Being a music supervisor is more than just compiling a playlist and putting music in a TV series or film. Just ask Jen Malone — the music supervisor for today’s most beloved TV shows, including Euphoria.
In the opening of the season two premiere of Euphoria, Fez’s (Angus Cloud) origin story is soundtracked by a handful of songs. He bags up cocaine to Bo Diddley’s “Look at Grandma,” meets a baby Ashtray (Javon Walton) to Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” and watches his grandma beat a man to death with a crowbar to Johnny Jenkins’ “I Walk on Gilded Splinters.” As the sequence makes its way to the present, it ends with Tupac’s Notorious B.I.G. diss track “Hit ‘Em Up.”
The amount of music placements in this episode didn’t go unnoticed by fans, with some of them making memes on social media directed at the show’s music supervisor. Well, Jen Malone, Euphoria‘s music supervisor, saw them, even responding to one of them with the following: “Thank you for seeing me.”
“It was funny and it was completely accurate,” Malone said of the memes during a phone interview with Okayplayer. “It made me feel seen in the truest sense of the word — that fans acknowledged the amount of work that went into just that episode alone to clear all of that music.”
Malone is the music supervisor behind some of today’s most beloved TV series: Euphoria, Atlanta, Yellowjackets, and Umbrella Academy. She has received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Music Supervision for both Euphoria and Atlanta, and has been the recipient of the Guild of Music Supervisor Award for Best Music Supervision for the former series. She’s also the founder of Black and White PR, an all women independent music supervision agency.
At a time where music is becoming more and more intrinsic in film and TV, the work of a music supervisor has become more important. The occupation has also become more misunderstood, too. Sure, knowing about (and listening to) music, as well as actively searching for music — both new and old — is a part of the role. But it’s also a business; it isn’t as simple as selecting songs and soundtracking them to a scene. There’s an investigative component to it: researching who owns the masters for a song, who the credited writers are for a song, who represents a label that’s been defunct for decades — and don’t be surprised if you have to go through an obituary or two to find some of this information in the process.
And even then, all of that hard work might not result in an approved music placement. Maybe the budget can’t afford the song; maybe one of the credited writers of the song doesn’t want it to be used in a film or TV show, let alone a sequence that might be explicit or risqué. It’s unfortunate when a song request isn’t approved but the show must go on, with the music supervisor having to be the bearer of bad news — “That actually is the worst part of my job,” Malone said — while looking for a fitting alternative to meet deadline.
Sometimes, however, miracles come about in these situations. Take the season finale of Yellowjackets, for example. Enya’s “Only Time” captures the tone of the scene it accompanies in the episode, but the artist didn’t initially approve use of the song.
“I said to our show runner, ‘Why don’t you guys write a letter? Just try it. Who knows if it’ll get to her management, but we’ll work with the publisher on this and really try to get it and see if it makes a difference,'” Malone said. “We have to say that we tried, right?”
The letter worked; two days before the final mix of the episode, they received an email saying Enya was going to approve using the song. This instance shows how, despite an artist possibly denying use of their song, you can try to reach them personally to make them reconsider. If you’re dealing with an artist who has passed, however, it can be very tricky trying to get an estate to approve the use of a song. Without the artist alive to represent themself, the estate has to use their best judgment in deciding if the artist would’ve seen the significance in having their music used for a specific sequence, let alone like it. For Malone, a part of her job is helping estates understand the artistic vision a show runner is trying to create, all while assuring them the request for placement comes from a place of love, honor, and respect. Such was the case with “Hit ‘Em Up,” a song that foreshadows the ferocious beating Fez gives Nate (Jacob Elordi) at a New Years Eve house party.
“Tupac’s estate, who are absolutely such wonderful people and just really honor Tupac’s legacy, they love Zendaya and they feel that if he was alive today, he’d be a huge fan and he’d be into the show and the placement,” Malone said. “And it was such a great moment that a lot of people are rediscovering Tupac, which is kind of crazy.”
A part of Euphoria‘s charm is that it’s also a place for music discovery across decades and genres, with the first season featuring everything from The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cocky AF” (which was included thanks to Malone’s recommendation). As a show centered around teens though, it makes sense that Euphoria highlights a genre that, since its birth in the ’70s, has become popular music across the world — rap. Where the first season primarily featured rap music from contemporary artists (with some older ’00s tracks sprinkled in like Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle,” DMX’s “X Got’ Give It To Ya,” and Birdman and Lil Wayne’s “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy”), the latest season so far has had more ’90s and ’00s throwbacks. Amid the premiere, these placements (particularly Rue reciting “Hit ‘Em Up” and the New Years house party that includes Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” and DMX’s “Party Up”) stirred up some conversation. Some viewers wondered if real Gen Z’ers actually listen to ’90s and ’00s rap like their Euphoria counterparts, while others weren’t convinced that the moments reflected Gen Z’s actual rap listening habits.
We want, of course, the element of discovery, and we want our audience to maybe listen to music that they’ve never listened to before, but we’re making the best show possible in telling Sam’s story,” Malone said.
“I think there’s definitely parties out there happening with teenage kids listening to Notorious B.I.G and Juvenile. At least I’d like to hope that’s what’s happening,” she added. “Because if not, then we’re doing one of the many things that we like to do with music [which] is to have this element of discovery. But we’re not picking music ‘for the kids,’ we’re picking music to serve the story.”
As fun as it is to incorporate rap throwbacks (and contemporaries) into shows like Euphoria and Atlanta, Malone shared that clearing rap placements are extremely difficult. For a genre heavy on sampling, clearance often has to be gained not just from the primary writers of a song, but its samples and master samples, too. Getting certain rap placements has come with some interesting experiences for Malone. In the season two premiere of Atlanta, Tay-K’s “The Race” received a prominent placement in the episode, the song soundtracking an opening sequence that kicks off the “robbin’ season.” By this time, Tay-K was already in jail on multiple capital murder charges, making “The Race” the most difficult song for Malone to clear for the season.
“[Tay-K’s] manager had to go and get him to sign the paperwork in jail,” Malone said. “So, that was just kind of a trip.”
As arduous as being a music supervisor can be, it comes with its pros. Not only are you a part of a creative collaborative process, but in certain instances you also get some of your favorite music included to color the vision of the project, too. Malone shared that the third episode of Euphoria will have so much of her own personal favorite music, and that she also has a playlist called “Someday Syncs” that has over 600 songs she hopes to put in a show at some point.
“I’ve been slowly but surely knocking some of those out and getting them placements,” she said. “So there’s a lot more to go.”
She also praised the work of other music supervisors whose contributions greatly helped define a series: Liza Richardson for Lovecraft Country and The Leftovers, Kier Lehman for Insecure, and Justine von Winterfeldt for Hawkeye.
“Music supervision is a collaboration between a lot of people that are making the television show. We don’t work on our own by ourselves. It’s about your director and your show runner and how they want to use music, and what kind of music they want to use to tell their story,” Malone said. “I think it’s very important that our audience — and people that want to do this — realize it’s a team effort with a lot of people, and it’s great. When it works it’s amazing.”