Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ Lead Songwriter Guides Us Through All the Original Songs

The post Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ Lead Songwriter Guides Us Through All the Original Songs appeared first on Consequence.

The ambition of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies goes beyond capturing the spirit of the 1978 film — it’s also a full-fledged musical series packed with original tunes, crafted by prolific songwriter and former Semi Precious Weapons lead singer Justin Tranter, who has written for artists including Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons, and Miley Cyrus.

Tranter tells Consequence that Rise of the Pink Ladies was a project they fought to be involved with. “I had heard that [the show] was looking for an executive music producer and lead songwriter to take on this huge undertaking of 30 original songs. I said, ‘That sounds terrifying. Sign me up.’ I harassed everyone I possibly could to get me an interview with Annabel Oakes, the showrunner. I chased it down myself.”

The reason for that passion, they say, is that the original Grease was an obsession. “Movie musicals are the reason why I even understood that music was a thing, that I was ever interested in music. Of course, my parents are listening to rock and roll at all times. But it was movie musicals that made my brain go, ‘Oh, music is fucking awesome.’ So Grease was for sure one of those movies, and it was the Pink Ladies that made me really obsessed. So to know that there was going to be a show that was about the origin story of the Pink Ladies is why I got so excited about this.”

Tranter primarily co-wrote the first season’s 30 songs with two people: Brandon Colbein and Brittany Campbell. “I wanted to be so specific about these characters and took it to a place where I even chose my co-writers based on the characters. Brandon Colbein does most of the Jane songs — Brandon has very big sweeping melodies that just come very naturally to him as a writer, on the brighter side of things, very bright sweeping melodies. So I felt like that felt really perfect for Jane.” Tranter also notes that Colbein sang the demos for the songs featuring male characters.

Campbell, meanwhile, “is obsessed with riot girl and alternative R&B, but she comes from a theatre background, she’s been in Broadway shows since she was a kid. She’s also queer, so I felt like she’d be so great for Cynthia and then also so great for Olivia, who’s from this sexier side of the musical theater world.” Songwriters Daniel Crean and Eren Cannata also contributed to the soundtrack.

Tranter initially got guidance for each song from the show’s scripts: “By the time I was told to start writing songs, I would say the scripts for at least five episodes were for the most part done. So it was ‘Song here about this, to feel like this. Here are some temp lyrics. This is what we want the story to say and this is where the story starts and where the story ends.’ I don’t want to say it’s work-for-hire, but it’s very much like, ‘Here’s your song. It’s about this. It should feel like this, go.'”

After the first five episodes or so, they say, “as me and Annabel got to know each other and as the scripts hadn’t been written yet, there would be a little bit more conversation about, ‘Should this be a song? Should that be a song? You read the outline. Is there anything that jumps out to you?'”

For general inspiration, the original Grease was a touchstone, but perhaps not in the way you’d assume. “Looking at the original Grease, it is very much a late ’70s take on ’50s music and salsa. ‘Grease is the Word’ was written by a Gibb, pop disco royalty — it is very clearly not trying to be a perfect ’50s period piece song,” Tranter says. “So yes, ’50s nostalgia has to be an important part of what we’re doing, but they were not afraid to be a little current sometimes. They were not afraid to mix eras, to mix genres. It gave me the fearlessness to do the same thing.”

Below, we break down every song from Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, with Tranter’s commentary on their creation. This article will be updated weekly, as new episodes (and new songs) premiere.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, Season 1 Episode 10, “Racing for Pinks.”]

Episode 1: “We’re Gonna Rule the School”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Grease Is The Word”
The opening number for the series, performed by the ensemble, reprises the iconic opening theme from the original film, written by Barry Gibb, with some changes.

“This one was actually one of the harder things to take on. One, it’s already such an iconic song but two, [the original] is a straight-up disco song. We’re going to see these kids in their amazing ’50s costumes, so I really thought to not do a cover because if we start our show with a disco song, and you see the poodle skirts — that just feels like it would have felt crazy. So it’s very much a ’50s doo-wop, ’50s vocal baseline happening, then a sort of ’50s Latin drum groove going on. We brought our version of ‘Grease is the Word’ much closer to the ’50s than the original did.

“Lyric-wise, I didn’t touch anything. I think that scene that they created feels so fresh, and creates so much story inside of this disco-pop mash, that it might have felt like we had changed the lyrics because the scene that they put it into was so smart and so different that it does feel different, but it we were singing the exact words.”

