News: The 10 Best Music Moments on TV in 2017 (pitchfork)
Note: This article contains light spoilers.
So, this is what Peak TV looks like. Just a few years after launching its first original series, Netflix brought us something like 1,000 hours of original programming in 2017, while Hulu and Amazon hustled to keep up. Facebook introduced its “Watch” section with dozens of streaming shows, as corporations like Apple and Disney announced similar plans. Meanwhile, the cable and premium channels that kicked off TV’s current golden age remained streaming platforms’ only worthy competitors, as ratings kept tumbling at major networks.
As overwhelming as this content overload can be for viewers, it’s been a godsend for the music supervision renaissance that has coalesced over the last few years. New series like “She’s Gotta Have It,” “Claws,” and “Big Little Lies” wove prominently placed songs into the fabric of episodes this year. Second-season shows like “Master of None,” “Insecure,” and “Better Things” continued to impress with soundtracks that evolved to fit ambitious new storylines. And with an adeptly placed America cover, “BoJack” showed that an old horse could in fact learn new tricks.
One delightful music-on-TV trend emerged this year: choreographed dance sequences, which felt like a salve for 2017’s various wounds—and account for three of the items on this list. The rest of these ten (unranked) highlights are too diverse to categorize by usage alone, but each represents a thrilling development in the rapidly evolving art of music supervision.
Martha Wainwright’s “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” in “Big Little Lies” (HBO)
Discussions of the music on HBO’s zeitgeisty feminist murder mystery tend to focus on Chloe (Darby Camp), the precocious six-year-old whose musical knowledge could rival that of a full-grown record collector. That’s understandable, but the miniseries’ most effective sync ends up manifesting from the internal monologue of troubled single mom Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley). Martha Wainwright’s gloriously profane kiss-off from a woman who is just fucking done shows up a few times, as Jane’s preferred soundtrack for running along Monterey’s picturesque dunes. She even sings along before bursting into tears, in a scene where the defiance of Wainwright’s words and voice heighten our sense of how angry Jane still feels, years after she was raped. (Stream “Push Comes to Shove” on HBO Go, and read more about the music on “Big Little Lies”)
Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” in “She’s Gotta Have It” (Netflix)
There’s only one full-color scene in Spike Lee’s black-and-white debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, and it’s a classic. The most thoughtful of polyamorous heroine Nola Darling’s three suitors arranges a dance performance for her in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, set to Ronnie Dyson’s jazzy “Nola.” Lee’s updated “She’s Gotta Have It” TV series subtly references that lyrical sequence with some choreography of its own. In the final moments of the show’s first season, a conspicuously purple Thanksgiving celebration turns transcendent when the new Nola (DeWanda Wise) dances to “Raspberry Beret” with her trio of lovers. As the song winds down, everyone falls asleep in her bed. It’s a beautiful tribute—not just because this ambiguous foursome is a perverse image straight out of a Prince hit, but because Nola is exactly the kind of sexually and artistically liberated woman who would make the Purple One smile. (Stream “#NolasChoice (3 DA HARD WAY)” on Netflix)
Patrick Carney and Michelle Branch cover “A Horse With No Name” for “BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)
Sometimes great music supervision is a matter of restraint. “Breaking Bad” waited until its final season to reach for the low-hanging fruit of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” resulting in the mother of all blue-meth montages. And “BoJack Horseman,” a show about a depressed anthropomorphic horse who used to be a sitcom star, saved America’s hippie road-trip staple “A Horse With No Name” for the bleak season-four episode “The Old Sugarman Place.” After fleeing his Los Angeles home, BoJack drifts through deserts and diners on his way to Michigan, where his mother grew up. What could’ve been a throwaway sync becomes a genuinely affecting synthesis of images and music, made all the more poignant by Michelle Branch and Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s breathy, slowed-down new cover. (Stream “The Old Sugarman Place” on Netflix)
PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” in “Halt and Catch Fire” (AMC)
By the end of its run, fewer than 400,000 people were regularly tuning in to this brilliant drama that spanned a decade of the personal computing revolution, and featured one of the best soundtracks on TV. “Halt and Catch Fire” landed in the mid-’90s for its fourth and final season, with plots that centered the show’s women and offered music to match. At the end of episode five, as venture capitalist Donna (Kerry Bishé) finally figures out how to beat the misunderstood video game made by her former business partner Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), Donna’s teenage daughter Haley (Susanna Skaggs) crawls into bed and blasts “Rid of Me” on her headphones. It’s a song of burning, building female desire that walks the line between empowerment and terror—one that communicates both the volatile bond between Donna and Cam, and the urgency of Haley’s sexual awakening. (Stream “Nowhere Man” on AMC, and read more about the music on “Halt and Catch Fire”)
LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” in “The Young Pope” (HBO)
“Sexy and I Know It” is “I’m Too Sexy” without the wit, a brainless party track that rivals Fergie’s “London Bridge” for the silliest No. 1 hit of the 21st century. And that’s what makes it the perfect accompaniment to this “Young Pope” montage that finds Jude Law’s hot, arrogant, and secretly insecure pontiff draping himself in jewels for his first address to the College of Cardinals. There’s something both appropriate and absurd about watching the first American pope psych himself up by trying on garish headpieces. A classier sync would undersell what’s happening on the screen, but “Sexy and I Know It” takes a scene reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette shopping to “I Want Candy” to a ridiculous extreme. Inscrutable juxtapositions abound in the surreal miniseries from Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, but the meaning of this particular weird choice couldn’t be clearer. (Stream Episode 5 on HBO Go, and read more about the music on “The Young Pope”)
Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” in “Claws” (TNT)
Desna Simms (Niecy Nash) has a lot on her mind: the nail salon she owns and operates, the autistic brother she cares for, the foster parents who abused them both, the mafia pill mills that subsidize her business, the boyfriend she helped murder. But for a few minutes in the fifth episode of this TNT crime drama’s first season, everything’s coming up Desna. She’s figured out how to solve her dead boyfriend problem and get revenge on her abusers without smudging her glittery talons. Plus, the fancy nail salon she’s been hoping to buy is back on the market. To celebrate, she and her ride-or-die team of manicurists break into a spontaneous dance to certified disco burner “Lady Marmalade” as Desna’s male associates do the dirty work for her. The scene exemplifies how “Claws” expertly balances crime and trauma with sexy, goofy, campy fun.
