‘Gossip Girl’ Revival Music Supervisor Breaks Down the Show’s Best Needle Drops

·9-min read

Though HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” revival series differs from the original in key ways — a more diverse cast, LGBTQ+ storylines, the incorporation of social media — one aspect in which the show stays the same is just how high-priority its soundtrack is.

The music of the original series, which premiered in 2007, helped to bolster the careers of bands like Florence and the Machine and the Kooks and superstars like Lady Gaga and Robyn, thanks to music supe Alexandra Patsavas. Now, Rob Lowry — whose previous music supervision credits include “The Bold Type” and horror film “Freaky” — is filling those shoes, and his soundtrack is bound to please viewers from all generations.

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“The first ‘Gossip Girl’ did such a great job of integrating all these aspects of pop culture, pop music and indie artists. Music, film and TV have changed so much and the way people discover music has changed so much,” Lowry tells Variety of taking on the role. “This show is talking about three different generations of characters, so how do we integrate all of these different tastes and sounds while still making it feel cohesive and timely, but also timeless?”

The answer was lots of collaboration — particularly between Lowry and showrunner Josh Safran — and lots of playlists. Lowry says during pre-production, he created playlists for each character, as well as soundtracks for certain character dynamics. The show also features a stunning score by Grammy-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid, without which Lowry says the musical landscape of the series would not be the same.

“His score is so catchy and melodic and hooky, and I think that it does such a good job of being the bridge between so much of what we’re doing,” Lowry says. “The show is so specific tonally and he just captured it, which is not an easy thing to do with something as diverse energy-wise as the show.”

Fans got a sneak peek at the music for the show with the debut of its first trailer on June 9, which featured the thematically perfect “Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean. But the song wasn’t just a commentary on the show’s characters; it was also an homage to the original series, which soundtracked an entire Season 6 episode with Ocean’s 2012 album “Channel Orange.” Below, Lowry breaks down the “Super Rich Kids” sync, along with 11 other needle drops from the series’ first four episodes.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

“Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean – Trailer and Episode 1

I think there’s always been wanting to walk this line of making this show its own thing and separate from the original, but also paying homage and respect to the original and having Easter eggs. This song in particular lives in this kind of unique space of existing within the world of the previous “Gossip Girl” and this one. It’s just one of those songs that is timeless. Some songs you’re like, “Is this too obvious? Is this too on the nose?” Just because it’s Frank Ocean, I think it really transcends that, and it’s hard to even poke holes in it because it’s just so, so great.

I can’t remember how it evolved, but it was basically like, if we keep it in the show it should be in the trailer. I know there was some difficulty [clearing the song] because it’s basically a trailer-ized, remixed version. So that was Anny Colvin and her team at JAX working literally around the clock, texting Frank’s manager, trying to get him to listen to it and approve it because it was such a specific version of it.

“All My Girls Like to Fight” by Hope Tala – Opening song in Episode 1

It was a huge discussion because [the original series’ opening song], “Young Folks” [by Peter Bjorn and John], was so iconic. But the Hope Tala song is, I think, the perfect song for the opening. It’s not a big, in-your-face pop song — it’s a little bit slower tempo and a bit more pensive. But I think the plucking of the strings and the vocal delivery, it just sets the tone. It feels a lot richer, it feels sophisticated, smart, sexy, fun — even confrontational in a way.

Josh and I certainly labored over that in terms of how to cut the sequence, because it’s not a huge hook that jumps out at you from the beginning, but then all of the mixers were like, “Oh yeah, this song has been stuck in our heads for a week.” There’s always going to be comparisons to “Young Folks,” so I think that was one of our moments where we had to get out of our heads and stop thinking about what was used in the original opening, because it’s its own separate thing.