“Different This Year (original)”
In the show’s first original number, Jane (Marisa Davila) sings about her excitement for the new year of school. It is NOT an ‘I Want’ song (that comes later).

“I think the difference here is Jane doesn’t even want it. She’s pretty sure that everything’s going to be different this year, that she has a boyfriend and everything is perfect. She’s gonna win student council president and life is good. So it’s sort of a fake out ‘I Want’ song. It’s like an ‘I Know’ song. I know this is my life now How exciting. Everything’s going to be different this year.

“Good Girl Act”
In this story-packed song, Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells) tries to spin a tale for the other girls in school, with one of the entire show’s best lyrics: “Nice girls finish last, and nice guys finish so fast.”

“[‘Nice girls finish last’] was from me. I actually got some questions on the line, like ‘Is this line serving the story?’ I’m not sure if it is, but it’s really good. I think it serves the story, and [in the original Grease] there are some scandalous, very hypersexual lines. Sometimes it feels superfluous, but that’s what makes it great.

“It’s actually cut down, way cut down. The original version, I think, was four and a half minutes, maybe five. It was so hard. I was like, ‘This song had four bridges to try to tell all this story.’ So the brief was extensive, but I had so much fun with it — like, I love the odd pronunciation of police. That was the first song I had to write that was a full story situation, so really pushing myself from the pop world that I know so well, where you mainly live in one feeling for three minutes.”

“New Cool”
Aspiring Thunderbird Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso) gets her first solo number, as she tries to convince the gang to go along with her plan for the pep rally that night.

“‘New Cool’ is a very special song to me, because it’s the song that got me this job. When I met with Annabel, we hit it off — she loved me and she loved my work in the pop world, but she just wasn’t convinced I actually wanted this job, just because of my career and my schedule. So I offered to demo for her — everyone at Paramount+ was like, ‘You can’t ask Justin Tranter to demo. That’s disrespectful.’ I was like, ‘No, no, no. She can ask me whatever she wants, this is her story. These are her characters. This is her vision. I want her to feel just as confident in me as I am in her.’

“So I read the pilot and picked one of the songs. It was already mapped out in there, the tomboy version of ‘Greased Lightning,’ but with Cynthia trying to convince these T-Birds that she is worthy of their time and worthy of their respect and worthy of that motherfucking jacket. The song spoke to me, and I had to do it.”

“Different This Year (reprise)”
It’s Season 1’s only reprise, as the girls come together to embrace their new friendship.

“There’s so much music in the opening episode that there was talk, for just scheduling and financial stuff, that we were almost going to lose the original ‘Different This Year.’ The original ‘Different This Year’ is about three and a half minutes. and the version that’s on TV is maybe 60 seconds max. So it was sort of a good fight that me and Annabel had, with the scheduling powers that be. The reprise feels so powerful, but it wouldn’t be as powerful if we lost the original, so let’s cut it down — the original has to be there or else the reprise will feel very random.

“Creating the harmonies was so fun. Brandon Colbein, who I co-wrote it with, is a harmony master. He doesn’t have music education — it’s not like he went to music school like I did, where he could geek out and figure the harmonies out. He just naturally hears them. So on that song specifically, he wrote all of those harmonies. These girls just slay those harmonies, even the tiny little detailed ones in the intro of the reprise, with all those quicker melodies.”

Episode 2: “Too Pure to Be Pink”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Girl Gang!”
The opening number of Episode 2 is an ensemble piece, featuring the mothers of Rydell High students in an uproar.

“A ton of story, a ton of different character points-of-view. I think vocally it’s the most musical theater song we have in the entire show, so we really wanted to offset that with a much weirder instrumentation and track. We actually went to a shitty thrift store and bought a bunch of old phones and recorded the rotary sounds and recorded picking up the phone and setting the phone down and all these different things. The percussion of the track, for the most part, is all from the phones. There’s a modern hip-hop groove, using all of these old-school sounds, with this very old-school musical theater way of delivering story.

“So that was a really fun one to try to crack apart. We wanted the moms to sound older on purpose, to sound more classic musical theater on purpose, so that there was a very clear differentiation between how the kids sing, which was in a more pop rock style, melodically, than how the parents sing.”

“I Want More”
Here’s the real “I Want” song of the show, in which Jane bucks against the expectations placed on her. It was also a late addition and the last song Tranter wrote for the season, which meant that by that point, he was very familiar with Davila’s range as a singer.