Witold Rowicki + the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra Perform Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” on “Twin Peaks: The Return” (Showtime)
The new season of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s beloved ’90s crime drama might be the strangest and most artistically ambitious show ever to air on television. Its eighth episode, in particular, brought experimental filmmaking to premium cable, with an origin story for a uniquely American form of evil. The Polish composer KrysztofPendericki’s 1960 piece plays as Lynch recreates the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb, in slow-motion closeups of billowing fireballs and swirling ash. It isn’t just the subject matter that makes “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” a stirring complement to the dramatic visuals—it’s the squealing, frantic strings that dominate the composition. Like the episode, this music is beautiful not because it’s pleasant in any way whatsoever, but because it elegantly encapsulates an act of unspeakable horror. (Stream Episode 8 on Showtime Anytime, and read more about the music on “Twin Peaks: The Return”)
SZA’s “Love Galore“ (feat. Travis Scott) in “Insecure” (HBO)
“Insecure” fans worried that the departure of Solange, who helped curate the first season’s music, would weaken the show’s soundtrack could rest easy after the season two premiere. Songs from SZA’s CTRL suffuse the entire sophomore season (and plans of attending her concert make it into a storyline), which makes complete sense. The R&B singer’s fantastic debut touches on many of the same real-as-fuck themes as “Insecure”: bad jobs, good sex, broken relationships. “Love Galore” only plays for a few seconds in “Hella Great” as Issa (played by series mastermind Issa Rae) cleans up from a party that left her unsatisfied, but SZA’s breakdown of a steamy but complicated romance could be Issa’s internal monologue. The song also serves as the first clue that Lawrence (Jay Ellis), the boyfriend Issa’s been longing for since her cheating ended the relationship, is going to show up at her door the moment the music stops. (Stream “Hella Great” on HBO Go, and read more about the music on “Insecure”)
Christine and the Queens’ “Tilted” in “Better Things” (FX)
The second season of Pamela Adlon’s family dramedy was funny and poignant and discerning all at once. Although the show is blunt about the frustrations of single parenting, it makes room for moments of familial ecstasy amid the agony of devoting your life to kids who often hate you. In the season finale, Adlon’s Sam Fox, her two youngest kids (Hannah Alligood and Olivia Edward), and her elderly mom (Celia Imrie) reenact the minimalist “Tilted” video in a dance performance that is as surprising to viewers as it is to its intended audience, Sam’s eldest daughter Max (Mikey Madison). They fight constantly, but the scene cements a delighted Max’s growing appreciation for her mom. Meanwhile, the song’s refrain, “I’m actually good/Can’t help it if we’re tilted,” makes it an apt theme song for this unconventionally sweet family. (Stream “Graduation” on FX Now)
Soft Cell’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” in “Master of None” (Netflix)
Crying on the subway. Trembling behind the wheel of an empty car. Slamming a door and stomping off on the worst walk of your life. We’ve all experienced some version of that lonely trip home. For Aziz Ansari’s Dev Shah, it comes at the end of a magical evening with Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), the woman of his dreams. She’s engaged to her longtime boyfriend, and when Dev drops her off in a cab, the weight of that commitment hits him all at once. The camera fixes on his pained face as “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” plays for four otherwise silent minutes and he rides back to his apartment alone. There’s a corny side to this breakup song, with its dated synths and melodramatic lyrics, and that’s what makes its placement so affecting. Listening to histrionic music feels cathartic when you’re hurting, making a banal line like “I never knew you, you never knew me” sound impossibly profound. (Stream “The Dinner Party” on Netflix, and read more about the music on “Master of None”)
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