Interview: ‘Euphoria’ music supervisor Jen Malone on finding the vibe and pulling off that 37-song episode
Though music supervisor Jen Malone has only just recently become a “big name” – earning Emmy nominations for Outstanding Music Supervision in 2018 and 2020 for Atlanta and Euphoria, respectively – she’s been hard at work for years establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with in this field by working on films like Creed II, Zola, and The King of Staten Island and shows like the aforementioned Atlanta and Euphoria, as well as Baskets, The Umbrella Academy, and WeCrashed. And she’s not set to settle down any time soon, as she has Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy on the horizon, along with Netflix’s Jenna Ortega-led Addams Family spin-off Wednesday and Peacock’s Queer as Folk reboot.
However, at the moment, she’s in the thick of campaigning for Emmy consideration for her wondrous work supervising the music on Yellowjackets Season 1 and Euphoria Season 2 – two shows that thrive thematically and aesthetically thanks to carefully curated soundtracks that cultivate their specific physical and emotional settings. For Yellowjackets, that means transporting us back to the pop and punk bombast of the 90s, and for Euphoria, Malone’s music choices place us in the mindset of Gen Z masterfully. Taking a break from her hectic schedule, Malone chatted with us about shaping the specific sonic atmospheres for the shows she’s worked on and finding a way to give each episode its own unique “vibe” while still fitting the feel of the series as a whole.
Zoe Rose Bryant: I wanted to ask first what music supervision looks like when you’re working with showrunners. Who has the final say on what songs are included? Do they come to you first, or do you go to them with the recommendations? What’s that process like?
JM: So, it’s definitely different on every show, but the showrunner is the creator of the show, right? They’re the ones that have this vision and the story that they want to tell. So, I think with music, just like every department, the final say is the showrunner. People come to showrunners with ideas – whether it’s costumes, makeup, editorial, or music – and we all then take their input and try to execute their vision. It’s their story. Sometimes the showrunner knows exactly what they want. Sam, for example, knew exactly that he wanted INXS to be the anchor for Cal’s backstory. That was part of his creative process in creating that backstory. And then, to flesh that episode out, essentially with Cal’s playlist, those were options that I would work with for editorial that we would then present to Sam. So, he would see the options cut in and then figure out which one works best for him. He’s the show runner. He runs the show. And our job is to service and execute his vision. And we might have some ideas that we think that do that, but they are not what the showrunner has in mind. So again, everything always comes back to the showrunner for every show in every department.
ZRB: That’s really cool to hear about all laid out like this because another one of my questions about at what point the music you choose becomes integrated into the show. After it’s already been mostly put together or while it’s being edited?
JM: Again, it depends on the show and the process. Sometimes, a song is scripted in – which has been the case at some point or another on pretty much every show I’ve ever worked on. I’m lucky enough to work with so many showrunners where music is so important to them, and they even write to music. They have a certain playlist in their head. Sometimes we keep that song. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes the editors will cut something in, and if it works, it works. Then we just want to find the best song to help tell the story. Sometimes they will send me a scene and say, we need a song here. And I will come up with five different options and submit them. And sometimes it’s, “we need five more.” “We need more actually, instead of going down this direction, we’re going to pivot and maybe try whatever a different genre or a different vibe entirely.” And then sometimes there’s the last minute “we need a song here,” or in a spotting session where we sit with the editor, the show runner, the composer and our music editor, there’ll be moments we’ll be like, “you know what, this spot will work better with score” or vice versa. “You know what, instead of score, let’s try a song here.” So, it’s a very creative process working with the team of people that are fulfilling Sam’s vision.
ZRB: I was also going to about that collaboration with the composers, and if that’s something you do simultaneously, or if someone integrates their part before the other, and what that all looks like too.
JM: I mean, I know it’s getting boring with me saying this, but it’s different on every show. But with the composer, we work together on the spotting sessions. Sometimes there’s temp score and sometimes the composer will write something specific. For a show like Euphoria, Labrinth and I just kind of have our hands full with our own workload. So there was definitely collaboration on at least “setting things up.” So, for us in season one, there was a big collaboration with the marching band in the finale and this season, when it came to getting those arrangements made for “I’m Tired,” that was all done with Labrinth and Zendaya in house – in house meaning in lab studio. So, sometimes our work crosses, but sometimes we’re just kind of working in our own lanes to try to get the job done.