“I had written every single song for Episodes 1, 2, 3, and 4 before we had a cast. If you’re doing a Broadway show, you are workshopping with your cast for a couple of years before anyone sees it, so you can really make tweaks for their voices. With the TV schedule, that was not possible. So we had to just really dig in there.

“But for Episode 2, we only had two songs, and it just made the episode feels so slow, and broke us out of our traditional musical form. So at the very end, we got to go back and write [“I Want More”], and I knew [Davila’s] voice so well that I was able to make her sound as good as she deserves to sound — because I knew exactly where to put those melodies to make her shine.”

“World Without Boys”
Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara) leads this number, which transforms an awkward boy-girl party into a man-free slumber party fantasy.

“You can’t do Grease without a slumber party. You’ve got to have a slumber party in Grease. It was so fun to do this super Andrew Sisters ‘Mr. Sandman’ female doo-wop vibe, and to keep it sonically as classic as we could, with this very modern idea of imagining a world without boys. That was one of my favorites, process-wise.

“[Writing for the ensemble cast] is harder because there’s going to be different points of view inside of one song. ‘World Without Boys’ is led by Nancy, but then all of the girls join in. So you are in this vibe that we have this dream world we’ve created for Nancy. Then when Olivia comes in the second verse, you can hear some quicker rhythms happening to match her sexier character. It’s a lot harder. There are some songs in the musical where it is just one character singing, standing there in one feeling for three minutes. That is what I do every day for pop music. But in these ensemble members, where you have multiple characters sharing multiple points of view, it takes a lot more fucking work.”

Episode 3: “So This Is Rydell”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Same Sky”
At the beginning of Episode 3, a new character gets the spotlight and her own song, in which Hazel (Shanel Bailey) sings about leaving her old home for a new one.

“There was a clear direction of it needs to be a new person, a new story. It’s so brilliant when you go back and you realize that she’s been there the whole time, but we just haven’t seen her. This is the only song where I actually worked with [songwriters Brandon Colbein and Brittany Campbell] together, because I wanted, melodically, a big sweeping melody to represent how Hazel is surviving, which is by just focusing on the thing that she knows and loves, which is the stars. So it’s one of Brandon’s big sweeping melodies, but obviously who the character is and what the character is going through, I really wanted lyrically to make sure that that perspective was being represented by a Black woman. So I wrote the lyrics with Brittany to make sure it was as truthful to the situation as it possibly could be.

“The day before they shot it, we got a call like, ‘Hey, can you please add eight bars of instrumental to the bridge, because Hazel is dancing in the sky with the literal stars, and we need a little bit more time for her to land back on her roof.’ And I was like, ‘That is the best request for an extra eight bars I’ve ever heard in my life. The answer is yes, I will have them to you immediately.'”

“In The Club”
While visiting a conservative (read: racist) local club, Jane has a vision of the club’s founders emerging from their portraits.

“It’s a full-on jazz standard crooner in the vibe of Frank Sinatra, in the vibe of Mel Torme. All these classic standard singer dudes. We wanted it to feel like that sonically, melodically, but then lyrically just have these horrifying lyrical images of these people’s terrible character traits and terrible points of view. Knowing the characters who were going to be singing it were these older, white rich, straight men coming out of a painting… I wanted it to definitely feel like music that they would love and then have the lyrics be their inner monologues — that they would have never actually put into a song, but were probably all thinking and saying amongst themselves.”

“Take The Wheel”
Jane and Buddy (Jason Schmidt) stage a debate rematch at the soda shop, in song.

“While we’re trying to explore so many different sounds from the ’50s, we don’t want to keep repeating ourselves that we need things to feel nostalgic. Grease has never been a perfect period piece — I’m not talking about that — but you want that nostalgia everywhere. So I feel like the vintage guitar tones very much land us in the ’50s but melodically, it almost feels ’80s in a way; the sort of powerhouse Pat Benatar-ish melodies. Also, it’s such a fun idea, just the scene of them having this sort of impromptu debate. Putting their debates in music was such a fun challenge.”

The melody of “Take the Wheel” also gets referenced a fair amount in the score by Zachary Dawes and Nick Sena, along with other Rise of the Pink Ladies tunes.

