From ‘Barbarian’ to ‘Euphoria’: The Best Needle Drops of 2022

There is nothing better than a cinematic needle drop. This year was absolutely loaded perfect song selections that charmed, horrified, confused or absolutely destroyed audiences. To celebrate the best moments of music in 2022’s film and television the Variety staff cobbled together a list of our favorite hits.

Labrinth & Zendaya “I’m Tired” – “Euphoria”

Music Supervisor: Jen Malone

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This song is hauntingly perfect for the scene in which it is featured. Rue (Zendaya) is out of her mind on drugs and hallucinates that she is in a church before she sees herself in her living room dancing with her dead father. Zendaya proves that she is not only one of the best actresses of her time in this scene, but one hell of a singer to boot. – Joe Otterson

Donovan “Riki Tiki Tavi” – “Barbarian”

Music Supervisor: Jillian Ennis

During the tensest scene of this year’s horror hit “Barbarian,” Tess (Georgina Campbell) is creeping down a long, dark hallway deep in the basement of her Detroit Airbnb, searching for her new friend Keith (Bill Skarsgård), who is screaming in distress. She finds him and they come across a giant mutant, which quickly kills Keith and turns its attention to Tess. Smash cut to…a sunny stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, where Justin Long — playing a character we haven’t met yet — is singing at the top of his lungs to the whimsical Donovan classic “Riki Tiki Tavi” in his convertible, without a care in the world. It’s a perfect signal to the audience that ‘Barbarian’ isn’t just a conventional creature feature. – Bill Earl

Nine Days “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” – “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Music supervisors: Bruce Gilbert and Lauren Mikus

In a film swirling with subconsciousness and déjà vu, it’s fitting that Nine Days’ extremely catchy early-’00s earworm “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” makes several appearances in different forms. With lyrics bleeding into the dialogue and the tune dipping into the soundtrack, it’s a nod to the indelibility of radio hits. Amazingly, the band provided several song remixes for directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert to play with, including a moving ballad, BDSM club background music and one where the lyrics correspond to the bizarre and hilarious Raccacoonie universe. – Bill Earl

“This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan –  “Yellowjackets”

Music supervisors: Jen Malone and Whitney Pilzer

On “Yellowjackets” — especially in the setting of the 1996 wilderness in which the girls have crashed — there isn’t a ton of joy? But in the fifth episode of Season 1, “Blood Hive,” when the girls are settling into the cabin they’ve discovered, the group dances exuberantly to “This Is How We Do It.” From the choreography they shout out — “Running man! Running man!” and “Bart Simpson! Bart Simpson!” — Jordan’s 1995 banger is clearly a school-dance favorite, and seeing the girls (and little Javi!) bonding and having a blast, if temporarily, is … well, it’s joy! Until the batteries run out. — Kate Aurthur

“Jealous”by Nick Jonas – “The Dropout”

Music Supervisor: Maggie Phillips

All the music in “The Dropout’ is so perfectly selected by music supervisor Maggie Philips — who can forget Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes trying to win back her boyfriend Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) by serenading him with Lil Wayne’s “How to Love”? In the limited series’ sixth episode, Seyfried and Andrews perform the reverse of Lil Wayne, as Elizabeth’s and Sunny’s relationship has become increasingly strained. This time, it’s Sunny trying to seduce Elizabeth by putting on a song she likes — “Jealous” — as he begins to perform a mating dance before her. They’ve returned home from her birthday party where Theranos board member George Shultz (Sam Waterston) has given out masks of Elizabeth’s face. The look of pure lust she shoots Sunny’s way when he puts his Elizabeth mask on, well — if she hadn’t won the Emmy before this scene, it was hers afterward.  — Kate Aurthur

Nirvana “Something in the Way” – “The Batman”

Music supervisor: George Drakoulias

In a film where woodwind instruments carve out Michael Giacchino’s melancholy themes like a saw cutting through bone, Nirvana’s dirge-like “Something in the Way” not only reinforces the film’s misanthropic tone but precisely articulates the dimensions of purgatory, physical and emotional, that Bruce Wayne rules over as Batman. Anchored to the song Kurt Cobain told Michael Azerrad in 1993 he wrote as “kind of a fantasy” about living under the bridge and dying of AIDS, the eponymous hero is isolated by choice but deeply lonely, embodying vengeance but imprisoned by his own hopelessness, presiding over Gotham city both to punish its lawlessness and to literally fight crime as a masked vigilante instead of going to therapy. – Todd Gilchrist