ZRB: That’s so cool. Because I feel like the playlist/the soundtrack has its own feel, and so does Labrinth’s score, but they also go together so well, and they both feel “distinctly Euphoria.”
JM: I think that’s totally true. And we really created that synergy, I think in season one. And then for season two, knowing how now that we found the sound, I know Robert’s work intimately and we are able to meld song with score and to sometimes kind of make it almost seamless.
ZRB: I’m always impressed too, because Euphoria is a show where every single episode seems to feature about a billion different songs, and I wonder how you keep things fresh and don’t use songs that you’ve used in the past, or songs that are being used in other projects at the moment.
JM: It’s something that that’s always in the back of my mind, and it’s just something that obviously we don’t do.
ZRB: It’s even more remarkable too because I feel like every episode also has its own distinct mood and vibe based on the soundtrack and the score. And I just can’t even imagine all the work it takes to really give each its own unique feel.
JM: Well, I loved what you said about each episode having a distinct kind of feel and sound because that was very much the case for Euphoria this year. And to break it down even further, in the season two premiere, with Fez’s grandma’s story, that whole prologue was almost a short film in itself. And so it definitely had a very different feel than let’s say, episode six. That was very, we were going for a very film noir. It rained in most of the episode, there was a lot of heart to hearts kind of thing with Maddie and Samantha, the character Minka Kelly played, where we used the Selena song. And then obviously, episode three with Cal’s story where we had that late 80s, early 90s new wave vibe, all the way to episode five, Zendaya’s masterpiece where there was very few needle drops. So I love that you notice that every episode is almost like a standalone on a music level, but I think through Labrinth’s score, that is what makes it cohesive and makes it Euphoria.
ZRB: Yeah. That’s very much the sonic throughline throughout the entire show and season.
JM: Yes. Well said.
ZRB: Thank you. And I love that you mentioned Fez’s grandma and of course, Cal, because I definitely felt like Fez’s grandma’s scene was a throwback to a 60s/70s female action film, and it was such an epic way to start everything.
JM: I know! Just the first line of season 2 – “Fez’s grandma was a motherfuckin’ G.” Even reading that when I got the first script, I was like, yes, he’s doing it! It was very, very exciting because I know that Fez is such a beloved character, and to start off season two with his backstory this way, it was just brilliant. And again, that’s all coming from Sam, who wanted to tell that story and he had a very clear idea of what he wanted it to look like, even tying back to the fact that they shot it on film. You know what I mean? At the end of the day, just like in a film, it’s all about the director. It’s on every level and it’s the same thing with the show runner and, in Euphoria’s case, Sam, because he is the director, the writer, the creator.
ZRB: Yeah. And that’s what’s so cool is that the whole show feels very Sam, like you were saying, and it’s all his storytelling and his vision, but I feel like everyone really works in service of that really well and brings their own strengths to it, too.
JM: Yes, yes, exactly. But we bring our own our own take on how to help him tell his story through each respective department.
ZRB: And building on that first episode, that season two opener. I read that there was a record breaking 37 songs in it, and it certainly felt like an insane accomplishment watching it. What was that like? How intimidating was that? What was the process like?
JM: It was very intense. That’s a word that I keep using describing that show. I mean, it was a lot. What happens, we get our first cut and as the editors are putting together the first episode, we’re sending them playlists and ideas and we’re getting scenes and we’re keeping track of all the songs and we don’t see the cut until it’s ready to go out. We’re going through, and I’m like, “you need more music, really? More? Okay.” And then seeing it was like, geez. It was a lot. But I run an all female music supervision company and I have a team on Euphoria. I have two women that I work with, Whitney and Hailey, and we just got on the phone and I was like, “okay, I’m going to forward you the continuity, and don’t freak out, don’t freak out.” And I was on the phone with them and you just saw them scrolling and scrolling, and scrolling, and their eyes getting bigger and bigger. I’m like, “we’re going to be fine.” For that episode we had time to clear all the music. Sometimes, as we get closer to the mix, the time is getting shorter and shorter and shorter. We just got it. It was one clearance at a time. It was just one song at a time. And you just have to stay organized and calm and know that it’s going to get done. I think something that people don’t realize is that there are very, very, very few departments like us that work from day one at the script stage. Sometimes even before during prep, all the way to the delivery of the last episode. I really don’t know many departments outside of the producers that are on there.
