From “Never Tear Us Apart” to “Holding Out for a Hero,” Emmy nominee and Euphoria music supervisor Jen Malone breaks down the biggest needle drops of the year and what it was like expanding on the already definitive soundscape of the second season of HBO’s Euphoria.
After a 2-year hiatus, the second season of Euphoria debuted as one of the most talked about shows of the year. It eventually earned a whopping 16 Emmy nominations including a second consecutive (and third career) nomination for music supervisor Jen Malone.
For the first couple months of 2022, it was impossible to escape just how influential the music of Euphoria was, and it became clear just how integral the show’s use of music had become to its own storytelling. On top of an integral original soundtrack and score featuring composer Labrinth, star Dominic Fike, and even superstar Lana Del Rey, Malone utilized her truly expansive knowledge and passion for music to curate the perfect songs to propel the second season forward.
Proving that no genre is off limits or too obscure, Malone helped secure the rights for a wide variety of INXS hits, a Bobby Darrin classic, and even a jaw-dropping use of an 80s pop classic — all while helping to introduce them to a new generation and even catapulting them to success on Tik Tok. Speaking with Awards Daily, Malone breaks down some of the season’s biggest needle drops and details what it has been like to continue her collaboration with composer Labrinth and creator Sam Levinson.
Awards Daily: What was it like jumping back into the world of Euphoria after the show’s breakout success in the first season?
Jen Malone: Seeing how much the music as well as the show as a whole resonated with our audience was incredible but it also made it nerve-wracking to jump back into. Fans of the show are very passionate and as we’ve seen over the years they’ve made a lot of the music go viral on places like Tik Tok for the original music and the older music we included as well. I was excited to see exactly what Sam’s vision was going to be and just how he planned on topping the first season. Overall, I was equally excited and scared.
The first season gained a lot of deserved recognition for its original music, including Labrinth’s Emmy winning song “All for Us.” In the second season you, Labrinth, and the rest of the creative team expanded on that even further with an extensive soundtrack of original new music including two Emmy nominated song; “I’m Tired” and “Elliot’s Song.” What was that creative process like this season?
We knew that the fourth episode would feature a gospel moment and at the time Sam was working through what his vision would be. For Labrinth it was a no-brainer that the scene should feature an original song, particularly one that he would be performing himself. It became very clear that this needed to be a pivotal emotional moment for the season as a whole and that’s how “I’m Tired” came to be.
Labrinth is constantly writing music, never really stopping. What made this season different was that his music studio was actually on set. Labrinth has a naturally calming and inspiring energy which naturally led to his studio becoming the area where all of the cool kids would hang out. His energy was infectious, and it drew in Zendaya, Sam, and the rest of the team. It lent to a truly organic creative process that not only speaks to “I’m Tired” but all of the music in the show.
Throughout the second season you were able to use these incredibly unexpected needle drops that led to some of the biggest watercooler moments of the year so far. I’m hoping you’ll be able to walk me through the behind-the-scenes process for some of those moments beginning with the use of Orville Peck’s “Dead of Night” in the premiere episode. For some reason it sparked an intense online debate if someone like Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) would actually listen to a gay country singer or if that was even the music being listened to in the car.
I did see the chatter online. It remains an open-ended question of whether that was the song that Nate and Cassie was listening to. Nobody was singing along. He does turn it up but there’s no indication as to what they hear. I love that it is open to the audience’s interpretation, and I love even more that there is this passion and discussion as to what these characters would be listening to.
Overall, it is a haunting song and it strongly shapes this moment of flirtation between Nate an Cassie while also highlighting how dangerous this situation is. It’s a foreboding choice of song and definitely lends to how strong the scene is.
What about Rue dancing through her house high to Bobby Darrin’s “Call Me Irresponsible?”
“Call Me Irresponsible” was actually a song that was considered throughout the first season for Rue. However, in the end Labrinth presented us with “All for Us” which eventually became the theme of the series. But even though we didn’t end up using the Bobby Darrin song in the first season we held onto it and Sam knew all along he wanted to use it. It’s such a tongue-in-cheek choice for the show and we love playing with those types of motifs and use of music.
One of the most popular scenes of the season was the Cal Jacobs origin story in at the beginning of the third episode which was essentially a 15 minute music video set to INXS. How did that come about?