Nas’ Illmatic Album – “Ozark”

Music supervisor: Gabe Hilfer

Ruth Langmore’s affection for ‘90s hip-hop was first mentioned in Season One of the acclaimed Netflix series, but in the show’s final stretch, she makes it her full-time soundtrack — especially after the death of her brother Wyatt. Listening repeatedly to Nas’ debut album, a benchmark in storytelling, music and street-level authenticity, tracks like “N.Y. State of Mind” and “Represent,” simultaneously underscore Ruth’s quandary about escaping her white-trash criminal upbringing, and provide fuel for the violent act of retribution she plans against Wyatt’s murderer. – Todd Gilchrist

Marvin Gaye “Dream of a Lifetime” – “Atlanta”

Music Supervisors: Jen Malone and Fam Udeorji

The “Atlanta” series finale followed the free-spirited Darius oscillating in and out of consciousness through a sensory deprivation tank, leaving viewers questioning whether the events of the episode were real or part of his dreams. After a tense moment in a Black-owned sushi restaurant, Darius saves the day in a pink Maserati — bringing some much-needed Popeyes for Earn, Van and Alfred — Marvin Gaye’s “Dream of a Lifetime” blaring as they make their great escape. Dream or not, the triumphant backdrop of Gaye’s indelible track lets us know that, while our time with the show has come to an end, our favorite Atlanteans are going to be just fine. – EJ Panaligan

Red Hot Chili Peppers “Can’t Stop” – “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Music Supervisor: Dave Jordan

In a film where the score and musical composition are essentially its secondary narrative language (through the intense care of its composer Ludwig Göransson), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” cleverly deploys a rare sync to highlight a contrast in cultures. Whereas the music of the Wakandans and Talokanil were largely inspired by real-life cultural expeditions across Africa, Mexico and Yucatán, the music that introduces one of the film’s rare white characters, Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, is age-appropriate dad rock for someone like Ross — Red Hot Chili Peppers’ popular guitar-chugging hit, “Can’t Stop.” – EJ Panaligan

Song: Orville Peck’s “Dead of Night” – “Euphoria

Music supervisor: Jen Malone

The second season of “Euphoria” started off incredibly strong with syncs from Tupac, Gerry Rafferty, Steely Dan and Notorious B.I.G, but the show’s use of Orville Peck’s “Dead of Night” in the season premiere takes the cake. When Nate (Jacob Elordi) offers to give Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) a ride to the New Year’s Eve party, the two share a very intense moment as Nate pounds back beers and drives faster and faster, all while staring Cassie down. The song’s twangy guitar tones and Peck’s low, brooding voice give the moment a sultry yet unsettling feel as Nate straddles the line between excitement and danger, all while hinting at the possibility of Nate’s suppressed sexuality with the lyrics: “See the boys as they walk on by… It’s enough to make a young man…” – Ellise Shafer

Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill” – “Stranger Things

Music supervisor: Nora Felder

The “Stranger Things” music supervisors did what was seemingly impossible, getting musician Kate Bush blessing to use her track in the hit Netflix series. The song was an anthem for character Max, played by the captivating Sadie Sink. The lyrics mirror Max’s emotional struggles and as she faces off with the villain Vecna, the song (quite literally) saves her life. Max is depicted “Running Up That Hill” into the arms of her friends. Clearly that climax struck a nerve because Bush’s song rocketed to the top of the charts (her first top 10 hit in 37 years) and introduced her artistic genius to a whole new generation. – Jazz Tangcay

The Cramps “Goo Goo Muck” – “Wednesday”

Music supervisors: Jen Malone and Nicole Weisberg

As The Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck” plays, Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) takes to the dance floor and throws out her altogether kooky moves. But watch closely, and you’ll see the homages paid to everyone from Siouxsie Sioux and Bob Fosse’s Rich Man’s Frug to the 1960s “Addams Family” TV series. Truly, the best part after witnessing this delight was watching fans turn the dance into a meme that went all the way to the mother of the little monsters, Lady Gaga, who gave it her own spin. – Jazz Tangcay

Mazie “Dumb Dumb” – “Do Revenge”

