathaway trending on Twitter in 2019.
It takes an incredibly passionate music supervisor like Jen Malone to be able to pull that off. To understand what Rue, Jules, and the rest of the ensemble would be listening to. Trusting her own instincts she curated hundreds of songs that were the result of coming through hours of B-sides, digging through past favorites, and discovering new artists similarly to how these characters are developing their own musical palette through Tik Tok, Soundcloud, and other online platforms.
Speaking with Awards Daily, the 2020 Emmy nominee detailed what it was like bringing to life some of the biggest moments of Euphoria through music whether that be through finding the perfect Arcade Fire song to accompany a subplot about abortion, waking up at 3AM to land the rights to a 1970s Italian movie score, and of course pulling together the show’s closing musical number; a highly choreographed original piece by Labrynth featuring Zendaya and a massive marching band,
Awards Daily: Going back to the beginning, I am curious how you and the creative team settled on the musical soundscape of Euphoria?
Jen Malone: We knew that for a lot of the source the music would be contemporary, stuff that kids would really be listening to. At the same time we knew we wanted music that would support the scenes that didn’t necessarily have to be from this year.
It was an ongoing conversation with Sam and how he guided that direction. It was always about how to best support that moment. There weren’t a lot of conversations where we were specifically looking for something like soul or any other genre. We made our decisions off of these beautiful shots and scenes put together by Sam and the entire team.
AD: Euphoria is a show that features a lot of music, sometimes 20-plus songs in any given episode. How do you begin your process as a music supervisor? Do you go beat by beat or did you begin the season with a list of music in mind?
JM: I begin each of my projects with a general playlist of songs and vibes that may or may not work depending on what the scene ends up looking like. Reading the script on paper versus what we actually see in the finished shot is very different. It’s magical in that way to see the scene come to life.
I rarely pull songs for specific scenes at the very top until we really dive into it and start developing that sound. Instead I pull songs together that may or may not work with the show. By the end of it all we have a playlist that runs over 10 hours. Depending on the scene, those songs sometimes worked and then there were times where I needed to dig even deeper to help pull off Sam’s creative vision.
AD: The way Gen Z consumes and discovers music is so different than generations past. What kind of research did you do for Euphoria to find out what these characters might have been listening to?
JM: I find music everywhere whether I’m on Instagram, Soundcloud, TikTok, or even gauging what my industry friends are listening to. I can’t remember where I first heard artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Kenny Mason but it came from hours and hours of listening.
AD: A lot of the creative team, whether it be Zendaya or Drake, are musicians as well. Did you ever go to them to brainstorm?
JM: I remember the cast freaking out when they found out Megan Thee Stallion would be featured in the first episode; she is someone they’re actually listening to. I know that Zendaya strongly connected with the Donny Hathaway piece [“A Song for You”] when she saw that.
AD: I vividly remember when the third episode of the season premiered and the infamously graphic slideshow caused a lot of controversy. Did any of the show’s subject matter make your job difficult when it came time to convincing artists to license their music for the show?
JM: Sometimes. We received a couple of denials, although it was very few. For the most part, people were game. They understood that this was a raw portrayal of kids and what they’re going through. I don’t believe that this show glorifies drugs in anyway because it shows the pain that Rue’s addiction caused her family, her friends, and herself.
There were only maybe two or three denials ,but there were definitely times where we had to massage the request whether it be sending them script pages or the scene as a whole. Take the Arcade Fire song for example; that was a very specific moment of a touchy subject. Abortion is not easy to depict and we handled that approach with care. We were just so happy when the band came back and were completely on board with it. We made sure to handle those songs with care for the artists because those pieces are their art and we wanted to be respectful and transparent of that.
AD: Speaking of Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage.” How did you and Sam Levinson land on that specific song for such a pivotal scene in Cassie’s arc?
JM: That idea came from Sam. We were still editing that scene and all of a sudden I received a text that simply read “Arcade Fire for Cassie.”
We had been trying other songs as well, and he had even originally scripted a different song into that moment. Sam is also constantly listening to music both when he writes and in his day-to-day life. He has great taste and we tried a bunch of songs there, but the Arcade Fire fit was brilliant. We are just so grateful that Arcade Fire was on board and we know that they were happy with the placement in the end.
AD: Although this is a show about Rue, each episode focuses on a different character from the ensemble, bringing us deeper into their world. Did you change the soundscape for each character? What was that like, diving into each character in such a unique way?