From the very beginning Sam had scripted “Never Tear Us Apart” in as an integral part of Cal’s story. That song and that moment completely sets the tone for the episode and without it the story would have felt completely different. We had a completely different season two before it was rewritten due to COVID but the one thing that was always in there was INXS.
Overall INXS comes from a time period that was incredibly fun to work, probably my personal favorite. That late 80s / early 90s new wave. However, their music is very tricky to clear because the estate is extremely protective of how their music is used in film and television. We worked really closely with them to make it clear how their music would be used and how influential their music would be to the story.
After the show aired the estate reached out to let us know of the increase in streams and how the show was able to breathe a new life into their music. It’s safe to say that “Never Tear Us Apart” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and to help introduce that to the Tik Tok generation is really special.
Last but not least, the most shocking musical moment of the season was Ethan’s (Austin Abrams) show stopping lip sync to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.” How did you guys land on that song?
This was another song that was scripted in from day one but at first, I had no idea how big it would become. When I was on set and first witnessed the rehearsal for “Holding Out for a Hero” my jaw, and everyone else’s, was flat on the floor. I couldn’t wait for the world to see it because that’s when I knew everyone would be talking about it.
Overall, finding the sound for the last two episodes (including the school play) was very tricky. It was actually our editor Laura [Zempel] who began temping with a lot of this French New Wave type cues. Once we presented that idea to Sam he really dug it and we began digging even deeper into the genre looking through old French and Italian movies.
Last time we spoke we discussed some of the challenges from the first season including 20+ songs per episode and tracking down rights to classical Italian film scores. Were there any particular challenges to the second season?
In episode five we had a very, very tricky time getting clearance for the Sharon Cash cover of “Fever.” The song was released on a label that was only in existence from like 1967 to 1969. That made it nearly impossible to track down the owners from this small esoteric label that only ever had a handful of releases. We were doing deep dives into the family and finding people online that might have been a daughter or some other heir. We spent a lot of hours online comparing information on Instagram, White Pages, and even obituaries. It was a deep search down these rabbit holes.
The content of Euphoria can be very tricky in terms of its content including everything from sex, drugs, nudity, and violence. We use a lot of music from older catalogues, and it was sometimes an intricate and nuanced process to convince these rights holders to let us use their music especially in some of these more complicated scenes. We had a lot of conversations about how these songs would strengthen our storytelling and how using them in a show like Euphoria would also introduce them to an entirely new generation of fans and music lovers. We saw a new Tik Tok generation discover everyone from INXS to Steely Dan to even Gerry Rafferty.
In a stark departure in tone one of the most non-stop exhilarating epsiodes of the season came with “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” where we saw Rue hit rock bottom and go on a rampage through the city. Did you and the rest of the team approach that episode any differently?
Labrinth’s score truly set the tone for that entire episode elevating an already incredible performance from Zendaya. Lab really knows how to score Rue but at the same time he knew to keep the beginning dry, putting all trust in our sound team to create such a visceral experience. In the end I was able to take a step back, take a deep breath, and just be in complete awe of their work.
This is now the second season you’ve worked hand in hand with Labrinth, the show’s composer (and three time nominee this year). How has your creative relationship evolved after returning to work?
We know what we are getting into now. We understand the musical fabric of the show. Lab and Sam have a strong shorthand and they work very closely together but what made this season different was being able to work from set. Shooting “I’m Tired” and having a private Labrinth concert in a church is a moment I will never forget and am so grateful to be a part of. There is truly no other experience like it.
Euphoria is not the only Emmy nominee this year that you worked on. You also worked as the music supervisor for the breakout first season of Yellowjackets. How did your work on that show differ than your work on Euphoria? Does the fact that you were essentially working with two different time periods within the world of Yellowjackets create any challenges in creating throughlines for the characters?
For Yellowjackets we always stayed true to the time period and chose a mix of popular songs and deep cuts from the era that you would have heard playing on the radio or blaring at the parties (Artists like Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, and even Wilson Phillips). We used them as needle drops to help define the characters and the narrative in a realistic, grounded way in both timelines.
Whereas with Euphoria there were no boundaries. We were not beholden to any time period, genre or character specific playlists so we were able to lean into hyper-realism for the look, feel and sound of the season.
And of course, Yellowjackets did not have nearly as many songs in the season as Euphoria did!