We’re currently four episodes deep in Euphoria, Sam Levinson’s behemoth HBO teen spectacle based off the Israeli mini-series of the same name. The show follows Rue (played by Zendaya), a recovering 17-year-old consumed by a deluge of flashy temptations in her suburban hometown. Co-produced by Drake, the show packs in all of the exhilaration of landmark teen soaps such as Degrassi and Skins. But this time, the extremes feel even more extreme, the vaping adolescent byproduct of a generation tranquilized by cell phones and mood stabilizers since birth.
It’d be impossible to talk about Euphoria without acknowledging its genre-spanning soundtrack, which fills nearly every crevice of the show’s 56-minute run time; each episode features an average of 15 to 20 songs. The pilot alone whirls tracks from Beyoncé, Lil Dude, Megan Thee Stallion, Migos, Jamie xx, A$AP Ferg, and Future alongside oldies from Andy Williams and Jim Reeves into a sonic barrage that feels right on time. That’s all the doing of Jen Malone, the show’s music supervisor who’s responsible for curating and licensing each track you hear. We caught up with Jen to discuss her career as a music supervisor, how she began to tackle such an enormous project as Euphoria, and what to expect as the season progresses.
For those who aren't really informed on your career, you've been doing this for a minute now. How did you get started in the world of music supervision?
I was a publicist for rock bands and kind of got really burnt out on that and I didn't really know what I wanted to do. Then I saw the movie Iron Man and the music supervisor credit rolled by and I was like, Music supervisor... OK, that’s what I want to do. I ended up packing up all my stuff in Boston and moved out to California without knowing anyone. Very serendipitously, I met Dave Jordan, who is the music supervisor for all the Marvel films, and I told him I wanted to intern for him.' He was like 'intern? why would you want to intern' because I have been in the music industry we knew a lot of label people and music industry folks and I was just like look this is the entertainment industry nobody is going to pay me for something I don't know how to do and I have to start at the bottom and I respect that process. I was with him and his team for the summer in 2009 and it was amazing. I just learned a whole new language around music supervision.
At the end of the summer, I knew that there wasn't going to be a job there for me so I was on an email newsgroup of women in the music industry and someone posted that MTV was looking for interns in their supervision department. I was a little bit older, and I knew that all the interns were going to be college kids but you know you have to throw away your ego and I knew that I would learn and meet people. To be an intern for a company like Viacom you have to get school credit, so I just went to Los Angeles Community College, I filled out an add slip, I never went, I never paid, I was there for the internship. I interned for three days and then I got a job as a coordinator on a VH1 show and I've kind of been working ever since.
When did this whole journey with Euphoria initially start?
At the beginning of every show I work on, I start a general inspiration playlist and that playlist started in September. So I've been on this show for a minute.
So that’s how the process starts for you? You kind of get a big playlist and just drop everything in it?
Yeah, we start with a very general playlist. It's so early in the process that we don't know exactly what the tone of the show is going to be, or the themes that are going to need music. But this playlist is for when we find cool shit, and we just throw it in there whether it's going to be used for the show or not. At this point I think we have ten hours worth of music on there. It started off there, from digging in all of the usual places — SoundCloud, Twitter, Instagram. You'd be surprised how much I can find on Instagram.
How do you find music on Instagram?
I just follow a lot of different people — whether they're managers or just general industry people. When people post what they’re listening to on Spotify or on their Instagram stories, I take screenshots. Whenever I have downtime, I take out my phone and I go through all of the screenshots and listen to the music, and if it’s good for Euphoria it'll go in the Euphoria bin. If it’s good for one of my other shows, I'll throw it in there.
When you were putting together the playlist, what were you envisioning that this soundtrack would eventually turn into?
They did the pilot before I came on board and we had to go through and replace a lot of songs for budget and clearance reasons. We knew that there was going to be a lot of hip hop. They're kids, so there's always going to be music playing out of their cars, out of their bedrooms, at parties. It's just cool songs that maybe eventually would work in a scene that would help support the scene and elevate it and enhance what's happening and who’s the character, what are they going through, how can we create a connection between our audience and what they're seeing on screen.
Were there instances when you knew a specific song should be linked to this scene and you were kind of involved during the production, versus post-production?
When we had “Fly Me To The Moon” in episode two, for example, we knew they were going to sing that, it was scripted in from Sam [Levinson]. So there's serendipitously some songs that Sam scripted in, some of them were mood placeholders, and some of them were songs that we definitely wanted to get stuff that Sam was listening to when he wrote it.
I work best when I see pictures, so if they're at a party or a club, just show me a picture of the club and then I can kind of get it, like what music would work there. Sitting in with the editors, and looking at the different scenes, and seeing where we could do some different ideas so it’s not all wall to wall hip-hop. In episode four we've got an old soul song in there and there's a wide range of genres that we are able to use in the show. It's very visual, the show, the cinematography, the way Sam directs, the performances, and everything really contributes to making the scene work. Including the music.
With Drake as an executive producer, did you get any input from his side, or did he assist in any way with the direction of the soundtrack?
Not really, he was more involved with the big picture of the show in general.
What kind of challenges did you face with this soundtrack? In comparison to projects before, were there any hurdles?
Every single day. When you're dealing with a show with this much music and it’s on a TV timeline, there's always issues and situations that you just have to work [out] really fast — whether it’s dealing with a piece of score in Italy the day before we mix, or getting script pages to an artist that may or may not approve songs, or just straight up clearance of hip-hop. This show was just a lot and it's because of the sheer volume of music. The third episode has like 26 songs in it. Usually at 11 a.m. everyday, I'm kind of waiting for my daily Euphoria trauma. Not trauma but, you know, the high pressure situation that I have to deal with that we’ll figure out how to get done.
There are so many up-and-coming artists in the show — in the first two episodes we see artists like Yung Baby Tate and Megan Thee Stallion. Were there any artists that you discovered through soundtracking the show that really stands out to you that you're excited about?
I've been a fan of Yung Baby Tate for a while, same with Megan The Stallion, I was really excited. The artist Jozzy who we have one of her new songs with Tommy Genesis, we had that in the pilot. We have a Rosalía song coming up in episode 5. I'm really excited about five because pretty much that whole episode, outside of maybe one or two artists, are all female artists. Lolo Zouai, she's a new artist that we have in the show, in 106, which I'm really excited about, so yeah, there's also, I have so many new artists that I'm excited about but there is a limit to how many songs we have in the show.
Is there a particular scene that stands out where you felt like, I am so proud of this song over this scene?
In episode two, I love the Air Supply that we put in. We turned the scene completely on its head. The actual beatdown was so difficult to watch, but then having Air Supply gave it some comic relief, so you're laughing but you're terrified of what you just saw. Hopefully it makes the audience kind of like, I'm not sure what I should be feeling right now. There's this scene in episode three with a song from Kilo Kish called "Taking Responsibility,” which I found just going through some rabbit hole and absolutely fell in love with. My editor, Laura, who worked her ass off on that episode, tried it there and it just worked. It gets a beautiful scene of Rue biking and the lighting and the camera work — it's amazing.
Without spoiling anything, can you kind of tease out how this soundtrack is going to progress over the season?
I think it's just going to keep surprising our audience with the music choices. There's some very unexpected songs that are in scenes that you wouldn't really think of and I think it’s just going to keep surprising the audience with the music and also just continuing to expose some of the up-and-coming artists to a new audience.