Earlier this month, Euphoria made a splash when it returned to HBO with more than 30 songs in its second-season premiere. Plenty of contemporary tracks made the cut for the present-set show, but the hour also featured several ’90s hits, including music from Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G., and DMX. The next hour, on Showtime, the penultimate episode of Yellowjackets brought back songs from Collective Soul, Belly, and Seal. A key component to these soundtracks, and by extension the ’90s revival slowly taking over television, is Jen Malone.
Malone, the two-time Emmy-nominated music supervisor, is a fundamental voice behind the music of several recent film and TV productions. Atlanta, The Wilds, Malcolm and Marie, and ZOLA are among her latest projects, and she’s credited with the forthcoming limited series WeCrashed and The Offer. With the help of the other music supervisors at Black & White, her all-female music supervision and coordination company (including Whitney A. Pilzer, her Yellowjackets co-supervisor), Malone has introduced — and reintroduced — some of the greatest hits of the ’90s to a whole new audience.
Talking to Vulture the day after the last Euphoria and Yellowjackets double-header, Malone broke down her work, the importance of collaboration in music supervision, and why she thinks ’90s music is having such a moment right now.
Between the hype surrounding the music in these shows and the Emmys creating a music-supervision category about five years ago, do you feel like the importance of music supervision — or at least the attitude toward it — has changed at all since you kicked off your career?
I’ve been doing this for about ten years. This is my second career. I was a publicist in Boston and then decided that I just couldn’t work with bands on that level anymore and just got super, super-burnt-out. After watching Iron Man, that’s where I kind of came up with [wanting] to do supervision. I moved out here and just kind of started from the bottom. I was an intern. As a second career, I was a little bit older than most of your interns today. I think since I’ve been doing it, music has definitely come to the forefront more and more.
Was there one music moment in Iron Man that really struck you?
I think the AC/DC. Marvel films are just so big and exciting and I’m such a fan. I didn’t really realize that that was a job. I saw Dave Jordan’s music-supervision credit and I was like, Okay, that’s what I want to do. I’m going to be a music supervisor. And then I moved out here and hustled. And again, very long story short, very serendipitously, I did meet Dave Jordan and was like, “I want to intern for you.” He believed in me and saw something in me and gave me my first shot.
I’m interested in the exact breakdown of that job and how you go about your work. For example, when you got the script for the Euphoria season-two premiere, which I think featured something around 34 songs, how did it get from that initial script to what people heard on TV?
We knew it was a party episode, obviously, so we knew that there would be a lot of music. There were definitely some songs that Sam [Levinson, Euphoria creator] scripted in, which almost kind of gave us a blueprint and a jumping-off point. Music supervision is a collaboration. There’s so many moving parts to doing a show. I just kind of [found] the tone of what Sam wanted the music to do and how he wanted it to help tell his story and the story of these characters. We knew that we didn’t want to repeat ourselves but at the same time still have that Euphoria feel.
Your work is pretty wide-spanning, in terms of subject matter. But in the past few years you’ve done a lot of TV projects that center on teen girlhood, like Yellowjackets, The Wilds, and Euphoria. What draws you to that particular subject matter?
It’s about the script. It’s not something that’s ever intentional. With Yellowjackets … It takes place in New Jersey and I’m from Jersey, and I was in school in the ’90s. One of our showrunners, Ashley [Lyle], is from the neighboring town. She’s from Belmar. I’m from Manasquan. Seeing what their vision was of all the ’90s stuff, which is what I grew up on, it was just so exciting to do and be a part of. When your personal tastes as a music supervisor happen to line up with the showrunners’ vision, it’s a no-brainer. It makes our job so much fun and offsets some of the daily work that comes with this job that is the not-sexy part.
You mentioned that you grew up around that time and that area. What was the soundtrack to your own teen years?
I’m lucky enough that a lot of it did make it into shows. PJ Harvey, I remember getting that CD. I remember exactly where I was, the green cover with PJ lying kind of under the water [1995’s To Bring You My Love]. I grew up with that kind of more left-of-center, indie alternative and then the late-’80s, early-’90s new-wave stuff, which [is upcoming] in Euphoria.
I think a lot of ’80s, early-’90s new-wave stuff that I grew up on — Depeche Mode and the Cult — are just some of my favorite artists. I had a pretty wide taste in music growing up. But, of course, I went through my goth and industrial phase. [Laughs] I will not hide my love for industrial and more goth-leaning stuff.
In Yellowjackets, Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” was a through-line in the last two episodes and then the Offspring and Enya moments in the finale definitely resonated with a lot of people. You mentioned PJ Harvey, but was there anything that you felt needed to be put in the show?
Jane’s Addiction, 1,000 percent, was something that I really, really, really wanted. PJ Harvey. Portishead, obviously. I grew up on Portishead. That’s another CD that I remember getting and having in my collection. Mazzy Star.
The Enya idea was interesting. Enya was the first choice and then we were actually denied at first. We had an alt picked out. Everybody was like, “Okay, this is still great, but Enya would be awesome.” I said to the showrunners, “Write a letter, you guys. You’re such beautiful writers, maybe we can reverse the denial. Let’s just try.” We don’t want to say no until it’s asked, like, five times. And then on the fifth time when it’s a no, I’m like, okay, fine. But they wrote a letter. And basically, I think two weeks went by and then we got a note from the publisher saying, “I’m not sure if it’s too late, but Enya is going to approve this use.” It was two days before we delivered the episode. We had the alt, but Whitney and I were working behind the scenes, talking to the publisher and stuff. And Ashley and Bart [Nickerson]’s letter worked. So we got that song, and people are so excited about it and freaking out over it. The response to both shows, it’s just been overwhelming. For season two of Yellowjackets, the playlist is so long. It’s so long.
There’s one artist that we did not find a home for [in season one], but we probably tried every track off of her album. I’ll say: It’s Tori Amos. Which I know a lot of our fans are waiting for. We tried it, and it just wasn’t — we want to do Tori proud with the scene that we put her music to and we just couldn’t find the right one. She’s so influential, to not only myself. Little Earthquakes, when I was in high school, that record was everything. I remember the first time I heard that record. Thank God we have season two.
Obviously, Nine Inch Nails, anything from Pretty Hate Machine is going to be [on] the top of the list next season. There’s so much for Yellowjackets that I’m just very excited to dig into in season two. We haven’t even scratched the surface with the songs from that time period. To reintroduce these artists to a whole new audience has been very special for both shows.
Why do you think the music of the decade is having such a moment?
I think popular music right now is really in an interesting place. I think it’s missing some of the angst. I don’t think it’s as hard as it was. Especially in hip-hop. So I think the younger audience is feeling that, maybe. So that’s why we have shows like Yellowjackets, like Euphoria. I think Cruel Summer did a great job as well with their music. I’m such a fan of that show. I think their supervisor, Kevin [Edelman], did a great job. So maybe it’s because our audiences now are feeling that void of angst and anger. That PJ Harvey kind of feel, and Jane’s Addiction, Tupac even. We’re missing that now. And perhaps a lot of the music that we’re using in the shows [is] filling that void.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.