2018 has been a great year for TV, with music playing a huge part in whether a show really works or not. With that in mind, we asked several music supervisors to pick their favourite TV sync placements of the year so far. Here’s what they came up with:
Dondrea Erauw, instinct entertainment (Private Eyes Season 3, Firecrackers, The Cuban)
Show: Dear White People – Music Supervised by Morgan Rhodes
Season 2, Episode 4
Song: “Shadows” – Ruth B
I loved this use so much. Not only because Ruth B is Canadian, but because this song is literally perfect for this scene. Earlier in the episode we follow Coco into an abortion clinic, and we’re not sure if she’ll go through with the procedure or not (as she goes back and forth on her decision). She decides last minute to keep the baby and stands to leave, when all of a sudden, we see a flash forward into her future. I love how we get a glimpse as to what motherhood would be like for her; she’s sending her baby off to college, sees high hopes and dreams for her daughter etc. But as the scene comes to an end, we realize this glimpse into motherhood is only the life she WISHES she could have, and with no guarantees, it was a risk she wasn’t ready to take. Her name then gets called next on the list and she snaps back into reality and quickly changes her mind. The song flares up as we follow Coco into the doctors office to get the procedure.
The song had such a powerful impact on me because it flared up right as Coco made her decision and breaks the fourth wall, starring dead into the camera. With where things are at politically in the world right now, it felt like such an influential statement. Especially with the lyric, “Why you gotta hide?” playing underneath. Brilliant.
Show: The Bold Type – Music Supervised by Rob Lowry
Season 2, Episode 5
Song: “Miracle” by Chvrches
This is one of those montage type sequences that at times, can deem to be pretty challenging for music supervisors. Mostly because you’re trying to find one song that portrays multiple emotions with different characters. Rob did a seamless and fluent job with syncing “Miracle” here. Not only did it work with Jane and Ben’s heated sex scene, but it gave me chills when I saw Sutton witness her ex getting out of a car with a new woman. It sonically and lyrically worked so well with each character, that it made me cheer and scream at my television, all at the same time. A recently released single that is sexy, yet heartbreaking? Well done Rob!
Garrett McElver, SuperMusicVision (The Tick, Seal Team)
Show: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace – Music Supervised by Amanda Krieg Thomas
Episode 4 – ‘House By The Lake’
Song: “Drive” – The Cars (on-camera performance by Aimee Mann)
“Drive” comes about midway through the season, and as a viewer we’re just so traumatized by everything that’s happened (and what we know will happen soon) that this music moment really cuts through. It’s a great showcase of the collaboration between the writers, director, executive producers, music supervisor, and Aimee Mann herself, as they’re all accomplishing a lot with a big featured song moment with an on-camera performance. We feel so helpless for the character David as he’s essentially been kidnapped by his murderous ex-lover Andrew. David’s whole life has crashed down around him, and we know there’s really no way out for him. As Andrew and David stop in a local bar during their escape out of town, we see the incredible Aimee Mann as the evening’s anonymous performer, and she begins to play a rendition of the song made famous by The Cars. David considers escaping through the bathroom window but ultimately does not, in fear of not making it very far and because Andrew’s manipulative reasoning for staying has gotten to him.
While Andrew sits at the table watching this performance by himself, we get to witness one of the very few honest human emotions from Andrew as he breaks into tears. So much of Andrew’s story showcases how manipulative and fake he is, but in this moment, something comes out. I love that this song can really resonate with both characters in this moment. Lyrically applying to David feeling lost and trapped in this situation with no literal or emotional escape. Who is going to be there for him? Who will drive him home? And also with Andrew, who we can tell thinks he’s in the right, feeling alone in his own regard. He feels he’s lost David. Andrew has put himself into this situation where murdering those in his way is the only conceivable choice left in his mind. Who’s gonna pay attention to his dreams? Who’s gonna drive him home? Seemingly no one, as he feels woefully under appreciated by the world around him. He cries at the bar, but we know these are not tears of a lesson learned, it’s fuel for his continued spree to come. Aimee Mann’s performance captures this sense of loss and dread so beautifully and hauntingly. It’s heartbreaking, it’s frustrating, it’s unfair. It’s a great scene.
Michelle Johnson, SuperMusicVision (Love, Grace and Frankie, Nobodies)
Show: The Americans – Music Supervised by PJ Bloom & Amanda Krieg Thomas
Season 6, Episode 1
Song: Peter Gabriel – “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)”
For me, one my favorite music moments in television so far in 2018 is the use of Peter Gabriel’s emotionally powerful “We Do What We’re Told (Milligram’s 37)” in the final season premiere of The Americans entitled “Dead Hand”. Being a fan of the series since it’s premiere in 2013, I was struck by the beauty in choosing to use this song in a crucial montage that recalls the overall mission of Phillip and Elizabeth yet is also able to underscore the solitude that Elizabeth now faces as she continues to work alone without Phillip. The song itself is about the psychologist Stanley Milligram’s experiments that explore the conflict between obedience to authority and one’s own personal conscience. This is very much a recurring theme for The Americans and supported the scene beautifully.
Rupert Hollier, Redfive Creative (McQueen, Once Upon a Time in London, Nomis)
Show: Westworld – Music Supervised by Sean O’ Meara” (do you know who he really is..!) and Jennifer Reeve.