“Positions” by Ariana Grande – Title sequence in Episode 1

Even from the script, I was like “Josh, this is going to be the song.” He was like, “I don’t know, I think maybe Ariana’s voice is too close to Kristen Bell’s [who voices Gossip Girl].” And so we were kind of battling with that. There’s the score moment before with the orchestral strings, and it’s building, building, building and then there’s the second release, you hit the title card, and then you hear that opening riff and it’s just like, “Oh shit.” Bobby [Cotnoir], who is the music editor, did this really incredible thing that none of us brought up or suggested — and this is why music editors are really unspoken heroes behind the scenes — but we originally had it play out, just as the song played out, and then Bobby built that instrumental for 30 or 45 seconds so that the vocal hits as Julien is entering the hall. Josh described it as a “standing ovation moment.”

“Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish – Episode 1

I think this was part of one of our playlists, so we sent it in pretty early on. And you know, it’s one of those things where she has a new record coming out; do we want to use something off of that? But it was in there since the director’s cut and it just worked so well. We toyed with the edit of it, but that song never changed since the beginning, just because it was lyrically on-point, tonally on-point. It just represents the soundtrack of the show and the story of the pilot so well.

“Freak” by Doja Cat into “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” by Paul Anka – Episode 2

The way that these episodes are constructed, writing-wise, story-wise — everything kind of culminates at this big event. Early on, we decided that we had the sound of the show and the world of the show and the kids, and then we wanted these events to have their own feel and soundtrack. We had Doja Cat there, and Josh pitched “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” to transition, and it’s just so good and fun. It’s such a good representation of the different sounds and the different worlds of the show, as the kids are getting ready and then they go into this ridiculous, fancy gala. That was sort of a tough clear, but it ended up working out and I really couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

“Same Damn Luck” by Nilüfer Yanya – Episode 3

Tonally, it’s so on-par. There are just some songs in the first four episodes where you’re like, this is the sound of the show, this is the blueprint. That’s a song that I think we actually had on Zoya’s (Whitney Peak) playlist when we were doing the character playlists. It was another one of those songs that we had kind of auditioned in a few spots and wasn’t necessarily working, or didn’t feel exactly right. But [it works] in that sequence with her in the hallway, getting texts, and then it transitions to something a little more romantic.

“Never Say Never” by Romeo Void – Episode 3

I think as we get into these events, so much of Josh’s taste and so much of Josh’s relationship with New York and these different bars and different scenes — his expertise and history with these songs and locations comes into play. This was certainly a sequence where it wasn’t really the kids’ story anymore, we kind of transition into the story of the parents. So between Quarterflash and Romeo Void and Kate Bush, we’re leaning into this ’80s vibe. There are moments in here where we tried some modern indie and some riot girl, but the ’80s stuff is what we started with and what we kept going back to because it just ended up working so well.

“Best Friend” by Doja Cat and Saweetie; “Body” by Megan Thee Stallion and “Levitating” by Dua Lipa – Episode 4

With this show, the production value is so high. It looks so amazing, it sounds so amazing and so it’s like, especially with this party, how do we match that sonically? What is the expensive audio version of how insanely great this all looks? We had basically built out a playlist for that day, where it was like just a vibe, hype playlist to play for everyone to dance to. Those were most of the songs, because it was like, “What are the biggest songs that people would want to hear in a club right now, after not being in a club for over a year? What songs did we miss going out and hearing in the context of being in public?” And these were the ones that I was certainly dancing to by myself all year. They’re obviously huge songs, but I also do feel like they really soundtrack those specific scenes really well.

“Dionne” by the Japanese House and Justin Vernon – Episode 4

The way this episode ends, you had to hit so many different emotional beats. I feel like with that song, it is super soft, it’s super emotional, but it also hits hard in a way. It’s interesting because, every step of the way, I probably have 20 emails like, “Um, I think we got a bad version of this song, because it’s super distorted.” And like no, that’s how the song is. The song is so blown out and Josh and I both loved it. If you listen to it loud, it’s going to sound pretty fucked up, in a good way.

The show is so sexy and you get to have fun with that type of music and put throwbacks and stuff, but it’s fun when you get to play into the more romantic softness of it too, because there are those relationships and all of those different pockets of emotions. It’s so rich in relationships, in the dynamics.

The first episode of “Gossip Girl” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

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