JM: We definitely had different ideas of what each character would be listening to but we never had any definitive ideas right off the bat.
In the first episode when we first meet Jules [Hunter Schafer] we used a brand-new song from an artist named Jozzy. It was hip-hop and fun and edgy [“I’m Gone” by Jozzy feat. Tommy Genesis]. Fast forward to Episode 8 when Jules is putting makeup on Rue for the prom we used Solange [“Stay Flo”] which is very different. I remember Sam saying he wanted it to feel like they were in a cocoon. So taking that note and trying to find the song that gives you that feeling is how a lot of the song placements came about. It was deliberate but not necessarily meticulous.
Music to picture is so much of a feeling. There’s the episode where you have Jules and Nate texting in a split screen with the Charlotte Day Wilson song “Work.” That wasn’t something planned out. It came from looking at the scene, seeing how it was cut, and then trying to find a piece of music that helped support that moment.
AD: Was there a character in particular you loved putting the music together for?
JM: Not particularly. What I loved about each episode was putting together the musical pieces of the puzzle together. For example in Episode 6, the Halloween episode, there was so much music in that. Because it took place at a party we couldn’t have it be wall to wall hip-hop. That would have made your ears tired and eventually it would have become white noise to the point where the music didn’t matter. We want the songs to matter and have a purpose. So it was like putting together a puzzle and balancing things out.
AD: We’ve talked a lot about the music you curated for the first season, but you also spent a lot of time working with Labrinth, who composed the score for the first season as well as multiple original songs. What was it like working with him, especially on the final number of the season “All For Us”?
JM: Labrinth is absolutely brilliant and created this incredible score. We had our own lanes and our own missions so we didn’t work too closely together because TV just moves way too fast.
However, “All For Us” was an interesting experience. We knew that Sam wanted a musical number at the end of the season and we knew that he wanted a marching band and a choir. We took the song that Labrinth created and did our best to execute that. What I did was take the song and then I did a mock-up of what a marching band arrangement would sound like. From there we recorded Zendaya’s vocals and then went into the studio and recorded the entire marching band. We started with the percussion and then brought in the wind and the horns and eventually the choir came in.
Once that was all done we sent it back to Labrinth and he made his own tweaks to make it his own. Then we took it to the choreographer, Ryan Heffington, who does all of Sia’s music videos. We worked with casting to hire the marching band. We were there for the rehearsal and actual shoot. It was a huge job that took about a month to put together all while we were shooting, and editing and mixing the entire season.
In the end it came out so cool from the song to Z’s vocals to the choreography to the marching band. It was so fucking cool and I was excited for the world to see it.
AD: Were there any other surprising challenges in the first season?
JM: After the carnival, at the end of Episode 4, we find Rue and Jules together in bed as it starts spinning. We used a piece of music from Don’t Look Now, this 1974 Italian movie. We tried so many other pieces of music but at the end of the day we couldn’t beat it. We were mixing on Wednesday and on Monday my editor Julio called me and said that Sam wanted the score. I told them we needed a backup just in case because the copyright was in Italy and Sam very simply said there was no backup! It was a mad scramble of getting the paperwork to Italy and getting up at three in the morning to call them and convince them to let us use the piece. It was very, very nerve-racking and I am proud we got that done.
Overall in the sixth episode, because there was so much music, we were able to freely move in and out of diegetic and non-diegetic music and having artists from Anderson.Paak to JID even to this song from a 1960s Chicana girl group [“Just Me and You” by The Dreamliners]. Having that song bookended by two contemporary songs felt so seamless and it helped the episode pull off this cohesiveness. That was something I was incredibly proud of.
AD: With production on the second season delayed because of COVID-19, I am curious as to how that affects your work? Music and popularity are things that evolves so quickly. Are you having to rethink the season at all?
JM: It’s a matter of me continuing to listen to music and building a playlist. Since we don’t know when we’ll begin shooting, I’ve been spending my time going down into rabbit holes. I’ve been doing a lot of crate digging to find songs that might be good for the show. Looking for B sides and old record labels that went under with undiscovered amazing music. It has been a lot of that as opposed to trying to figure out who will be the next Megan Thee Stallion. That’s such an evolving, fast-moving trajectory to go from undiscovered to overplayed so I can’t really prepare for that until it’s the moment.
This time has been so valuable because I’ve been able to listen to so much music and genres that I wouldn’t normally have time to on a normal TV schedule.