‘Euphoria”s Jen Malone on “eating, sleeping, breathing music” to craft season 2 soundtrack
Euphoria has released its season 2 soundtrack. The HBO sensation’s 15-track album includes songs such as Dom Fike and Zendaya’s “Elliot’s Song,” Labrinth and Zendaya’s “I’m Tired,” Orville Peck’s “Dead Of Night” and ericdoa's “sad4whattt.”
Ahead of season 2’s big finale, Alternative Press connected with the show’s music supervisor Jen Malone. She is one of the key minds behind the sounds you hear on the show.
Malone’s role involves not only helping to choose songs, but also the challenging process of securing clearances for the show’s most iconic musical moments. In addition, she has worked on a wide range of projects, including The Umbrella Academy, Atlanta and Yellowjackets.
During our conversation, Malone demystified the work of a music supervisor. While the process is driven by passion and creativity, there are also immense legal and logistical challenges. Malone also detailed her unique path into music supervision, which involved taking a giant leap of faith in the middle of her career.
Ultimately, Malone revealed the inspiration that led to shows such as Euphoria and Yellowjackets, allowing music to become a key part of the drama.
For people who don’t know, what does a music supervisor do?
As a music supervisor, our job is essentially to oversee all aspects of music in the production. We usually start at the script stage. As scripts start coming out, we do what's called a music breakdown, which is basically reading through the script. If a character is singing on camera, if there's a band, if they're just saying a line from a song, you do have to clear that. If the script calls for a specific song, we usually start clearing that right away.
As they're shooting and our editors start putting together the episode, we'll get scenes where they need a song. Once the cut comes together, we do what's called spotting sessions, where we sit with the editor, the showrunner, composer, myself. We go through every spot of music in the episode and discuss whether or not this is something we want to keep, whether this is something we want or need to replace, whether it's going to be score.
Then it's just giving lots and lots and lots of options and getting into the clearance of it all. It's important to know that you can have the most perfect song for the scene. But if you can't clear it and you can't afford it, you can't use it. That's why, as a music supervisor, it's imperative to have that background in clearance and understand how that works. This job is not solely a creative job. That's the fun part, but that is just such a small aspect of what we do and what our role is on a show.
It's a lot of moving parts. For example, “All For Us” [a very large scene featuring dancers and a marching band]. That is a huge production in itself. We had Labyrinth's song. Then we had to go and cast the marching band and the choir. At the other end, we had to create the recording that we would use for playback. Getting a music arranger to do all the different parts, write up all of the sheet music, getting the session musicians in, getting the approval for everything — it's a really big job, and I think it's important to know that. This is a hard, hard job.
I’m sure a lot of people assume a music supervisor just sits around thinks about what songs would be cool to add to a show.
It's a common misconception. With Euphoria, it was funny when we premiered the first episode. There were some tweets specifically about having to clear all of the music because there was so much music in the first episode. I felt seen. [Laughs.] One of the tweets went viral. It was very comforting to know that people do recognize the business end of it.
What is the balance between deep research and just trusting your instincts? I assume there’s a lot of work that goes into finding material.
At the beginning of every show, we start a Spotify playlist. That's collaborative with everybody. It's really just whatever I'm listening to now. For Euphoria and Atlanta, it's just deep-diving into whatever playlist I find. And then just going down those rabbit holes or working with managers who I'm tight with, who send me new music, or the licensing companies, the labels and publishers. It's all over the place, hearing a song and then putting it in this playlist that we can refer back to for inspiration. That playlist ends up getting to be five hours' worth of music. Maybe 2% ends up in there. But, it’s from eating, sleeping and breathing music on a personal level and a professional level.
I’m sure the other romantic notion about the job is that it’s a solitary individual doing all of this work.
Music supervision is a collaboration. It's a collaboration between our editors. They're so much more intimately connected to every scene and working very closely with them is exciting and inspiring. Then, of course, our showrunners. I do think that it's important for people to know it's a team effort. I'm very lucky on all of my shows, Atlanta, Yellowjackets, Euphoria, all my other shows, that music is so important to them as well. It's a collaboration. Did I pick every single song? Absolutely not. I don't know how I can do that. I work with such amazing, talented people, and they deserve the credit as well.
You have a unique path into music supervision. You worked in music PR before taking a pretty big career jump. Can you talk about your career?
I just got really burnt out on doing PR. It's a grind. I was like, "OK, this chapter is finished." I wanted to learn a new aspect of the business, and I really didn't know what to do. I didn't know if I wanted to maybe move to publicity with a major or come out to L.A. I was trying to figure it out for a while in Boston, and then I saw Iron Man. The music supervisor credit rolled by, and I was like, "OK, that's what I want to do."
But I knew nothing about the business. I knew nothing about making television or film, or any part of licensing or clearance or anything like that. So I knew that I had to start at the bottom. I moved out to Los Angeles and started researching who the supervisors were, what shows they were on, reading any articles and interviews with supervisors and starting to take meetings with anybody that would write me back.
Very serendipitously, I met Dave Jordan, who does all of the Marvel films, and we just completely hit it off. I was like, “I want to intern for you.” You know, he was like, "You've already had a successful career. Why would you want to intern?" And I just said, "Because this is the music and entertainment industry. You start at the bottom. Nobody's going to pay me to do anything. I know I need to pay my dues. And this is a business, and I have to learn that."
