The Bold Type is one of those shows that has picked up major steam in 2018. Currently, the series is coming to the close of its second season centering around the lives of three early twenty-something girls (read: millennials) who work in media. Jane is a plucky young writer who landed her first staff writer gig at the fictional Scarlet magazine, Kat is the biracial social media director who has suddenly found herself having romantic feelings for a woman (a queer Muslim political artist and photographer, no less), and Sutton is the tried and true administrative assistant, who is finally stepping into her role as a stylist in the magazine’s fashion department.
But, what may sound like just another soapy drama actually unfolds into a show that fearlessly tackles some of the most important issues that young women — and men — are facing today. From the sometimes difficult details of discussing, supporting and participating in queer sexuality, to topics like sexual assault, the often elusive female orgasm, public shaming/digital trauma, and even the history of misogyny and white, heteronormative male voices dictating much of culture (even in women’s media), the show is a refreshingly honest and current take on the lived realities of a young American’s life.
While it skews mostly toward a female audience, even male critics at prestigious publications like The New Yorker have weighed in on the show’s optimism and ability to tackle tough issues with easy grace. And while discussion of the plot and politics of the show are well and good, there’s another element that has continually impressed me throughout The Bold Type‘s tenure, and that is the soundtrack. Many current shows in our age of peak TV, with the cache of prestigious dramas and largely male-based audiences and proclivities, use big songs sparingly, with just a few needle drops that hit at dramatic moments.
A perfect example of a show that pulls that kind of music supervision off well is Billions, as showrunner Brian Koppelman says, he uses music as an “emotional accelerator.” That’s great, but that’s not how music is used on The Bold Type. Instead, there are countless needle drops throughout each episode, as songs are woven into plotlines themselves via thematic tie-ins, and music becomes a piece of the show’s aesthetic that’s just as important as the characters and the narrative.
The music supervisor for the show, Rob Lowry, is something of a fixture in the LA music community and has previously spoken with Uproxx about the specifics of his job in general for our music industry week. Now, he’s sat down with us to talk about how he got connected with The Bold Type team in the first place, what goes into selecting songs that soundtrack each episode, and the importance of being involved with a show like this in 2018. Read our conversation below.
How’d you first get connected with The Bold Type, and what drew you to be involved with the show?
One of my first jobs in LA was as a PA on the shows Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. In the writer’s room, I befriended a bunch of writers and told them all I wanted to be a music supervisor; I would give them all mix CDs and stuff. One of those writers was Sarah Watson, and she created the whole show. Obviously now, I’ve actually started being a supervisor, so when this show came around I hit her up about it and she brought me on for the pilot. What drew me to the show was the fact that it was unapologetically feminist. The first cut I saw was pretty badass and it didn’t hold anything back. I’d always loved Sarah’s writing and Parenthood is one of my all-time favorite shows, even while I was working on it. I loved her writing and I loved her voice. Watching the first cut too… there was so much music. It was like a huge playground for me.
For readers who might not have seen the show yet, what’s a brief synopsis in your own words?
The show is about three twenty-something women. They live in New York and they’re kind of navigating… it’s hard to say because I think like, Friday Night Lights, nobody watched it because they thought it was about football. The Bold Type is the exact same way. You hear that it’s about these three women living in New York and working at a fashion magazine, and you think it’s about one thing. But really, it’s about navigating this crazy social and political climate we’re living in. Given that, it has such an optimistic perspective that at times it almost feels like a fantasy. But I think it blurs reality and fantasy. It has rom-com moments but it doesn’t feel like a puff piece. It really deals with serious issues. And it doesn’t necessarily always have a happy ending. It’s a show that doesn’t necessarily have any antagonists. If anything, the antagonist is kind of The Man.
One of my friends noted on Twitter: ‘most of my real enemies in life are middle-aged white men and yet I never see books or movies or tv shows about a young(ish) woman vs. middle-aged white men.’ I responded to her, ‘honestly, it happens on The Bold Type!’
