Over the course of its six seasons, Girls developed a soundtrack full of melancholy yet ecstatic indie-pop, so distinctive that it seemed possible to think of the Girls music cue — or specifically, the Girls ending-credits song — as a genre unto itself. In the show’s final season, Girls sampled some of its favorite artists, even teasing a new Robyn song, featured new music, and then ended on something of a surprise: Hannah humming the lyrics of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” to her baby, without accompaniment.
Vulture caught up with music supervisor Manish Raval, who works with Jonathan Leahy and Tom Wolfe and has been with the show since the beginning, to break down how they convinced Tracy Chapman to clear “Fast Car,” melding together two songs for the ultimate Girls montage in “Goodbye Tour,” and why Rihanna’s voice was exactly what you needed to hear at the end of “American Bitch.”
Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car” (Episode 10)
The scene: After moving upstate with Hannah, Marnie sings along to Tracy Chapman in the car. At the end of the episode, Hannah hums “Fast Car” to her baby while breastfeeding.
“Lena brought up Tracy Chapman very early on in the series, probably season one. She’s a huge fan, we’re huge fans. [But Chapman] does not license her music for shows or for films, it’s a blanket no. It’s an automatic no, especially ‘Fast Car.’
“We thought of the finale in two different ways, when they say good-bye to all the girls in the ‘Goodbye Tour’ episode, and then there’s the actual finale, the postscript. We knew that we wanted [“Latching”] to be very, very minimal with music in general. If we were to feature one song, what would it be? I can’t remember if it was Lena’s idea or what, but we started talking about the idea of ‘Fast Car.’ Instantly I knew if ever there was a time she was gonna give the song to someone, it’s going to be now. It’s not just some random episode of some TV show where a character is driving in a car listening to the radio.”
“I went to Tracy’s people and said, ‘I know it’s always a no, but here’s our situation: We want this to be how we end our series. Before you say no, can I get Lena and Tracy on the phone together and just let the two of them talk?’ They spoke, and Lena called me ten minutes later and said she’s in. [Since the episode aired] it’s been a joke with a bunch of various behind-the-scenes music people — this funny group of emails and Facebook posts about ‘How did you get that song?’ Everyone’s been trying to get this song for 25 years!
“It’s this very simple real-life moment, you know, Marnie singing in the car and it really pisses Hannah off. But it’s not the song that pisses her off, there’s so much emotion happening in between them and ‘Fast Car’ is just a vehicle for this moment.
“In very early drafts, the script was written that we were going to end with ‘Fast Car’ [with Tracy Chapman singing], but I don’t think it would have happened naturally. The big moment for Hannah is that Grover finally latches and that becomes the start of a new life for her, so it would have been too much pressure on whatever song. If, in a perfect world, we got some brand-new Taylor Swift song or a brand-new Lorde song, it would have just been too much pressure on the song. It wouldn’t have worked. The scene didn’t call for it, the scene called for something very, very intimate, just within the bubble of this one specific episode.”
Julia Michaels, “How Do We Get Back to Love,” and Banks, “Crowded Places” (Episode 9)
The scene: At Shoshanna’s engagement party, Hannah and her now-ex-friends dance along to “How Do We Get Back to Love,” which transitions into “Crowded Places” as Hannah moves upstate in a montage.
“There’s two songs that make up that montage [at the end of the episode], which is funny because they kind of seamlessly blend together. The first part is Julia Michael’s song ‘How Do We Get Back to Love,’ and then it segues into ‘Crowded Places,’ by Banks. Both of those songs were co-written by Jack Antonoff, who, we know, is Lena’s boyfriend. We were really fortunate to have these demos kind of lying around. Very early on, and I think it was before the script was written, Lena was throwing out these demos that Jack had coming in and we were talking with Jack about these songs.
“Both of these could be end songs, and it was just one of these things that happened spontaneously in editorial where we were able to create this one montage using these two. [We were thinking] how do we make this music moment stand out from all the other big song finales in recent history? You’re going up against The OC and Six Feet Under. We just thought if she’s singing along with the song that no one will have heard up until that moment, watching that episode, how original would that be?”
Robyn, “Honey” (Episode 6)
The scene: “Honey” plays as Hannah watches Adam’s movie about their relationship, specifically a scene that re-creates the first time they met.
“Basically ever since [Girls used] ‘Dancing on My Own,’ we’ve always thought, When are we going to use Robyn again? When we were definitely working on the final season, we knew now’s the time to reach out and find out find out what’s happening. Jonathan Leahy, who’s the co–music supervisor, reached out to her manager and said, ‘Listen, we want to do something. We don’t know what it is. Does she have any music laying around?’ She knows the show, she knows Lena, she knows Hannah, she’ll know best how she wants to contribute.