ZRB: And you can tell too, because it just feels so well integrated. And we talked about how each episode kind of has its own unique feel, but I feel like every single beat in episode one had its own unique feel too, like when Jules is entering a party and “Hypnotize” is playing, or when Nate and Cassie are in the car and it’s Orville Peck. Every single scene is just so unique in and of itself.
JM: Yeah, and so much credit does need to go to our editors. Our editors on Euphoria deserve so much credit because they know how to edit with music. They have great music taste, they know Sam’s taste as well. And I think that’s always helpful because Sam is shooting. He has so many other things that he needs to worry about that I don’t want to bother him with the, “well, what kind of hip hop do you want to go with this?” kind of thing. So I do work very closely with editorial and they’re brilliant. The show wouldn’t be the show without them. And I think that they deserve so much credit.
ZRB: Oh yeah, the editing is just insane. It’s so perfect too. I love the cut to the credits in this first episode two where it goes straight to “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” without missing a beat. It’s just so perfect. And it fits the scene so well. And you also mentioned your all female full service music supervision company, which is so cool. Tell me a little bit about how that came together and when it came together and what you guys do.
JM: So, I’ve always been freelance, and this is my second career. I was a publicist for rock bands in Boston for years, and got super burnt out on that and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was kind of a really weird, hard time for me because I’ve always known what I want to do. I’ve kind of always been really focused and driven. And once it’s clear in my head what I want, okay, that’s what’s happening. And I lost that clarity and it was a really rough time to the point where I ended up washing dishes in Boston, and then I saw Iron Man and the music supervisor credit rolled by, and I was like, that’s what I want to do. I want to be a music supervisor. And then I just dug in and I researched, and I just read anything and everything about music supervision, and all interviews with music supervisors online, and I got my subscription to IMDB Pro. And the research that I did was pretty intense. And then I moved out here and I was networking with anybody that I knew and very serendipitously I met Dave Jordan, who does all the Marvel films. So, I said, “I want to intern for you.” And from both of us being in music in the record business, we had mutual friends, and he knew a lot of the bands that I worked with. And he said, “Why would you want to intern? You’ve had this career. And I said, “Because nobody’s going to pay me to do something I don’t know how to do.” And this is the entertainment industry. You start at the bottom. That’s just how it works. It was a no brainer for me, knowing that I had to go in and pay my dues and start over. That was just a fact that I knew – that’s what I had to do.
So my first five years of my career, I worked in reality television, which was music supervision bootcamp. And then a friend of mine from Boston was the post supervisor for Baskets. And we reconnected with a bunch of Boston friends and she asked me for help to clear a song for Baskets. And that was no problem, and then there was additional work, like, “is this song in public domain?” and then “okay, can you just be our music supervisor for the season?” And that was great. And then afterwards she called me and said, I’m working on a new show. There’s going to be a lot of hip hop. It’s going to be a lot of mix tapes. I don’t have a lot of money to pay you. It’s with Donald Glover. And I said, “I’m in.” And that was Atlanta. And then once Atlanta’s first season premiered, and the music really kind of blew up and the show blew up, I started getting more calls, but it was always just me. And then, for Euphoria season one, I had to bring in a coordinator who was great. And then I was starting to get calls for other shows that I really wanted to do, but I needed to make sure that I had the bandwidth. So I brought in Nicole Weisberg as a co-music supervisor on The Wilds season one. And then from there, we got a coordinator to help us out because again, the shows were coming in and they were just such great opportunities and opportunities to work with incredible people. And then we just kind of grew from there. And I just, I don’t know. I just love the idea of having an all female team and working with women that were so talented. And I wanted to just support them. And so now we’re four women and myself, and we all just kind of work on different projects together and it’s great. I mean we’re all super tight. We work so well. There’s zero drama. It’s just a support system on many levels.
ZRB: I think it’s so inspiring that you built yourself up and are now helping these other women kind of get to that same point. I just find that whole story incredible.