“Because of COVID, a lot of people on the show I hadn’t really met until recently. When I got to meet [Nick Sena], he just was like, ‘Thank you so much for allowing me to just take the stems to every single song and see what I could do.’ I think that it gets referenced in the score so much because it evokes that feeling of Jane coming into her power. Even though it all gets kind of fucked up by Buddy breaking his arm, you do have three minutes before that of Jane owning who she is and admitting who her parents are, that she’s Italian and Puerto Rican and admitting that she’s a proud geek and a proud academic but that she still is a badass. So I think it gets referenced so much because of what the song lyrically represents — any time you hear it, you subconsciously tie that feeling of Jane owning who she is to that audio.

“Watching the pilot again, I realized [they were] using some instrumental from ‘I Want More’ in a moment when Jane’s in a tough spot. So the episode before you hear that song, you hear some of that music — I think it’s such a brilliant thing that he did, to foreshadow and to call back to those emotions of the songs throughout the whole season.”

Episode 4: “If You Can’t Be an Athlete, Be an Athletic Supporter”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Sorry To Distract”
After getting called out by her teacher for her “provocative” clothing, Olivia makes her “apology” to the class.

“That is a little bit more classic musical theater vibes, in a Kander and Ebb sort of world. You know Kander and Ebb did Chicago and did Cabaret — old school jazz standard meets musical theater. We wanted it to feel very, very, very sexy in a sort of rock-and-roll Marilyn Monroe way, that represents Olivia being so confident about her sexuality, and being like, ‘It’s not my fault that y’all can’t handle yourself because I exist.’

“It’s so fun to write a character who’s that confident, because then you get to put yourself in that mental space for a while — so the music gets to be more confident, the lyrics get to be more confident, because the character is.”

When Jane and Richie (Johnathan Nieves) sneak away from school to play hooky, Jane has a hard time relaxing.

“It’s a song that is about Jane just wanting to stop taking everything so seriously and stop stressing herself out. It becomes a love song because it’s then Richie supporting that idea and a way to be a little more carefree is to fall in love and to not worry about what that means and to not worry about how that might affect everything else in your life. Just let yourself enjoy this moment.

“For the most part, we had such a great experience with all the executives on the show, really supporting our visions and letting us lead the way. But there was a moment where we had some executives asking us to try to make the songs more modern. I think in ‘Carelessly,’ you can really hear that, where they were wanting a few more modern chord changes, more modern melodies.”

While Richie sings a little in “New Cool,” this is Nieves’ first big song of the season, meaning that it was the first big opportunity to establish the character’s musical voice.

“Because we start from Jane’s point of view, this is definitely much more in Jane’s world. It’s Richie supporting the dreamy, poppier side, the brighter side. Jane definitely lives in a very poppy bright space for the most part, with ‘I Want More’ being a little bit darker exception to that rule, because ‘I Want More’ is her true deep inner thoughts. They are not outer thoughts that she’s sharing with other people. ‘I Want More’ is three minutes of hearing what our protagonist truly wants on the inside.

“So we’re definitely in the brighter, external, poppier side of Jane here than what Richie lives in. In later episodes, you definitely get Richie songs that are a much clearer sound of who he is, in a much more rock and roll space.”

“Pointing Fingers”
Led by the Pink Ladies, Rydell students rise up in rebellion over the school’s anti-jacket policy, a group number that evolved to include all the different factions.

“It was a tough one, it was fucking tough. I’m not gonna lie to you. Just trying to find the tone and trying to find where this moment should live musically. Sometimes you read the script, and you’re like, ‘I know exactly what that sounds like. Let’s go.’ And sometimes you’re like, ‘What?’

“A teen angst protest song on a football field, it’s tricky to know what that’s supposed to sound like. So trying to figure out how to pull this off and have it not feel preachy — how do you pull this off and have it feel like good old-fashioned teen angst? At some point, it was like, ‘We should have the T-Birds join here and chant along with them, and we should have more people join in and chant along.’ The more chanty it got, the better it felt.

“This was also the moment where we were getting mixed signals of how modern should we be and how classic we should be. So there is a version of that song, with the same lyrical concept, but very modern… My heart couldn’t do it. It felt like a Pussycat Dolls song. I couldn’t survive it. So I begged them to let me rewrite it and they luckily said yes.”

Episode 5: “You Can’t Just Walk Out of A Drive-In”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“The Boom”
The episode opens with a song inspired by a P.S.A. about the possibility of nuclear war that Jane and the other students are watching.

