Director, writer, and creator Sam Levinson has put his heart and soul into HBO’s Euphoria, the gritty teen drama starring Zendaya. The young actress and singer excelled in the role of Rue, bringing humanity to the character as she navigated adolescence experiences dealing with trauma, identity, relationships, and her drug addiction.
A major factor in the series’ cultural impact has been its music. The original songs and score written by artist Labrinth earned him two Emmy nominations.
The composer’s manager and Euphoria music supervisor Adam Leber played an integral role in bringing Labrinth into Levinson’s orbit. “I was constantly talking about Labrinth to Sam years when I got a sense of what the project would be,” Leber shares. “They finally met in person at my birthday party and there was great synergy. I sent Sam a few unreleased tracks after that which got the ball rolling.”
Levinson was so inspired by the tracks that he ended up writing episodes of Euphoria to the music. “Same ended up licensing ‘Mount Everest’ for the show, which was one of the songs that Sam wrote to in the beginning,” Leber recalls from his initial submission.
Leber continued to work with Labrinth and Levinson on ideas long before then cameras rolled. “Labrinth uses his voice as sort of instrument,” shares Leber. “His voice is threaded throughout the entire series and it’s another character in the show.”
Earlier this week, Labrinth performed a Euphoria concert live on Youtube. The performance has garnered over 629,000 views to date. “People are not only catching onto the show now, but the score, the songs, everything,” Leber says. “‘Still Don’t Know My Name’ is up almost 200% over the last couple weeks in streams.”
After Sam Levinson filmed the Euphoria pilot, he was introduced to two-time Emmy nominated music supervisor Jen Malone (FX’s Atlanta, HBO’s Euphoria). Levinson knew he would need an incredibly knowledgeable partner to curate the right music for the series while complementing the sonic palate of Labrinth.
“One of the producers that I’d worked with on another show sent me the pilot and said, ‘This show is going to be insane on every level, but you can handle it,’” Malone recalls with a laugh. “As soon as I saw the pilot, Zendaya’s performance, and the content, I knew this was going to be something very special and different.”
Malone recalls an instant connection to Levinson when they meet, discussing the tone of the show and music in general. “It was a very good vibe and I got the job in the room that day,” she shares.
Malone found that many of the pilot’s songs had to be replaced, and some were too key to be removed. “I knew we needed to keep Beyonce and that was going to be a tricky clearance,” Malone shares. “I was very excited to replace some of the bigger songs with emerging artists like Kenny Mason or Megan Thee Stallion, who replaced a Cardi B song.”
Malone’s instincts paid off as her curated artists blossomed almost instantaneously. “With Megan, it was less than six months later that she was on the cover of The Rolling Stone.”
Malone also chose to highlight voices from previous generations, such as the inclusion of Randy Newman in the series. “ When I present options, I always present around four ideas and one additional wild card one,” Malone shares. “It would be something completely out of left field, but eighty percent of the time we would go with the wild card. That’w what makes my job of searching for music and putting music to picture so fulfilling.”
Bouncing from catalog to contemporary music was just something that came naturally in creative conversations with Levinson. “Sometimes the catalogue songs just work better than the more contemporary songs,” Malone says. “For some of those catalog pieces, they’re non-diegetic, outside of the world of our characters… putting Randy Newman in the montage for example.”
When it came to the finale, Malone had invested so much into that big number. “We shot ‘All For Us,’ the musical number, on the last day of the shoot of the entire season,” Malone says. “The pre-record took about six weeks to put together, and I worked so hard on getting the arrangements of the marching band, and being there in the studio working with the musicians and the choir.”
Malone was there all day for the rehearsal and then stayed throughout the intense overnight shoot. “At that final shoot, I would take videos and send it over to our editors and say, ‘Look at what the hell we’re doing.’ It was such an accomplishment,” Malone says. “After every episode I would just watch Twitter in real time and see the reaction that people were having, not only to the show itself, but to the music. It was mind blowing.”
“It was such an intense show, it was honestly like I was underwater for six months, working so hard getting everything together. And then to see that, it was very fulfilling,” Malone says.
Malone is also aware of the positive impact she’s having on artists old and new. “We have so many up-and-coming artists or virtually unknown artists in the show, and it’s amazing how that’s impacted them and their careers. And to have a new generation be exposed to artists like Randy Newman or Donny Hathaway is just incredible.”
Ahead of the Emmys, Malone and Leber have already been recognized by their peers for their work on Euphoria. In February at the Music Supervisors Guild Awards, they took home the coveted award for Best Music Supervision Television Drama.