JM: Thank you. I worked really, really hard to get to where I am and I paid my dues, and when it comes to my other girls, I’m just like, “You are amazing. You’re amazing at what you do. I want to empower you to run this show because you can, I have no doubt that you’re going to kill this and I want to support that.” And I want to give them credits, too. We get co music supervisor credits, and it’s just special. And the mix, the five of us, like I said, we’re just so solid. And I’m so proud. And Nicole even ran point on Zola because Janicza called us for that. And I was just like, we have to do this. We have to do this one. But I was still in deep with Euphoria, and I was like, “Nicole, I need you to do, I know you can do this.” And she loved it. And she wanted to do it. And ever since, we really make decisions together. A lot of times it’s “Okay, this project came in, is this something that is speaking to us? Do we want to live with these people for the next nine months? And is this something that gets us inspired and excited?” and then we go for it.
ZRB: That’s so funny too, because I remember seeing Zola and I loved it – and especially the music – and I looked it up afterwards and was like, “Who did this?,” because the soundtrack was so unique and distinctive. And obviously, I’m also a huge fan of Euphoria, so I was like, “Oh of course, there we go.” That connection!
JM: Zola was awesome. And it was just like, yeah, we have to do this. I couldn’t always do day to day stuff, with Nicole, she saw the potential too, and then we took it on together.
ZRB: I’m curious too about the difference in the process for film music supervision versus TV? And is there one you prefer over the other?
JM: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I do work mostly in television and I like the pace of TV. I like that decisions have to be made. I like that it’s not as long. We’ll do eight episodes of a TV show in the same time or shorter than some features that we would do. Zola was pretty intense because we came on a little bit later, but film is just a much longer process. And sometimes it’s funny cause they’ll ask for some options and I’ll send them over, and less than a week later, I’m like, “Did you pick something? Did you pick something?” And they’re like, “No, we haven’t even gotten to that scene. We’re not going to get to that for three weeks.” And I’m like, “Okay, sorry.” I mean, I’m in TV mode where everything needs to happen yesterday. And we’re up against such a crazy schedule all the time. So it’s a different flow and rhythm.
ZRB: That’s so interesting, because I feel like, since TV’s longer, where you’re doing more episodes and more hours, people would think it’s the opposite – that TV would be the more strenuous workload.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a different rhythm working between the two.
ZRB: I think one of the last things I wanted to ask was that, after you’ve already accomplished so much, and you’ve worked on all of these notable films and shows, is there anything else “big” left in your career that you really want to get to within the next few years?
JM: That’s a great question. And a lot of people have been asking that. I’d love to grow my company and add a couple more women on. In order for that to happen the candidate will have to go through all five of us, because we have such a great dynamic. But also, at this point, I just want to continue working on projects where music is a character and it’s a compelling, exciting story. And to keep working with such visionary directors and creators like Donald and Sam. I want to continue growing at this point because I am in a really good spot, and I’m very lucky that I’m in a very good spot right now. And yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. People have asked me this and I’m like, well, I’m not done with music supervision yet, but there is more to accomplish, but I just don’t know what that is yet. And I’m just so excited and happy with the projects that we’ve been working on. And I just want to continue also working with great people. People that just value what we do and value us as people and our contributions. And there’s some people that I want to work with, and I’ll make that happen. I don’t know when and I don’t know on what project, but it’ll happen.
ZRB: That’s a perfect way to leave things off. And I know that if they listen to one episode of Euphoria, they will be calling you up.
JM: I’m very lucky. And I acknowledge that so much, because a lot of people want to be a music supervisor, but a lot of people don’t understand what it entails. It’s not just sitting around listening to music all day. And I’m just really lucky to be where I’m at and to be able to have such an incredible team and work on such impactful shows. But I’ve worked really hard too. I’m not going to deny myself on that.
ZRB: Yes. All one has to do is watch the season two premiere, and that’s apparent.
JM: Yeah. If someone asks, “As a music supervisor, can you tell us about your work?,” I’m like, “Go watch the first episode of Euphoria Season 2.” And that’s my work.
ZRB: There you go. Well, best of luck on all things Emmy and beyond. And thank you so much for talking with me. Love the show, such a huge fan of your work, and so excited to hear what you do next.
JM: Thank you so much.
Jen Malone is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Music Supervision for Euphoria and Yellowjackets.