Music supervisor: Rob Lowry

Released in 2021, “dumb dumb” is the fourth single from rising pop star Grace Christian, better known by the stage name “mazie.” The song is the ultimate anthem of teenage cynicism, which fittingly plays in Netflix’s “Do Revenge” as Drea (Camila Mendes) reads a text from Eleanor (Maya Hawke) alerting her of new gossip. Despite the track’s brief presence in the actual film, the song’s catchy chorus quickly went viral on TikTok and received well-deserved recognition in the film’s official trailer. – Katie Reul

Joe McPhee “Shakey Jake”- “Severance”

Music supervisor: Matt Biffa

Over half of a century after its 1971 debut, saxophonist Joe McPhee’s  track “Shakey Jake” is given new life in a show-stopping scene of Apple TV+’s “Severance” where Mark (Adam Scott), Helly (Britt Lower), Irving (John Turturro) and Dylan (Zach Cherry) receive a five-minute music dance experience as a reward for their labor. Given the pseudonym “Defiant Jazz,” which is also the name of episode 7, “Shakey Jake” wails on the speakers as the protagonists engage in a dance-off with their supervisor, Milchick (Tramell Tillman). The jazz number infuses the scene with an unsettling nonchalance that is doubly effective in providing a moment of much-needed comedic respite for the show’s characters before the plot takes an even darker turn. – Katie Reul

Lil Wayne – ‘How To Love’ ‘The Dropout’ 

Music Supervisor: Maggie Phillips

A dance so cringe it launched a million memes. Amanda Seyfried’s commitment to playing the morally bankrupt Elizabeth Holmes is demonstrated in this awkward courtship between her and Sunny (Naveen Andrews). A perfect song choice as the lyrics reflect exactly what’s going down in the frame, two people who clearly do not know how to love. The moment is so delightful, we did an entire breakdown for it on our “Making a Scene” series. – Meredith Woerner

Fleetwood Mac “The Chain” – “Our Flag Means Death”

Music supervisor: Maggie Phillips

This needle drop landed out of nowhere, and yet, the way this action scene is choreographed you would think Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” was penned for this very moment. Chaos reigns as our band of pirate favs are being boarded by the oppressive government they’ve been skirting out on the seas. The slow motion takeover is purely poetic right down to the drumbeat break that catapults actor Joel Fry head over heels. And through this pandemonium our heroes reconnect, “You came back,” says a shocked Rhys Darby. “Never left” replies the sly Taika Waititi. If your ship hadn’t already sailed for these two, this moment solidified it. The pirate show is a love story, a rock and roll love story. – Meredith Woerner

Gene Wilder “Pure Imagination” – “The Rehearsal”

Music supervisor: Gabe Hilfer

At the beginning of “The Rehearsal,” Nathan Fielder lays out for the viewer exactly what his experimental new HBO series is all about: He will help people prepare for life’s uncertainties by rehearsing real situations in stunning, high-budget simulations. But it’s Nathan’s first guinea pig, Kor Skeete — who must admit to his trivia team that he does not in fact have a master’s degree — who most sharply summarizes what’s going on: Kor is Charlie Bucket and Nathan is Willy Wonka, shady ethics and all. After the trivia expert successfully comes clean, it’s emphasized that this whole time, Nathan has been manipulating Kor, too, helping him subconsciously cheat so he can focus on his confession. As the dream-maker retreats back to his elaborate soundstage in the shape of a Brooklyn bar, safely situated inside a warehouse, Gene Wilder’s eerie “Pure Imagination,” from 1971’s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” plays overhead. After all, why live in reality when you can build your own? – Ethan Shanfeld

“Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens – “The Bear”

Music supervisor: Josh Senior

In a form-breaking intro in Episode 7, “The Bear” opens with the voice of Lin Brehmer, the beloved disc jockey who has narrated Chicagoans’ commutes for over 30 years on WXRT. Cue a montage of the series’ urban muse, set to Sufjan Stevens’ melancholy ballad of the same name: “Chicago.” There’s shots of our favorite fictional cooks taking public transit on their way to The Beef, mixed in with black-and-white B-roll and nods to the Windy City’s most iconic institutions, from Wrigley Field to Pequod’s Pizza. A perfect needle drop, this one-off musical intro takes a moment to honor the “The Bear’s” setting before kicking off the series’ most vital episode, shot in one take at breakneck speed. It demands your attention: Hey, something important is about to happen. – Ethan Shanfeld

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