Yeah, I think I saw that tweet actually! That’s 100% it. The “antagonist” is very much this nebulous idea, more so than an actual physical bad person. There’s not really any bad people in the show. There’s a couple instigators, but I don’t think anyone on the show is necessarily motivated by evil. Except for the nebulous idea of this whole boardroom of middle-aged, expressionless, old white men. And, it’s done purposely because it’s supposed to make you feel go, ‘What the f*ck is this? This is like the evil lair.’
As a woman who’s worked in journalism for six years, that very much exists. And they do feel nebulous because it’s just… everyone at the top.
Ok, so, there’s been two seasons and I know there’s been a lot of cues, but what have been some of your favorite musical moment in the show so far?
For season one, it was definitely MILCK’s “Quiet” in the finale. It’s the climax of that episode, but also kind of the climax of the entire first season. And it was one of those things where when I read the script I immediately texted Sarah like, ‘I have the song.’ Because at that point there was just a demo version of that song. Then, I texted my friend who actually manages her: “When is this song coming out? We need this song.”
It was awesome to hear the song go from this demo stage, and different phases, until the point where we premiered it on the show itself in that episode. It’s incredible to have the ability to, not only put music to a scene but also know it has a broader meaning and purpose. The issue of sexual assault and speaking out, and victims not feeling alone — all these things came with it. I look for places where the music can start a conversation beyond just ‘Oh that was a cool sync.’
Not to be too spoiler-y, but you see the editor of Scarlet as this powerful figure who’s pushing Jane, the writer, and then you find out why and it’s a revelation. It was such an interesting moment in the show.
That’s something The Bold Type does really well. All of these characters have their own backstories and motivations and the writers are really good at connecting those dots and tying everything back. When you see this emotional moment and then you have an anthemic piece of music, line up, that’s the best. So, that was my favorite moment in the first season. Then, in season two we’ve got to do a lot cool stuff — I got to have an artist do cover specifically for the show, Dagny covering “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. And, it’s cool because the single artwork has The Bold Type on it — stuff like that.
I also really like the sync in the first episode when Kat’s going down on Adena for the first time, it’s the Dagny song “That Feeling When.” Mostly because that storyline was so good and so important. So much of the show is about intimacy and having a dialogue about that stuff — between two women especially, which you almost never see on television. And then, there’s a Carly Rae song included in an episode, which was a dream come true. I also love the Camilla Cabello song we featured, “Never Be The Same.” There’s been a lot of fun ones. We’re working on the finale now which will have some other good ones.
What is your process like when it comes to selecting music?
The minute season one ended I already had a Spotify folder for season two. Anytime I hear something I just throw it up in there. And oddly enough, the first song that I added ended up being the first song that opened episode one of this year, which was Frankie, “Paper Doll.” I start collecting stuff and then as a season approaches, I’ll start building more specific folders. Because there’s so much music the editors are usually cutting with music — there’s like ten or fifteen songs per episode. Every two minutes there’s another one, so, it’s good for them to have folders to pull from. And, I’ll take a look at it and some stuff will stick. Sometimes I’ll replace it with something that either works better or something that’s maybe a little more updated.
What do you appreciate the most about the way the sheer volume of music and the way it into the show?
There’s certainly sad songs in the show, but I feel like for the most part even if something sad is happening on screen it’s supported or complemented by a song that might be minor but still feels uplifting. There’s an element of ‘it’s going to be okay.’ Even if there’s not a happy ending there’s something triumphant or optimistic in the music. The music mirrors this image of, or this idea of like, being progressive, being an individual. I want it to be inspiring, and motivating, and positive, and something that people can relate to, and something that makes people feel empowered.
This show is geared toward young women, and I assume most of the audience is young women. To boot, a lot of the music you use is women, female-driven, or pop. What is your take on working on a show that’s so feminist, with music from so many different female artists?
Well, I think about that a lot because I am the image of privilege, I’m a white male. I’m the villain in a lot of these scenarios, like, I’m the white guy. And, I don’t take that lightly, I totally understand why.
But do you get the flip of that? You seriously supporting the show is important, too.
