Emmys: ‘Girls’ Music Supervisor on the Final Season’s Biggest Gets

Lena Dunham in <em>Girls</em> (Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO)
Lena Dunham in Girls (Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO)

As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs June 12 to June 26 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.

This year, Outstanding Music Supervision makes its long-awaited debut as an Emmy category. In honor of the milestone, Yahoo TV asked music supervisors for some of our favorite series to answer the same set of questions about their work this season — and to name a past show they believe would have been recognized had this category existed sooner.

We continue with Manish Raval, music supervisor on HBO’s Girls.

1. What song/placement are you proudest of this season?

It was in the finale, episode 610, and it also answers the question about something we thought we’d never get the rights to. It was the use of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” It came down to the fact that Tracy Chapman does not license her music — it is a blanket no. I have gone to her many times over the last many years for many different projects to try to license “Fast Car” and “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution.” It is always a no. Don’t ask. Doesn’t matter what it is. I respect the decision, but directors never stop asking about her songs. And we always say, “We will ask, but just be prepared to move on and find something else because it is always a no.” It happened to us in the first season very early on when we were just starting out. Lena [Dunham, the show’s creator and star] told us she loved Tracy and wanted us to get one of her songs. We had to tell her, “Just so you know, she will never give us a song. Ever.”

Cut to six years later, when Girls has become a cultural phenomenon and we were tasked with what to do for the music for the very final episode of the show. Lena brought up Tracy again. I had a feeling this might be the one time she would give a song. I just knew that if we could get to her directly and make our case, [prove] that the request was coming from a good place. We could only imagine that she was a fan of the show and of Lena. So we went to her and explained that we wanted her song to be the series finale song. We weren’t going to get an artist to write a new song to play us out. We wanted “Fast Car” to be the song that ends our series. And I said, “Before you guys say no for Tracy, can we get [Lena and Tracy] on the phone and let them talk about it?” I got them set up on a conference call, they spoke, and 10 minutes later, Lena emailed to say, “Tracy’s on board. We can have the song.” It was just magical. It was something I never thought I’d be able to get ever. But something inside just told me to pursue it this time. I just knew if there was ever going to be a time where she made an exception, it would be this. We are so grateful she gave us the privilege of having this song that has never been used in anything. That is a tremendous honor.

I think the story behind this pick was really a big part of it for us. We wanted something very special. Obviously the lyrics of “Fast Car” don’t pertain to what is happening in that moment in the show. We just wanted something that would be tremendously special to us when we look back on this five, 10 years from now. Throughout six seasons, Tracy would come up every once in a while and we’d say, “It is just such a bummer Tracy Chapman doesn’t license her music.” It was a very minimal music episode. I don’t even think there was a lot of score in the episode. We wanted it to be different than the rest of the show. Lots of people told me they couldn’t get the song out of their head for days. For them, it was a blast from the past. For me, for Lena, [for executive producers] Jenni [Konner] and Judd [Apatow], it was a really big win.

2. What was the most challenging scene/moment for you this season creatively?

I think it was in episode 606, when Hannah is watching the movie Adam made for her and the end credits ended up being a scene from that movie. It was a scene where we ended up using a brand new Robyn song. We had tried a bunch of different ideas and nothing was a fit. We found a lot of songs that we liked but none of them were playing to the moment. We wanted the sadness to come across, but we didn’t want it to be a sad moment so we didn’t want a slow, acoustic song. Like with Tracy, we knew we wanted to go back and use Robyn again, because she was such an integral part of Season 1 with the “Dancing On My Own” placement. We knew we had to come back to Robyn again at some point. When we were struggling with this scene, I suggested that maybe this was the moment where we reach out to Robyn to see if she has something new for us to use. We needed to get her in the show one last time. We needed a Robyn bookend, and we were down to the wire. We reached out to her manager, and once again we were under a very crazy time crunch. Once again, we had Lena get on the phone with the artist to discuss what we needed and what the scene was, in case something could come of it. She sent us songs she had been working on that were in really rough stages. We gravitated to one song called “Honey.” There was something uniquely Robyn about its production and sounds, but there was also a sadness to it that would lend itself to that scene. We told her we loved that song and asked if she could finish it for us. She went back to the studio and knocked it out. We did some editing to it so we could use the instrumental part. You think it is just score, but as it cut to the credits you hear Robyn’s voice. It was like a warm blanket. The happy accident with that is that the movie within a movie seems like an outtake from Season 1, and to have Robyn singing on that was a great tie-in to the first time we used her in Season 1. Everything felt so full circle this season.