“‘The Boom’ is one where I think the choreography is the star of this song. I love that we’re in this actually sort of early ’60s Farfisa-meets-surf-rock moment, I love the vibe of the song, but the choreography is the star of this one. If you’re reading this interview, don’t listen to the song on Spotify, please. Just go watch the number, because the number’s amazing.

“[Doing a song about 1950s nuclear panic] definitely set us free in terms of] ‘What the fuck does this sound like?’ Because in a good way, we can probably get away with anything, because as far as I know, I don’t know if there is a song about ’50s nuclear panic. There are many ’50s love songs. There are many ’50s party songs. But there’s no template for how to do this one.

It was one of the songs too where me and my music team were like, ‘Uhhhh, it sounds cool, but we don’t know.’ Then it came back and we sent it off and there were no notes: ‘Thank you, done.’ Which is very rare. So I guess ’50s nuclear panic Farfisa surf rock was the right choice. We nailed it.

“Merely Players”
Cynthia and Lydia (Niamh Wilson) discover a new connection in the form of “acting practice,” in a dreamscape featuring tributes to classic film.

“I had no idea [about the movie homages]. And it was such a beautiful, pleasant surprise. This moment in the show was very, very, very important to me, knowing that it’s Cynthia coming into her first romantic feeling that she’s ever had — it’s very nuanced lyrically, because she’s not fully aware that it’s love. She thinks that it might just be theatre that she loves so much. So in a good way, it was really tricky to ride that fine line of like, ‘Is she talking about how much she loves theater, or is she talking about how much she loves this person?’

“It was a really beautiful one to write. I made sure that in the lyrics we reference Brando and Monroe, referencing two different genders — I just thought that that would be a cool thing, knowing this character. Then when I saw how they were going to shoot it, read the description of the shooting, I was just like, ‘Oh my god, that is so beautiful and so sweet.’ I just think people all over the world are gonna melt.”

“Election Song”
For only the second time so far this season, the adults get the spotlight, with Assistant Principal McGee (Jackie Hoffman) leading a number about how thrilled the adults are for the end of the school election.

“[Recording with Jackie Hoffman] was the best seven minutes I’ve ever spent in a recording studio in my whole life. She was that good — she literally just sang the whole song twice and I was like, ‘Yep, that’s all I need, we can definitely comp together a perfect performance from just two takes. Thank you. I wish that you were worse so I could hang out with you longer because you’re a joy and a half, but you can go.’ Just a comedic genius. Such a fun song to write. Such a beautiful moment to witness a Broadway legend execute — it was really special to me.

“All those sort of Queen style background vocals that come in halfway through. That’s all my vocals. So I secretly have a duet with Jackie Hoffman, which is a total dream come true for me because there’s like 75 of me singing big harmonies behind her. It was such a blast to watch the dancers on set with her lip sync to my vocals.

“I would say probably half the songs I sing backup vocals but normally it’s me and a couple of other people that I wrote with basically. Of course, the cast sings background vocals themselves as well — but ‘Election Song’ is 100% me. And then there may be something special coming later in later episodes where you really hear me sing.”

Episode 6: “Sloppy Seconds Ain’t My Style”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Girls Can’t Drive”
Susan (Madison Thompson) gets her turn at the mic, for a song that reveals her point-of-view — and why her actions might be so villainous.

“What I found interesting about it was trying to get to know our villain a little bit more, and let her be three-dimensional and have this song be a way to realize what she’s going through too. The beauty of musical theater is that because she’s singing a song, we get to hear inner thoughts and hear perspective in a way that you don’t normally get to do in a traditional TV show or movie or play, where there aren’t songs. So it was really nice to get to know her a little bit more.

“The writers’ room had come up with that title — young women being told that they can’t do these things, and so sometimes that comes true, like being told that girls can’t drive and girls are bad drivers. There was another version of this song that got scrapped that was a sort of late ’70s singer-songwriter piano vibe — but not a ballad, but more mid-tempo. And you know, the note came back from Annabelle that ‘it needs to feel more urgent, more frantic, [because] it’s gonna end in this big car crash.’ Which it didn’t end up doing, but it ended up landing, all things Grease, where the eras and the genres are beautifully fluid, in a sort of eighties pop rock world.”

“Finding My Light”
It’s opening night for Romeo & Juliet and with Cynthia having vanished, Hazel gets the chance to literally and figuratively step into the spotlight.

