By now you’ve probably heard about Euphoria’s parental shock value, or its graphic depictions of sex and drug use. But one element that makes the scenes that have caused such an uproar online so effective is the music that underscores them.
In the pilot, Rue (played thoughtfully by Zendaya, eager to prove that she should no longer be typecast in the goody two-shoes roles that launched her career) gets high at a house party while Jamie XX’s “I Know (There’s Gonna Be Good Times)” bubbles up to the surface. That same episode also features tracks by Migos, Megan Thee Stallion, and even Beyoncé, and marks Euphoria as a show that not only purports to capture teenagedom in America right now but has the music to match.
It’s safe to say that clearing a Beyoncé song for a pilot of a show is no simple task, but if you’ve got the money and the right team on board, it’s possible. Such was the case for Euphoria, which paired Andy Williams’s “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” a song that Beyoncé’s “Hold Up” heavily samples, with the superstar’s critically acclaimed 2016 track for maximum impact on the show’s title card.
Drake, an executive producer of the show, has a watchful eye over the final product, but it’s Euphoria’s music supervisor, Jen Malone, in tandem with the series creator Sam Levinson, editor Julio Perez IV, and composer Labrinth, who makes it all happen. “[Drake] always keeps his eye on the cuts, and he’s always hearing it,” Malone said. “I think he really trusts Sam and myself to find the voice of the show. And it is Sam’s vision, so he really trusts us and gives us a lot of autonomy to find the songs to fit the scenes that fulfill his vision.”
Malone, who has worked on the music for a handful of television series with notable soundtracks, such as Atlanta and Boomerang, keeps current much the same way the rest of us do: “Through Spotify, Soundcloud, Instagram, and Twitter. I just find the artists and read all the blogs. There are a lot of people I work with in the licensing community who always have up-and-coming artists,” she explained. “I have a good network of friends who know what’s poppin’ and use playlists. I go into the rabbit holes and see what’s good.”
Here, she annotates the soundtrack for the pilot and explains her thinking behind the music in Euphoria.
“Cocky AF,” Megan Thee Stallion
“Everybody’s just really pumped about the music, especially the Megan Thee Stallion placement, which I was really excited about. When I gave it to the editors to put it in, they were like, ‘Oh, my God, this is so dope!’ It turned out that a lot of the cast were listening to Megan Thee Stallion also, when they were shooting. So it’s nice that Sam was really psyched to have that.”
“Hold Up,” Beyoncé
“I have an amazing coordinator, Candice. We work very closely with clearance because with music supervision it’s not just finding cool songs and putting it in the show. You can find the best song in the world, but if you can’t clear it, you can’t use it. So that’s just as important as the creative. We just worked with everybody on the other side, all of the publishing companies that were associated with that song. It was a lot! We all just worked together to figure out how to get everybody on board, which, quite honestly, everybody was like, ‘If Beyoncé approves, we approve.’ We worked with Sony, with the label, to get them a cut of the show. I don’t think that she might have watched it; I think management watched it. It took a while, and it was a lot of pieces, but again, the people I work with on the other side were very dedicated in helping me get it done.”
“Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” Andy Williams
“With ‘Can’t Get Used to Losing You’ and Beyoncé, that was Julio and Sam, who did the pilot before my time. We ended up having to switch out a lot of music in the pilot because of clearance and budget. That was them and Julio, along with my other two editors. Because there’s so much music, we really worked together to put all the pieces together.”
“Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words),” Bobby Womack
“‘Fly Me to the Moon’ was scripted in. Sam put that in. We really try to get what the kids and characters are listening to and bring them into their world, but at the same time it’s so much about the songs hitting the scene and creating a connection to characters.”
“Even the Nights Are Better,” Air Supply
“In episode two, we have the Air Supply song ‘Even the Nights Are Better’ when they show a brutal, very, very violent scene. We just wanted to juxtapose that with what you were seeing and kind of maybe create a little uneasiness. Like, I’m hearing this song and it’s funny, but what I’m seeing is actually very, very troubling. We’re giving our audience more to feel, more to experience when they’re watching the show. So there are no rules. It’s all about the song and the emotional connection and reaction that we want our audience to have while watching and listening to the show.
“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” Jamie XX ft. Young Thug and Popcaan
“Sam is so open, and he has such a vast music knowledge and appreciation and love. We’ll be sitting in the bays with the editors, trying to figure out the direction and the tone and what we want to do. It ends up being a four-hour session of just, ‘Oh, have you heard this song?’ or ‘This is one of my favorite songs!’ Listening to music that may have nothing to do with the scene or the episode we’re working on. We’re all just music fans and music lovers. We have a giant collaborative playlist. I start that right at the top with every project. I think that playlist is now 10 hours. Some of it may be used for the show, but some of it is just cool shit that we find. It’s not that we get to a drug scene or an intense scene and make a decision to go with yacht rock or something of the time period; it’s just like, let’s see what we can do for the scene. And who is it? Where are they? What’s happening? What do we want our audience to feel? And what song helps bring that out?”
“What Kat might be listening to versus Maddie is going to be different, but the same. Kat’s going to be listening to DMX, but Maddie’s going to be listening to Asian Doll, or the female trap artists, which we use a lot of and I am really excited for some of the future episodes where that is the focus. That’s been really exciting. Having that Migos song in the premiere, with all the guys in the basement, was perfect. But when we’re at a party in episode six, it’s very intense because there’s so much music. When you have an episode with a party, and it’s wall-to-wall music, it’s very intense. Upwards of 27, 28 songs. It’s pretty crazy. That may be a little different, but again, it’s about what song enhances the story and what we’re seeing.”
“Stuntin’ Like My Daddy,” Lil Wayne and Birdman
“Of course we had to have that song in episode two. That was the title. We’re so lucky Sam has such great taste in music and is so open. He trusts the editors and myself, and we get a bunch of options that we feel work, and then we present it to him, and since it’s his vision he picks the right one. It’s great when we’re at a mix and he leans over and is like, ‘This song is so perfect!’ That’s always a really great feeling. I get that a couple of times, and it’s really awesome when we nail it, and the performance, and the cinematography, and the music, and the dialogue, and the story—when it all comes together, that’s the best feeling in the world, to be able to be a part of that and help contribute to it.”
“Mount Everest,” Labrinth
“If I could just mention that Labrinth, our composer—his score has elevated the show. It’s amazing, and looking back nobody else could do what he does and elevate the show to where he takes it with his score. It’s phenomenal and one of the best parts of the show, in my opinion. Shout out to Lab.”