‘Euphoria’ Music Supervisor Breaks Down Soundtrack, Season 2 Songs

  • The second season of HBO’s “Euphoria” featured an eclectic soundtrack with more than 100 songs.
  • Music supervisor Jen Malone spoke to Insider about the process of scoring the show.
  • She also revealed details about musical moments, like Ethan’s rendition of “Holding Out For a Hero.”

“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.”

Therein lies the magic of Jen Malone, lead music supervisor for “Euphoria,” the gritty teen drama that has rapidly become the second-most-watched show in HBO’s history.

Malone works closely with showrunner Sam Levinson to assemble the perfect playlist for their chaotic cast of characters.

Although teenagers on “Euphoria” deal with very raw throes and very real consequences — from struggles with body image and gender identity to addiction and death — it’s a story about high school filtered through the lens of an unreliable narrator, Rue Bennett (Zendaya), who is generally more concerned with emotional impact than literal reality.

The resulting song selection is appropriately eclectic, with more than 100 tracks featured in season two alone.

The show can flit between a devastating power ballad to a twitchy rap track in a matter of minutes. If a piece of music can drive home the desired mood of a scene, that’s what counts in this world — no matter that a Gen-Z girl like Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) probably wouldn’t know all the words to a Sinéad O’Connor hit from the ’80s.

“At the end of the day, it just comes down to the song and how the song is functioning in the narrative,” Malone said on a recent


Zoom

call with Insider. “We really work with a lot of, almost hyper-reality. Like, it’s real, but not necessarily real. So we blurred those lines a little bit on a lot of different levels.”

Malone explained that Levinson has a “vast amount of musical knowledge.” The polarizing director has penned all 18 episodes of “Euphoria” and will often write a song directly into the script.

Malone’s team is responsible for getting permission to use those songs — in addition to making additional soundtrack suggestions — typically within a very tight timeline.

“We have to make sure everything is set before we shoot, because once you shoot it and it’s captured on film, in our case, there’s no going back,” she said, adding, “Music supervision is not just making cool playlists.”

The job can require a lot of “detective work” if a song’s copyright owner is hard to track down, as with Sharon Cash’s “Fever” in episode five, which plays when Rue is committing a robbery. With a show like “Euphoria,” the job can also call for getting “creative” with requests, in order to convince an artist to pair their music with graphic depictions of sex, drugs, and violence.

“It’s a very nuanced process, but I think now, also, people know the show. They know that it’s not rated G,” Malone admitted. “And I know on my end, if there’s a shower scene, there’s probably going to be full frontal. Without even seeing it, or seeing how he’s going to shoot it, we can probably assume.”

Although Malone and HBO declined to specify how much it might cost to secure a song’s clearance, if this season’s elaborate school play is any indication, HBO delegated a significant amount of money to the show’s artistic vision.

Indeed, lead editor Julio Perez IV told the New York Times that “Euphoria” could be appraised as “a musical.”

“We really went back and forth with a lot of different artists, and as with any show and every show, you win some, you lose some,” Malone said.

“But a lot of people were very excited to be part of the show,” she continued. “They knew their songs were in good hands and we were not using them carelessly. We were using them with intent and thoughtfulness and incorporating them into the overall narrative of the show.”

Even having a song placed in a 14-second moment on “Euphoria” can give artists an exciting opportunity to showcase their music to a massive audience — especially songs they didn’t think they’d ever officially release, as was the case with Ericdoa and his song “Sad4whattt.”

“‘Sad4whattt’ for me and my close friends was something that was actually not going to even see the light of day since it didn’t match the tone of … our project,” Ericdoa, whose birth name is Eric Lopez, told Insider via email. “It was sent to the lovely people at ‘Euphoria’s’ music team and luckily they enjoyed it enough to place it, which I am forever grateful for.”

The ecstatic electro-rap song is featured in episode four, blasting in the background as Cassie lets Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) into the house where Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) is hosting her birthday party.

“The scene they used it in had my jaw on the floor, to keep it real,” Ericdoa added. “Nate arrived at the function to see his ex in front of Cassie. Man, that boy was wildin’. It was an amazing opportunity to be in one of the most popular shows in the last decade and to be in such a well-directed and artistic season.”