“The brief was Hazel’s character coming out of her shell a little bit and being a little bit more fearless. Obviously Rydell is a new school for her and there aren’t that many Black students there, so her way to survive was to make herself invisible, but now we’re in Episode 6 and she’s, you know, finding her light. We knew it was going to be a song inside of the performance — it was a pretty simple brief, in a great way: Let the song breathe, we need to talk about Hazel coming into her own.

“Obviously ‘finding my light’ is very much a reference for anyone who’s ever done a community theater project or a real theater project. So knowing that she was going to be performing a play while singing the song… That one little theater reference tied it all together, putting the metaphorical and the literal on top of each other for that moment. But then the music definitely in turn also informs how they’re going to shoot it and what it’s going to look like and feel like visually, to match the music. So it’s a chicken and an egg situation. We know what’s happening, but they don’t know exactly how they’re going to shoot it until they hear the song.

“Because ‘Same Sky’ was written before we knew who was cast, it was trying to match somebody’s voice to a preexisting song. This one, we could write to her strengths, and I think she just sounds absolutely beautiful on this song — it was so nice for her to have this moment where she could really shine vocally.”

Episode 7: “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin'”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

After six episodes of female-led songs, the boys of the show get the spotlight this time. Says Tranter, “I’m always so much more drawn to female characters — as a kid, I would skip every boy song in every musical. As a kid, I never bought one CD with a male vocalist. I just never fucking cared. But I will say after six episodes, it was kind of fun. What a fun challenge: What do the boys sound like now?”

“High Rollin'”
A wild Vegas adventure begins in this big group number for the T-Birds.

“They’re on drugs, so it needed to feel psychedelic and trippy, so we used a lot of old-school keyboard instruments to create the sort of psychedelic aspects. It was honestly just a blast. There are some videos of me and [co-writer Eren Cannata] singing all the backing vocals to that song, and it just makes me laugh every time.”

“Hit Me Again”
Caught up in his own rage and frustration, Richie picks a fight first with strangers and then with his friends.

“I think ‘Hit Me Again’ is definitely the most straight-up rock and roll, bordering on punk, song that there is in the season for sure. And it’s really a turning point when you really get to know Richie’s character and really see Richie’s flaws and fears. That one was just me and then Daniel Crean and Eren Cannata — because coming from a glam punk band, I felt pretty confident that I could handle those melodic needs for that. But it took us a minute to figure out what this very angry song sounds like in the Grease world; there was researching earlier punk bands and a lot of Latin punk bands I’d never heard of before.”

“Pulling Strings”
In Episode 6, we saw Hazel sing her way through her debut performance in Romeo & Juliet — now we see Buddy’s point-of-view on the same night, as he sings his own ballad about realizing he’s been manipulated by his parents for years.

“It definitely felt like Hazel and Buddy’s musical tones would definitely sound different from each other. They’re coming from such different points of view in this moment, where Hazel’s on the verge of feeling confident and free, and Buddy is very much like, ‘Holy moly, my whole life’s a lie. I don’t really deserve anything or any of this.’

“He does say, from now on, I’m cutting strings — he does try to make things right in his own head and with his actions going forward. So it was really nice to explore that part of his character. I’m the youngest of four boys, and one brother specifically, growing up, I’d be like, why is he so upset? The world is built for him — I’m the little homo here who’s getting terrorized in school all day and I’m pretty happy, what is going on in his head?” [Laughs] “I think it was actually a beautiful thing for me personally, to try to put myself in my brother’s brain for a second, and figure out why he’s so pissed.”

All the songs featured in this episode explore the feelings of its male characters in unexpected ways.

“I’m lucky enough to be friends with Eve Ensler — I’m working on a musical with her — and she says all the time that ‘We forget to talk about that — that men are victims of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy as well, because the pressure to keep up with that and the pressure to hide your feelings for so long… then all of a sudden you just pop off and explode. They’re victims of this system as well.”

Episode 8: “Or at the High School Dance”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Crushing Me”
Nancy’s love life hasn’t gotten too much attention before now, but in this number, she vents to Cynthia about her unexpected crush on Pedrito/Potato (Alexis Sides).

“I love that song. I mean, it’s so quick, it’s a minute and a half of a song. But I love how different it feels from everything else, and I think it was needed. I was in quarantine with COVID in my bedroom and wrote it over Zoom — we had to write the song because they were gonna shoot it in like five days, so there was no COVID rest for me.