After I was with Dave for that summer internship, I was on an email newsgroup of women in the music industry, and somebody posted that MTV was looking for interns in their supervision department. I went in for the interview, and they were like, "Whatever you need to do to get into the orientation, just trust us." With big companies, you have to get school credit. So I went to L.A. Community College on the add/drop day. I filled out an add slip. I never went. I never paid. I had that piece of paper that said that I was enrolled.
I ended up interning for three days, and then I got a job as music coordinator on VH1 shows. I've been working ever since.
One of the shows that really stands out for me is Atlanta. The music is really rich, from modern trap music back to soul musicians like Billy Paul.
When we started season 1, back in 2016, trap music wasn't a thing. I mean, it was a thing in Atlanta. But nobody knew who Migos were. Nobody knew who 2 Chainz was or Gucci [Mane]. It was really exciting to be in the center of that right when it was starting to take off. I mean, in season 1, Migos were in the show. I remember we licensed the song from them, and it was just all like through their manager because they were not on a record label. They didn't have publishing.
The idea for Atlanta was that it [would] cross several different genres. I remember in season 1 having Migos in there, but also having Beach House in there, but then having Billy Paul. It just was really exciting to work with the editors and work with Donald [Glover] and Hiro [Murai, director] to find the songs. Also, in season 2, working with my co-music supervisor Fam Udeorji. It was really all over the place, and that was really fun to just explore different ideas.
One of the shows I wanted to talk about is Yellowjackets. The mood and tone of the show feel really tied to the music and culture of the ‘90s. It’s very alternative.
Yellowjackets is special because I grew up in New Jersey in the mid-'90s. Not saying it was an easy show, but it was really just going back to the music that I grew up on. Normally, we don't like to box ourselves in with characters and what they are listening to. But for Yellowjackets, we were able to have more character-focused playlists. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard some of the music. In the finale, we used one of the new songs from Dot Allison. It was kind of an Easter egg because Allison was in an electronic band from the '90s called One Dove. So I'm like, "That's kind of an Easter egg that only I will get." [Laughs.]
I wanted to shift to Euphoria. It’s an amazing show from a musical standpoint. It’s truly all over the place, covering everything from 100 gecs and current hip-hop to classical music, old popular songbook tunes and everything in between. What was your vision going into the second season?
For this season, we didn't want to repeat ourselves. That was the directive across the board. Sam [Levinson's, showrunner] musical knowledge is insane. He did script in a lot of moments. That was the jumping-off point for us to flesh out the rest of the sound. With the rest of the show, it's just so much about the song and how Sam wants to tell the story. At the end of the day, it's not necessarily about my taste or what song I want to put in. It's all about Sam and serving his vision, and I think that's important, too.
I'm obsessed right now with late-'80s, early '90s new wave. When we got this script, I was so excited. It's so much fun to just dig through and get some of my favorite songs like Roxette, Ministry, Depeche Mode. Those were all a little bit self-indulgent on my part.
I think music really shines in some of this season’s episodes, too. For example, the grandma’s prologue in S2E1 or Cal’s episode in S2E4. The music really makes those moments in my book.
The grandma's prologue was really tough, purely because of the content. Sometimes, working with estates and catalog artists and copyright owners over pretty intense, explicit scenes can be very tricky. That was an uphill battle to find because, not only did you need to get the creative vision, but then also working in a very nuanced way with the labels and publishers and estates to let them know that we're not using these songs in a disrespectful way. We're using them in a very artistic way to help tell the story. So that was very intense.
You do have the scene when Lexi puts on her headphones, and we had the Laura Les. That's really cool because I know we're just in the middle of the season, but that's such a pivot point to Lexi and helps tell her story for the rest of the season. That was really fun, and that was one where I knew Sam loved 100 gecs from way before we started. I was working with their label to try to get some unreleased material, and I was just doing a deep dive into hyperpop myself. That song was just perfect.
One thing I really love about what you do is showcasing these really wonderful songs or eras of music. I’m sure many people would not easily encounter some of the older music you use, even ‘90s hip-hop — let alone Jo Stafford.
You know, we got some flak for using old-school hip-hop. Some of our fans feel that these kids wouldn't be listening to it. One, it's like, "Well, they should be." Two, "Well, maybe they will now." Three, "Why wouldn't they be listening to this music? They're iconic songs. They're iconic artists."
There is the element of discovery. Having kids I saw on TikTok like "Top five songs of Euphoria" and singing along to Billy Swan. It's amazing because these are fantastic songs. They are timeless songs. To be able to share that, the editors, Sam and myself, our mixtape is introducing new music to people that might not have heard some of this stuff before.
That recognition from fans also seems to coincide with a moment where music supervision is really spreading its wings. I feel like many so many shows now are trying to be more expansive with their music offerings.
I think starting with The O.C. and then into Gossip Girl and all of that, that really opened the floodgates for discovery of new music and launching artists. Alexandra Patsavas, who did all that, she's such a pioneer. She's the godmother. Music has always been a character in film and television. But now, it's even more so where showrunners and directors will say, "Music is an integral part of this show or film."
What is your favorite musical moment in Euphoria? Or, at least, one of them…
I thought the Sinead O'Connor [“Drink Before The War”] is so powerful. The song itself, Sam wrote that in, but that album was everything to me growing up. When I saw that he scripted that song, it was just very exciting. To see the edit come together, you feel for Cal, who's an absolute monster. But there is a point where you actually feel something for him. I think that is so powerful because I do think that connection we had was very, very, very much because of the song. The whole Cal prologue, it's just my favorite.