“Sad4whattt” is featured alongside other notable needle drops on season two’s official soundtrack, which was released by Interscope on Friday.

The 15-track collection includes original songs by Labrinth, Lana Del Rey, and Tove Lo, as well as revived oldies that accompany major moments in the characters’ on-screen journeys.

Ethan’s show-stopping performance of ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ was ‘scripted in from day one’

ethan euphoria season 2 episode 7

 

Austin Abrams as Ethan Daley in season two, episode seven.

Eddy Chen/HBO

In the penultimate episode of season two, titled “The Theater and It’s Double,” Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) puts on a bold and lavish play about her own life — dismantling her friendship dynamics and exposing her classmates’ secrets in the process.

Much of the episode is scored with instrumentals by new-wave composers, a concept inspired by Francis Lai’s title track for the 1967 French film “Vivre Pour Vivre,” Malone said.

But in one climactic scene, Ethan Daley (Austin Abrams) stars as a doppelgänger of Nate pumping iron with his gym bros. The sequence quickly becomes a homoerotic hallucination, set to the triumphant sound of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”

“That was scripted in from day one and fortunately it was a very easy clear,” Malone revealed. “There were not any hurdles. We had that script. We knew that song was not going anywhere. It was part of the story.”

After she got the song cleared, Malone immediately alerted choreographer Ryan Heffington, who “took it from there to make the magic happen.”

“That was definitely in Sam’s head,” she said of the extravagant musical number, adding that Heffington previously choreographed Zendaya’s final scene in season one, set to Labrinth’s “All for Us.” “So it was very much a ‘getting the band back together’ kind of thing.”

Other songs were intentionally paired with characters in order to subtly foreshadow their arcs

Jacob Elordi as Nate Jacobs on season two of "Euphoria."

 

Jacob Elordi as Nate Jacobs in the season two premiere.

Eddy Chen/HBO

Asked if her team ever thinks of songs as “Easter eggs” for the show’s rabid fanbase, Malone pointed to Levinson’s meticulous storytelling style.

“That’s just really tied into how Sam wants the music to help tell his story,” she said.

Indeed, Malone said Levinson specifically requested the Orville Peck single “Dead of Night” for a memorable moment in the season two premiere, when Nate drunkenly drives to a party with Cassie in the passenger seat.

The two characters cast each other heated glances as Peck croons, “You say, ‘Go fast, ‘ I say, ‘Hold on tight.'” As fans now know, they were about to launch head-first into a delirious, ill-advised love affair.

But the next lines in the song are equally telling about Nate’s story arc, if not more so: “See the boys as they walk on by / It’s enough to make a young man…”

On the surface, it’d seem that Nate — a violent, abusive jock who is ostensibly a poster child for toxic masculinity — wouldn’t be a fan of Peck, who is openly gay. But, “Dead of Night” functions as an early nod to Nate’s internal battle with his own sexuality that’s explored throughout season two.

“That was something Sam scripted in, and I think that kind of is a nod to the hyper-reality vibe, the playfulness that we took this season,” Malone said of linking Nate with Peck’s song. “But that one was all Sam.”

lexi howard character arc euphoria season 2

 

Maude Apatow as Lexi Howard in season two, episodes three and seven.

Eddy Chen/HBO

Fans who pay close attention to the show’s subtle details often find they’re rewarded by Levinson and Malone’s careful sonic blueprint.

In episode two, “Out of Touch,” Lexi — the show’s perennial wallflower — puts in her headphones and struts to “Haunted” by Laura Les.

At the time, many fans thought the hyperpop banger was a poor match for Lexi’s withdrawn personality. But Malone, who pushed to place “Haunted” in that scene, was confident the decision would pay off.

“I’m like, ‘OK, everybody just calm down. You’re going to see why we picked that song and there’s a very good reason for it,'” she explained. “So a lot of people were like, ‘She wouldn’t be listening to this,’ but it’s like, ‘Just wait.’ And now you see in episode seven how she has really stepped up, taken control of her life.”

“That song really was that switch, in a way,” Malone added. “It was completely part of her character arc in the show. Plus, the song rules.”

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