“All Nancy cares about is moving to New York to study fashion — ‘I cannot have a crush. This is insane. I need to be focused on my career. Boys are pointless, fashion and career is everything.’ So yeah, we’ve definitely not seen Nancy sing anything like this at all — the brief was that she’s terrified of these feelings. So it’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m in love. It was like, holy shit, this can’t be happening to me. So it’s those darker bluesier guitar vibes, very swampy guitar vibes — a much darker, more panicked feeling than a love song would normally feel like.”

“The Hand Jive”
There are a lot of iconic numbers from the original musical, but “The Hand Jive” is easily one of the most memorable. Here, Tranter gets to create their own spin on it.

“Reinventing ‘The Hand Jive’ was a blast, trying to capture some of the nostalgia we all know and give it more of a story. It’s like the ‘Hand Jive’ origin story, you know.” [Laughs] “Also, Johnny Vavoom sings in the middle of it, so you’re inventing a new character’s vocal mannerisms if you will, bringing in that. And there are some classic Chuck Berry guitar vibes rocking us through it… That was, in a great way, a really easy fun one, structurally and vibe-wise.”

“The Land Don’t Look So Bad”
Wally (Maxwell Whittington-Cooper) and Hazel connect over their shared interests, in the first love song for both characters.

“This is one of my favorite songs in the whole season. I’m just obsessed with this song. It’s obviously ’50s doo-wop soul, with some modern melodic rhythms in there, so it’s not like a pure period piece. And I just love it. Maxwell, who plays Wally, I think his voice is so beautiful and he had never really sung before, and ended up having, I think, just one of the most natural gorgeous tones that I’ve worked with in a long time.

“This is obviously a love song between Hazel and Wally, and it’s such a cool premise that we were given — the idea of, you know, he has the ocean and she has the stars so maybe together, they could both enjoy the land. I thought it was just such a beautiful thing to write a song about. That one was done with pretty much no notes. That was one of the few that was just like, yep, this feels perfect. It originally started with drums, like a lot bigger, and Annabel wanted the production to grow more as their love through the song grows. But that was the only note on that one.”

Episode 9: “You’re Dropping Out of Rydell?”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Face to Face”
While trapped at the school during a storm, the Pink Ladies reflect on their respective problems.

“This is one of the ones where the perspective changed. At one point, I think all of the boys were in it at one point as well. Then it became each Pink Lady going through their dark night of the soul moment, if you will, where they’re grappling with the messes that they have made. There was a version where there was a crazy chorus that was like a whole different tempo, which was the second version, but then we came back to the original. This song definitely made a couple journeys to get where it’s at, but I actually really love it, andI think it’s the choreography team’s favorite song in the entire season. So it has a little special place in our hearts.”

“I’m In Love”
In the home economics classroom, Olivia considers her pending nuptials to her teacher, Mr. Daniels.

“This was another one where, trying to figure out exactly what Olivia needed to say here, the brief changed a couple times, and there were a couple different songs written for this. One was very, very much focused on literary history, a very different song called ‘Untitled,’ going through very specific legendary female characters. And then we realized it needed to be way more simplified, and really focus on what she was feeling herself and not be so metaphorical.”

“Untitled” could find its way into future seasons, Tranter notes.

“Olivia’s always reading and obsessed with books, so I think, hey, maybe if we get a Season 2, we can do a little tweak of it and we’ll all get to witness the female literary iconness that was. But I love [“I’m In Love”], and Cheyenne sounds so beautiful and it’s emotional, but not over the top. I really, really love this song.”

“Brutal Honesty”
In an homage to the original film’s famous “Beauty School Dropout” number, Tranter makes their debut on the show as the Angel of Fashion, warning Nancy that a career in fashion may not be as easy as she hopes. According to Tranter, though, the plan was not originally for them to play the role.

“We actually wrote it thinking it would be a famous drag queen. I was so obsessed with Billy Porter’s Teen Angel in the Broadway revival in the ’90s — it’s just so good. So it was obviously an homage to the original Teen Angel from the movie, but then calling him the Angel of Fashion and leaning into the Billy Porter interpretation. Not sonically, because Billy’s off in a full sort of R&B gospel Broadway manner which I would never, ever dare to attempt doing, but more aesthetically leaning into the high camp and the femininity and the glamor of it.