It was just those two times [Lena stepped in to speak with the artists]. We had her do it because we knew we were asking big things of these artists, and we wanted Lena to tell them what she was trying to express and why the music choices were important. I think there is something about the ask coming from the source. Lena really wanted these artists, and this way nothing could get lost in translation. It was not a bunch of people sitting around pitching song ideas. This was coming from Lena herself and that felt really organic to the show.

HBO's Girls. (Photo: Mark Shafer/HBO)
(Photo: Mark Shafer/HBO)

3. Was there a song swap that worked out even better than your original idea?

There was an episode [Season 6’s “Gummies”] that ends with the Linda McCartney song, “I Got Up,” which was a very last-minute throw-in that we put in on the mix stage. We went to mix the episode with a song that everyone was pretty lukewarm on. It wasn’t officially approved by the producers. At the last minute, we were twiddling our thumbs. We really needed to pick a song. Linda was a backup idea and we sent it to Jenny, Lena, and Judd. Everyone came back saying, “The Linda McCartney song was awesome. She’s a great idea. We rarely hear Linda McCartney.” Everyone immediately got on board with the last-minute change, but then the nerves kicked in. We were literally on the mix stage and putting it in without any permission. We had to now scramble for the approval rights. We got that process started, which can sometimes take a long time, and were keeping our fingers crossed that we got it. But then a funny thing happened. Two or three days later, Lena was at some event and she looked over and saw Paul McCartney across the room. He walked directly up to her and said, “Thank you for putting Linda’s song in the show. It really means so much. She was such a special woman. I’m really glad your audience is going to get to hear her songs. I just approved it yesterday.” It was a moment. Like, “Oh my god, it got all the way up that high.” Last-minute scrambling led to a Beatle cornering Lena in a room full of celebrities thanking her for doing it. It was so surreal, and we knew we had made the perfect choice. None of us are going to have that experience again. Who would have thought that a last-minute scramble would lead to that moment? It felt so genuine. It was an actual thank you, which rarely happens, let alone from one of the Beatles. After she shared that story with us, everyone collectively high-fived.

4. What’s the song that isn’t the theme song of the show that you think would make the perfect theme song for the show?

I don’t know that we ever officially discussed this, and we don’t have a theme song because we don’t have a traditional main title, but to me I will always associate Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” as our song. When we used it in the third episode, it was the show’s first big musical moment. It was a great use of music, totally fit the mood of the scene, it landed with the audience, and it got talked about a lot. For those of us in the music department and editing, it was the first big moment that we all realized that musically this show was special.

5. Name a past show that you think would have been recognized for its music supervision had the Emmy category existed.

The Sopranos was the show that started this new era of music supervision for me. They used big songs, songs that people knew by heart and played with them. Score was super important. They were genius in the way they cut to songs at the end credits to leave viewers with a very specific feeling. We definitely were inspired to make end credit music important from them. It was amazing. It is on a pedestal. I also hold a special place in my heart for Freaks and Geeks. It was a very innovative, sweet, and tender show, and the music was always a huge part of why I related to it and loved it so much. I actually had the privilege of seeing an early cut of an episode, which used a Neil Young song, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” in it. They were trying to get approval, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t get the rights to use it. I remember that being such a tragedy. It is hands-down one of the best uses of music I have ever seen in a TV show. It brought me to tears and it will never be shown to the general public. It is such a shame because that would have been a huge huge moment in TV history. But it happens. That’s the business.

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