And that’s what I’ve tried to. I’ve tried to use my privilege in that way. For me, it’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘okay, I’m in a place of privilege, what can I do to help?’ Being on this show, that I think speaks to so many people on so many different levels, helps. To the point where like, my parents — who are both incredibly kind, liberal, open minded people — do not come across a Muslim woman every day, or a lesbian couple every day. They’re not exposed to that. But they love the show, they watch the show, they love these characters.
To have these people represented on TV — that are not represented generally speaking to a wider audience — and demystifying what it means to be queer, what it means to be a person of faith, or whatever it is, I think that’s so important. To be able to provide the soundtrack for that and to have like ninety-nine percent of our soundtrack be women is important to me. We have a lot of queer artists as well, and that’s something that comes up in season three. There’s a storyline where we’re having a performer on the show who identifies as queer — and I know a lot of the audience really feels represented, and appreciated, and felt. I just feel happy, rewarded and gracious to be a part of that, and to be a part of that conversation. We care deeply.
Can you give any other teasers for season three?
Well, I think the only teaser I can give is that someone who has had music on the show will be doing a live performance in the first episode.
Do you have any dream pairings for musicians that you would love to have a sync on the show or be involved in some way? That you haven’t gotten to do yet?
I would love Tegan And Sara to be involved in some capacity. We’ve reached out to them a couple times and they’re fans of the show. Unfortunately, it’s never quite worked out schedule-wise. But, I do feel like at some point we’ll get to do something together, because, I think they’re perfect for the show.
When it comes to sourcing songs, what are some of your processes for finding music? Especially when it is in such a specific sound pocket.
About a decade ago so much pop music was all major label because to get these sounds artists needed to have access to resources. But, now anyone has the resources to record a better new pop song. So, labels are really helpful especially with bigger upcoming releases… like, ‘hey, this show is gonna be airing in six months, do you have anything big coming out in the next few months that maybe we can premiere?’ Blogs are still pretty helpful, Spotify is really helpful, Twitter is helpful, and going to see live music is helpful.
Getting out to see opening bands, or I’ll look up one of my favorite venues to see who’s coming to play and who’s opening for them, because that’s like a crazy weird way to find new music, especially in local scenes. We have a lot of indie artists and indie pop artists. The reason I got into music supervising in the first place is because I love finding and sharing music. That is one of the best parts of this job. Taking like three hours on a Friday morning to do a deep dive on Spotify or go through blogs and research new songs.
For a big sync — like a Selena Gomez or a Camilla Cabello — is the process harder? Walk me through that.
The Camilla sync was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with. Songs like that are more difficult because, generally speaking, the artist is going to have to sign off on it; they might want to see the scene. Bigger pop songs like that generally have bigger writers, so, there’s going be more money. Camilla was on tour with Taylor at the time and her management has to sign off, so they’re swamped, they’re hard to get a hold of. With show at first like, Selena was really early on so I don’t think anyone really knew what we would become.
That’s been my favorite sync on the show, “Hands To Myself” by Selena Gomez. I f*cking love that song.
It’s one of my favorites, too. It was one of the moments where we were in the edit bay and I was like, ‘I know what goes here.’ I was with Sarah and said ‘just put ‘Hands To Myself’ there.’ And Sarah was skeptical, but the way that song builds, we used so much of the instrumental, layering it, to like build that scene. Because the percussion is so cool. So we let that sit for a while, and then the bass comes in, and the phase-out to chorus and it was just like, so f*cking good.
Anything else you want to say about music on the show?
I’m glad people relate to it and like the soundtrack. It uses music in a totally different way. Shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men use music in a way that’s so fantastic, partly because they use it so sparingly. So when you hear a song you’re like, ‘Oh my god!’ This show is the opposite of that. But, the music is like woven into the DNA. So, it’s cool to be able to have the resources and have this blank slate. It’s interesting to have a pilot, have no music in it, and decide what the music will be, and look back on building that two years later.
People reach out to me now and say ‘this is a Bold Type song!’ I’ve been hired on projects because someone says, ‘I want the music to sound like The Bold Type.” That’s cool to be able to create this identity for the show. Because I think music is a character, and, sometimes that can be a bad thing. You don’t always want the music to stand out that much. But, to have it be a character on the show and be able to play in that space? That’s the dream.
Check out The Bold Type on Freeform here.