Season 2, Episode 1
Song: Scott Joplin – “The Entertainer” (performed by Ramin Djawadi)
I loved this track being used here for many reasons. Although it follows the original honky tonk version, Ramin gives it a refreshing reworking and a resolve in keeping with the sonic identity of the overall score. It is a perfect usage, pure synchronisation – The premise of Westworld, the horror of the game, mixed with entertainment, and the irony of a massacre being committed whilst the track plays, in what is a big moment for the series, opening season two, where expectations are high, for encompasses the beauty of synchronisation when done well. The original atmosphere of the song, the relevance to the scene, a reworking to mould it well, the irony of usage, and the simple power of the questions it throws up by its own nature – wonderful stuff!!
Morgan Rhodes (Dear White People, Queen Sugar, Selma)
Show: Killing Eve – Music Supervised by Catherine Grieves
Season 1, Episode 3
Song: Brigitte Bardot – “Contact”
Villanelle is a sexy elegant cosmopolitan assassin whose career success is linked to her pathological stoicism and comfort with executing her assignments without guilt.
Brigitte Bardot’s “Contact” is an amazing placement for several reasons. First, the episode is set in Paris so the choice of this artist and a song written by Serge Gainsboug has regional relevance. Also the song plays after a scene where we watch Villanelle experience her first romantic encounter or “contact” with another human being. Much like the song, her attempt at bonding is strange and endearing – strange because she doesn’t emote in a typical fashion and endearing because of its awkwardness. Brigitte Bardot’s delivery is coquettish like our villain Villanelle can sometimes be.
The lyrics are metaphorical and perfect. “I need a mercury transfusion/ lost so much with this injury/take off my spacesuit/remove this sidereal dust” – they work in the moment because it’s as if they suggest that the brief moment of intimacy “contact” Villanelle just experienced isn’t really her normal M.O. and she wants the return to the dark side of herself that she loves and is familiar with. The song continues as she emotionlessly mixes a lethal elixir of chemicals that will kill her next victim at the moment the victim comes into contact with them.
I clapped after this scene. Thank you Catherine Grieves!
Thomas Golubić, SuperMusicVision (Better Call Saul, Halt and Catch Fire, Grace and Frankie)
Show: Wild Wild Country – Music Supervised by Chris Swanson
Song: Damien Jurado – “A.M. A.M.” (with a major extension of the song through some skillful music editing)
This was my favorite documentary experience of 2018, and I watch a lot of documentaries. Music supervisor Chris Swanson knocked it out of the park on this six-episode Netflix series. There are compelling music choices throughout, magically cleared with a micro-budget, which always speak to the complicated subtext and spiritual yearning and wistful nostalgia of the characters you get to know, and love, and fear. It’s hard to make one choice, but here is one.
Show: Glow, Music Supervised by Bruce Gilbert
Season 2, Episode 6
Song: Frank Stallone – “Far From Over”
One of the great joys of doing a period project as a music supervisor is diving deep into your record collection and finding songs that are just begging to be re-contextualized. We had that thrill with the 1980s with the gorgeous and criminally under appreciated AMC series Halt and Catch Fire, and music supervisor Bruce Gilbert got to do that deep-dive on Netflix’s Glow. Season two of Glow is a total joy to watch, always keeps a knowing ironic eye to the music placements. In one of those heaven-sent montages of the underdog coming back from behind, Bruce drops Frank Stallone’s “Far From Over” (written for his brother Sly’s film “Staying Alive”) which at first gets a serious eye-roll. And then something amazing happens: the song – and the decision to use it – completely wins you over. At first you are in on the joke, and then you fall for the joke, and then you recognize the glory of the song to make you feel they way you did, when you didn’t know how corny it was. I loved it.
I want to also throw out a special mention to David Holmes for creating both score and songs for BBC America’s Killing Eve Season 1.
Yvette Metoyer, SuperMusicVision (Sneaky Pete, Halt and Catch Fire, Shut Eye)
Show: Wild Wild Country, Music Supervised by Chris Swanson
Song: Timber Timbre – “Run From Me”
I have to say that I especially loved music supervisor, Chris Swanson’s use of “Run From Me” by Canadian swamp rock band, Timber Timbre in the 2018 gripping documentary film, Wild Wild Country. I’ve been a fan of the song since its release on the 2014 album, Hot Dreams, and could never find a home for the haunting tune. The dreamy quality of lead singer, Justin Taylor’s vocals are captivating, and the use of the song over such a gripping sequence in the film, captures the deep rift between spiritual guru, Osho and his right-hand confidant, Ma Anand Sheela – the song was an absolute perfect choice. I was on pins & needles while watching that sequence. Kudos to Secretly Canadian’s very own, Chris Swanson. Well done.
Ian Neil, Director of Film & TV for Sony Music and Freelance Film Music Supervisor (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Bombs and Pecan Pie, The Runaways)
Show: Love Island, Music Supervised by Annalisa Johnstone
Season 4, Episode 16
Song: “Beyond” – Leon Bridges
I will go where no one else will dare to go and say Love Island. The show has used hundreds of pieces of music and you can be assured the next morning one or two songs have been heavily shazamed and found their way into the iTunes chart. It’s actually something of a phenomena and lots of artists and labels are seeing the benefit.
If I had to pick one use from the show it’s “Beyond” by Leon Bridges from his current album. The guy is a huge talent and this is now one of my favourite songs of the year hands down. Listen to it and you will see why.