“[Co-writer] Brandon Colbein’s one of the best singers to ever sing, so he would cut the demos. But we needed a full over-the-top rock-and-roll drag queen delivery, and Brandon tried the first two lines and was like, ‘What am I doing? You were in a glam rock band for 10 years. You should sing the demo.’ So I sang the demo real quick, giving it all of the camp and glam rock over-the-topness that it needed to inspire whatever drag queen we were gonna cast for the show. And when we sent the demo in, literally 20 minutes after I sent it in, Annabel and Alethea Jones called and were like, ‘Well, we love this song. We have no notes. This is perfect… Also, you sound amazing. Do you want to play the Angel of Fashion?’

“I flew up [to Vancouver] and did two days of rehearsal, and then [for filming] flew back and was on set for maybe 14 hours to shoot it. So for the three and a half minutes I’m on screen, it’s 14 hours of filming. I was very actively involved in the hair and makeup with my friend Darien Darling, who’s one of the best make-up artists in the world. She does Billy Porter, she does Jake Wesley Rogers, Carmen Electra — she’s just amazing. We pow-wowed over like, ‘Oh, let’s do a Bowie mullet. Because the Angel of Fashion’s coming from the future and we’re in the fifties, so the future would be the seventies. So we’ll do a Bowie mullet, but do it pink instead of orange.’

“And that was it. I [told the producers] listen, if the network thinks it’s crazy, no stress — I know a lot of really great drag queens. Trixie Mattel’s a friend, Bob the Drag Queen is an acquaintance. I can make some calls. [Laughs] I stayed very open and definitely tried to keep my ego out of this. I perform for charity every now and then, but I haven’t performed in a real way in public for 10 years or something. A very long time. So it was really cool.”

Episode 10: “Racing for Pinks”


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (Paramount+)

“Please Please Please”
The other Pink Ladies beg Olivia to reconsider her decision to get married, with a unique staging (via the magic of cinema, the girls sing to Olivia through the television in her fantasy sequence) that Tranter didn’t know about before writing the song.

“We definitely wanted to see an old school girl group, like the classic three-girl girl group from the ’50s and ’60s. What was so fun was that I think everyone alive has had those moments where you’re begging your friend, like, come on. It’s such a hard thing to do, to tell someone that the guy you’re marrying isn’t good enough for you. Now these girls had a little easier time, because it’s creepy, because [Olivia’s] about to marry her teacher. But we still wanted to make sure it could be an anthem we can all sing to our friends when we know they’re dating a loser.”

“I’m All In”
After several episodes of back-and-forth, Cynthia finally makes a real commitment to Lydia.

“What we wanted was that sort of old school musical theater feel — the early, early show tunes, like more than half of the jazz standards that we all know and love and have heard our whole life at coffee shops and movies and Barbra Streisand concert specials — most of them are all show tunes. And so we really thought we wanted a classic jazz standard, but a belty show tune, about a woman loving another woman. We made it very classic on purpose.

“Also, we all fell in love with Ari, the actor who played Cynthia, from them doing a Barbara Streisand cover on TikTok two years ago, a year and a half ago — where they changed the pronouns to ‘He Touched Me’ to ‘She Touched Me.’ So it was not only like, oh my God, how cool to do this sort of classic jazz standard show tune, and also pay tribute to Ari’s insane voice and how we all fell in love with them.”

“Think Pink!”
It’s the show’s big finale number, which pays tribute not to the original film, but the sequel…

“I can’t remember if [‘Think Pink!’] was the title I was given, but it was definitely Annabel being a humongous Grease 2 fan and wanting to include the Pink Lady Pledge — that inspired the title. I also love, too, that it’s not just like a hip-hip-hooray song. We built some story into it, where it’s them trying to convince Hazel to join. So there’s an arc to it. It’s not just a full on ‘Yay, we’re all awesome.’ It gives us a little journey for the song to go on.

“There was a lot of talk of covering ‘You’re the One That I Want’ — we were like, okay, we can tweak the lyric to ‘You better shape up, because I don’t need a man.’ But obviously these songs are very precious and they are deep in people’s souls. And so I don’t know if it was Paramount or the estate of the original writers or who it is, but tweaking the lyrics was never going to be okay.

“Our show is really about… yes, there are romances, there are straight romances, there are queer romances, there are lovely romances, there are inappropriate romances, there are all sorts. But the show is really about platonic friendship at its core. So when we were like, you know, we can’t even tweak the one lyric, because we don’t want to say ‘I need a man,’ ever… That’s really not what any Pink Lady would say. So we just decided it would be better to not do a cover and let the Pink Ladies have their own statement.”

The complete first season of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is streaming now on Paramount+.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ Lead Songwriter Guides Us Through All the Original Songs
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