‘Euphoria’ Music Supervisor Jen Malone On The Clearance Challenges Of Sam Levinson’s “Intense, Special Project”July 10, 2020 7:00pm

In HBO’s Euphoria, music supervisor Jen Malone found one of the most rewarding and challenging projects of her career—a frenetic series calling for wall-to-wall music, in a diversity of styles.

Created by Sam Levinson, the teen drama centers on Rue (Zendaya), a 17-year-old recovering drug addict struggling to find her place in the world, following her and her high school peers through turbulent experiences with sex, drugs, relationships, identity and trauma.

A prolific music supervisor, who earned her first Emmy nomination in 2018, with FX’s Atlanta, Malone found the appeal of Euphoria to be obvious, from her first meeting with Levinson. “Hearing his vision and his thoughts, and seeing the pilot, there was definitely something there that was like, ‘Okay, it’s going to be a monster, but I absolutely have to do this show,’” the music supervisor recalls, “‘and I’m very lucky that Sam is going to entrust the music to me.’”

In early conversations with Levinson, Malone’s primary takeaway was that music was going to function as a character in this show. “Obviously, these are teenagers, so there was going to be music coming from all over the place,” she says, “but we wanted to be able to also do really interesting choices, [and] dig deep through the catalogue.”

When she signed onto Euphoria, Malone’s first step was to put together a massive playlist, comprising 10 hours and 37 minutes of music. “It was just listening to music for hours and hours, and going down rabbit holes, and finding random playlists. I mean, there’s really no process. It’s just doing the best part of my job,” the music supervisor reflects. “It’s just finding stuff like, ‘Oh, this is a really great song. Maybe it’s right for Euphoria, and maybe it’s not. But let’s just put it in here.’ Because I don’t want, at any point, to be like, ‘Oh, what was that song I was going to put in?’”

For the music supervisor, many of the selections from the show also stemmed from a highly collaborative process with Levinson, as well as members of Euphoria’s post team, including supervising editor Julio Perez IV. “We had one hangout session with Julio, and it was amazing because we were there for a couple hours, just being like, ‘Oh my God, have you heard this song?’” Malone shares. “It was actually a lot of old soul stuff, and at one point, we were sitting there on the couch and we both were like, ‘Oh, I love this s**t,’ and kind of said that at the exact same time. So, that was really exciting.”

While the pilot of Euphoria had been shot before Malone joined the team, she had to go back and replace much of its music, as is often the case with pilots, helping to refine the series’ sonic palette. “There were certain things, like the Megan Thee Stallion placement [‘Cocky AF’], which got a lot of attention and excitement. That was [initially] a different song there, and it was kind of like, ‘Just trust me, put this in,’” the music supervisor says. “They did, and when we were at the mix, they were like, ‘Malone, you killed that one.’ So, that was very validating. But I think at the end of the day, it was also an easy decision to make, creatively, because it’s such a dope song.”

Throughout Season 1, Malone made sure to provide Levinson and his editors with at least five or six musical ideas for any given scene, to make sure that she’d hit the mark. “My options are just all over the place. There’s always a crazy, weird, left-of-center one, just kind of like, ‘Okay, here’s my wild card,’” she says. “What’s so great about Sam is that he’s open to hearing those wild card [ideas]. ‘I have no idea why I’m putting this in here, but I have a feeling about it’—and then it works.”

Looking back on Season 1, the music supervisor has a few favorite moments, where she feels her musical choices aligned perfectly with both the aesthetic and the narrative intent of a scene. “In 103, one of my favorite placements is the Kilo Kish [song] ‘Taking Responsibility,’ when Rue takes the Vicodin, and she’s on her bike. There’s just such beautiful lighting and cinematography, and the song supported the scene so well. You just hit play, and it was perfect,” she says. “It was almost like the sound of that Kilo Kish song is the color that you saw on screen, if that makes sense. It’s like purple and blue, fused.”

Two other favorite moments came in the season finale. “One of the most amazing placements was Arcade Fire, ‘My Body is a Cage.’ That was so beautiful. It was another one that, just on every angle, fit the scene,” Malone says. “Then, the Donny Hathaway [‘A Song for You’] was perfect.”

In Malone’s work on the series, a number of musical discoveries also inevitably presented themselves. “A lot of the indie trap artists were up-and-coming and unknown, so [I was] finding some really great songs from those artists,” the music supervisor says. “The Randy Newman song [‘Same Girl’] in 105, I can’t imagine how long ago I’d heard that, so that was something that was like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to dig back into this.’”

“So, it was a lot of revisiting stuff that I hadn’t listened to in so long, but then also on the new stuff, we were lucky enough to have a lot of brand new songs from new artists, unreleased stuff that we were able to have in the show first,” Malone adds. “So hearing those songs, from the demo stage all the way to the finished product, was very cool to be a part of.”

For Malone, the greatest challenge of Euphoria has been the sheer volume of music at hand. “The premiere had like 25 songs or something. Some of these episodes are averaging 20, 25 pieces of music that are not all necessarily easy clears,” she says. “I mean, clearing some of the hip hop songs, it’s just trying to find people—and then, of course, being on a TV timeline was very intense.”

While the amount of clearances required for Euphoria meant Malone was often working early in the morning, and late into the night, it ultimately reflected Levinson’s ambitions with the series, as well as his extensive musical vocabulary, which could only elevate the show. “Sam has amazing taste in music, and the way he uses music to help tell the story, and to connect with the audience, is very rare. But his music knowledge is so eclectic. It’s all over the place,” Malone says. “There’s definitely artists that he would bring up that I never would think about. So, it was just this amazing, intense, special project to be a part of.”

As Euphoria Season 1 was wrapping, Malone seized the opportunity to jump onto Dispatches from Elsewhere, the fantastical AMC series from creator Jason Segel. As with Euphoria, the highlights of working on this series started with the people she was working with. “Jason is like the coolest, mellowest, most humble person I have ever been in the company of. He’s just so cool, and what was really fun about that show, on a musical level, was that there was no popular music in the show. Like, there was no Beyoncé; there was none of that,” the music supervisor shares. “It was so cool to be able to dig through the crates and help with the music to create this out-of-time, out-of-space [feeling].”

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