“Once again, we said want to get you on the phone with Lena. Why don’t you guys discuss how you want to handle this? We got them on the phone together. Robyn came back to us saying, ‘I have these four or five demos I’m working on, why don’t you guys all listen to them and tell me what you like?’ The one that we all responded too was ‘Honey,’ because we thought it was a really cool song, and in some ways it was very new and very fresh, but it was very definitively Robyn.
“We instantly knew, as soon as we got it, this has to be the end of the episode six, because in many ways the end of episode six is this throwback to the first season. We did some music editing to the song by having the instrumental version of it play over Hannah as she’s watching Adam in the movie, and then it becomes this moment in the store and then we kick it in with her vocals right away.”
Rihanna, “Desperado” (Episode 3)
The scene: After a standoff with a philandering writer Chuck Palmer that ends with him exposing his penis to her, Hannah and Chuck watch his daughter play “Desperado” on the flute. Rihanna’s version of the song kicks in as Hannah leaves the building.
“That’s all Lena. She was really listening to a lot of Rihanna, specifically, writing that script in the very early stages. [Originally] there were like seven Rihanna songs in the script. At a certain point in the editing room, we were doing a spotting session and we finally said we need to pull all the songs out because we can’t have people singing. We can’t have anyone telling us anything emotionally that isn’t coming from the character’s mouths on the screen.
“We knew this was all leading to the flute performance that would then evolve into our end song. So we knew that the most important thing to make the Rihanna song work and to make it really stand out is to just eliminate everything before it. So Michael Penn, who is our amazing composer, stepped up and helped replace everywhere else where we had songs.
“We felt like Rihanna was the pick, because her voice and her presence and her character in the world is so strong and it demands such respect. You know instantly who she is and what she stands for. And the second her voice comes on the screen, I immediately sense her strength in Hannah’s character at that moment. I just want to hear her voice. I want to hear her coming in after 30 minutes of what we just watched and not hearing a single other voice. [’Desperado’] was the original idea and, in the end, nine times out of ten, we circle back to what the initial instinct was.”
Joni Mitchell, “Free Man in Paris” (Episode 2)
The scene: After learning about Desi’s drug addiction and defending themselves against him, Marnie and Hannah get back into their convertible and drive away from the cabin where they were staying.
“It was always going to be a Joni Mitchell song. In a perfect world, Marnie pictures herself in Laurel Canyon as Joni Mitchell living with her musical partner. In a perfect world, this is her life. Living in Southern California with Desi. We knew it because we needed to end the episode with the big montage, so it had to be a very specific song that would last over a montage and then into the end credits and so that, from very early on, we chose that song, that was going to be it.”
The Obertones, “Semi-Charmed Life” (Episode 5)
The scene: Elijah complains about his time in his college a cappella group the Obertones, and then later in the episode, Hannah walks in on him listening to one of their songs.
“That’s totally a Lena Oberlin connection. [Editor’s note: Dunham went to Oberlin.] We had no idea what it was. We knew they had this recording already available, and I think we asked them to do a Kanye song as well — I can’t remember if we ever got far enough to having them actually record it or not. But it was a clearly a reference of hers to her past.”
Tal Bachmann, “She’s So High” (Episode 1)
The scene: At surf camp with her baby daddy-to-be Paul-Louis, Hannah sits around a campfire watching a surfer play “She’s So High,” which turns into the original version once the credits hit.
“Lena said there was going to be a scene of a guy playing guitar around the campfire. At first, we didn’t think this was going to go into the end product. We were sending these songs like ‘Dead Flowers’ and we were pushing this almost camp song — your Rolling Stones, your Bob Dylan, stuff like that. Then at one point, Lena said, ‘No, it should be something that these surfers would play.’ Not as literal as Jack Johnson, but think young surfers playing some feel-good music. I just said, okay, ‘She’s So High.’
“They played it on set, and then in editing, just as a default, the editor kept it. We kept trying to beat it. We went through everything from brand-new demos by unsigned artists to a more austere Paul Simon song. In the end, we just realized we’re overthinking it. The transition from the song in the campfire into Hannah’s head, that’s what’s working. We ended up knowing that trying to beat this with some Girls-esque indie-rock song wasn’t the right way to go.“
Demi Lovato, “Cool for the Summer” (Episode 9)
The scene: Hannah asks Elijah to sing her a song to help her sleep as she decides whether or not to leave New York for good.
“Hannah and Elijah have had this big blowout. There was a lot of tension between them. She wants him to sing her a song. We’re like, let’s take a song like [‘Cool for the Summer’] and have him sing it slow, throw it away a little, make it sort of heartfelt. And on top of that, throwing in all the baggage of what’s happened between them. This is like such a heavy moment that I loved that we did it with a Demi Lovato song that seems so counterintuitive to that particular moment. He’s not going to sing ‘Wild Horses’ to her. That’s an obvious choice. They did it and then it became a big moment, instead of what usually is written into a script as, you know, ‘sing a song.’ We did because we liked the song and we like Demi Lovato. We’re not making fun of it. It just worked really well.”