Bridgerton music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas speaks with Awards Daily about her process creating the eclectic soundscape for the surprise hit of 2020, one that consists of a wide range of music that spans centuries, genres, and pop stars.
Bridgerton doesn’t sound like the average period drama. Instead, music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas brilliantly weaves together a layered soundscape that defies genre and time period to include an original score, orchestral covers of today’s biggest popstars, well-known classical pieces, and even a recurring Sufjan Stevens piece.
Working hand in hand with composer Kris Bowers, Patsavas ensured that the many musical elements of Bridgerton weaved together seamlessly while never distracting from the love, passion, and hijinks at the beloved drama’s core.
Speaking with Awards Daily Patsavas details what her experience was like creating the unforgettable sound of Bridgerton, finding the perfect pop covers, and what it was like finding the perfect song for the infamous moment between the Duke and Daphne.
Awards Daily: Throughout your career you’ve worked on some major contemporary shows that have influenced some big moments in music whether that be on Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, Gossip Girl, or even the Twilight franchise. What was your reaction when you were approached for Bridgerton, a regency period drama unlike anything you’ve previously worked on?
Alexandra Patsavas: A piece like this, especially in the hands of the amazing Shonda Rhimes, was definitely a unique opportunity. I have a long history with Shondaland, and have jumped at all of their offerings since the Grey’s pilot and because of that we’ve developed a great shorthand. I met with Chris Van Dusen our amazing showrunner, Betsy Beers and Shonda Rhimes to talk about all of the different music we wanted to incorporate. I was extremely excited to take it on.
AD: Bridgerton features a very eclectic musical soundscape that is unlike anything most of us have ever heard utilized for a regency period piece. The show incorporates an original score by Kris Bowers, orchestral covers of modern pop songs, well-known classical pieces, and even recurring songs from Sufjan Stevens. How did you and the creative team pin down the musical soundscape of the show?
AP: It was all about figuring out what would successfully pair with Kris Bowers’ score as well as what would pair well with this regency story. Early on in pre-production we knew that we would lean into instrumentals. There is also very little of the human voice that’s used to score the show. That’s how we landed on these really interesting orchestral covers and authentic period music that is circled throughout.
AD: Those orchestral covers of artists like Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, and Taylor Swift immediately garnered a lot of online buzz. What was that process like finding the perfect pop songs for the show and finding the right orchestral version for the show?
AP: It all started by gathering many, many covers of these songs. We didn’t necessarily always start with the actual pop song and instead we were digging through the many orchestral versions of these songs that were already out there. Overall, five out of six were pre-existing covers and the final one (Celeste’s “Strange”) was created by Kris for the show.
There’s something so emotional about these beautifully played quartet pieces. Sometimes we focus so much on how emotional the human voice can be that we don’t realize that string instruments are just as emotional.
AD: What I loved about your use of these pop songs was that you were able to find a seamless way to incorporate them into these pivotal moments of the show in a way that was never distracting. It felt effortless. How did you achieve that?
AP: Kris and I were in constant communication about figuring out the right songs for each moment. It was also important to us to keep the lyrics of the songs in mind even though they were never heard because either way these lyrics would be affecting the way the audiences interpreted the songs and moments. Whether we wanted them to or not most of the audience would know exactly what these songs were saying. Most of that effortlessness comes from Kris Bowers and our amazing sound editor who know how to create the perfect intros in ways where you don’t really know where the score ends and the song begins.
AD: As the season progresses it seemed like there was a clear pattern with how these covers were being used; almost always towards the end of an episode as the characters were dancing into another lavish ball. However, halfway through the season you deviated from that when Daphne enters one of the major balls of the season in a grand white dress and tiara, and instead you used one of Bowers’ original pieces. How did you land on that decision?
AP: We were constantly trying to find these iconic moments in these ball scenes. Everything about them was so lush and beautiful. Ultimately that was a Chris Van Dusen choice to make sure it was 100% bespoke. The music is there to serve the storytelling and to create a piece that hit every one of those emotional moments and that was best accomplished with an original piece from Kris.
AD: While watching the first season the musical element that stuck out to me the most was the recurring Sufjan Stevens instrumental throughout the season of “Love Yourself.” It deviated from the original score and instrumental pop covers in a way that felt like a huge departure because it’s a modern piece, it’s not a string-quartet cover, and Stevens doesn’t necessarily fit in with the list of A-list pop stars. What led you to that decision?
AP: I’m a huge Sufjan fan. Early on in the process we went deep into looking for modern pieces that weren’t covers. We landed on that song very early and it fit naturally. I’ve been working with Sufjan for a long time and its always an honor to use him.
AD: In the sixth episode you for the first and only time utilize a song that incorporates singing, “The End” by JPOLND. It comes at what is probably the most pivotal and dramatic moment of the season between Daphne and the Duke where she discovers he hasn’t been truthful throughout their marriage and she chooses a very intimate moment to reveal that knowledge. Why was that the moment you wanted to introduce a voice into the music of the show?
AP: That is such a pivotal moment in the series. When we began working on that moment Kris and I played around with a lot of different ideas including instrumental music and various vocals but in the end a song with vocals felt incredibly different and ultimately that added to the power of the storytelling.
“The End” was a song that resonated with all of us in the room and it’s the song that Chris Van Dusen felt was perfect.
AD: Were there any unexpected challenges throughout the first season?
AP: The challenge for me was the pandemic because it led to such an unusual post-production process. That post process had to be completely reinvented because of the limitations of the pandemic and we moved our spotting sessions, when the creative and music team get together in a room and take a deep look at the episodes, to online sessions. It challenged us to find ways to keep these sessions efficient and creative.
The really heavy lift in this circumstance was how Kris had to bring the score to life in this amazing way. He recorded instruments with his team one at a time virtually and then stitched them in a way to create this amazing sound that you come to hear on screen.
AD: Was there a story arc or scene that you had the most fun working on throughout your process?
In terms of storytelling I think the biggest challenge I had (and ultimately the most fun) was when the Duke and Daphne arrive at Clyvedon and there’s the montage of them… well fans will know what I’m talking about! It’s scored with this orchestral cover of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams.” We tried a lot of different covers in that song but when we landed on the piece it immediately felt like the right piece. Once we found it we were so grateful that we were able to clear it and use one of Taylor’s beautiful songs!
For her work in ‘Bridgerton’ Alexandra Patsavas is up for consideration for Outstanding Music Supervision and ‘Bridgerton’ is up for consideration in all eligible categories at the 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards.