If you didn’t know by now, Bridgerton is not like the other girls (and by “girls” we mean Regency-era romance dramas). And sure, that comes across fairly early on in how diverse its cast is and how generous its writers are with explicit sex scenes, but the show’s biggest weapon is, actually, its music.
Far from the sometimes-stuffy classical compositions that lull audiences to sleep in the background of the ball scenes and country dances and third-act climaxes used by its predecessors, Bridgerton’s choice in music cleverly bridges the gap between the past and the present. Translating bangers from Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande into stringed-out symphonies that harmonize with the most emotionally-loaded, pivotal plot points, the show gained a reputation after the success of its debut season.
It was a period piece that slapped.
And, as the show readies to launch another installment focused on a new Bridgerton sibling (hello Jonathan Bailey) and a fresh love interest in Simone Ashley’s fiercely independent Kate Sharma, its choice in music is more important than ever. Especially since, this time around, fans are paying attention.
We chatted with Bridgerton’s showrunner Chris Van Dusen and music supervisor Justin Kamps to nail down exactly how they landed on this season’s soundtrack – one filled with Madonna, Nirvana, and Miley Cyrus covers – that Bollywood nod, and approval from Sir Harry Styles.
The string covers were such a hit in season one. Did that influence any choices you made this time around?
Chris Van Dusen: As far as the music, there are more covers this season than last. I think that’s because it worked so well the first time around. The whole intention with these songs is that I want our audience to feel the very same way our characters feel onscreen. So when the Sharmas walk into a ballroom and hear this amazing classical rendition of “Material Girl,” I want the excitement they’re feeling in the moment to translate to the audience, too. I think it’s incredibly immersive and effective, and it’s definitely one of the things I love most about this show.
You’ve both talked about the trial-and-error process of the pop covers in season one. What was the process for season two like?
Justin Kamps: We start early on matching these covers with the type of dance that our choreographer, Jack Murphy, is planning for the ball — which includes tempo, time signature, just general feel, and everything. And then as the show comes together in post, we take another look at these sequences that have sometimes been newly edited together into an actual scene. And [sometimes] we need to look at a different song because maybe it’s been edited in such a way that the song we used for choreography doesn’t fit or there’s a different vibe now that it’s been put together. That’s when we start looking at different covers in the post process and seeing what really fits that moment and that sequence.
So do the lyrics of these pop songs come into play more in post-production then?
JK: Yeah, when it’s into post is where we start having more of the thoughts of like, “Okay, what would make the most sense here? What are the characters feeling? What’s happening in the scene? What’s the subtext? What can we be cheeky with?”
CVD: There are some songs I’ll find in post, but there are also times when I’ll write a scene to a specific song. I wrote one particular scene in the season two finale to a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” It captured the exact emotion I wanted that scene to convey so beautifully. Usually, we end up replacing whatever song we use during shooting, but that was an exception. I asked our choreographer to choreograph a dance to that version of the song. Our onscreen musicians actually played to it on the day, too. The result is magical.
JK: Yeah, for me, that really encapsulates Kate and Anthony and their relationship — how they’re meeting each other and how that blew up everything in their lives.
When choosing which songs to cover, which carries more weight, the lyrics vs. the melody?
JK: There is some room to take a song that maybe the lyrics don’t completely fit, but the melody and the way the strings are performed really works for the scene, but I do feel it is a bit 50-50. Even if you’re not literally hearing them, these are songs that most people know and recognize — you’re hearing the lyrics in your head maybe as the song is happening. So we’re still aware that we can’t totally disregard the lyrics.
CVD: The actual song we’re covering has to make sense for us both emotionally and lyrically. “Dancing on my Own,” [by Robyn] for example, manages to be both beautiful and painful at the same time. It’s the kind of song that makes you lean into your screen. The lyrics are relevant too, especially when you think about what’s really happening in the scene it scores. It’s angsty and bittersweet and soul-stirring. It’s a transcendent moment.
Does the popularity of a song or an artist come into play when choosing which tracks to use?
JK: I do think it’s important. In general, the music that I am pitching down to the show that the producers and Chris gravitate towards are songs that are recognizable. There could be a song that I totally love, and it’s like, “Oh, this is a beautiful string cover of this song that no one’s heard,” but then if no one knows the song, it would play in the show as just score potentially. It would just go by and no one would notice. So the whole reason to use covers in the first place is that it is a song that people recognize and when it comes up, it creates this instant connection between the characters, these characters in the past and the audience in the present.
But this season you did experiment a bit more with how old a pop song could be to still have that reaction when fans heard a string cover of it.
JK: Yeah, we did expand back into some older classics — “Material Girl,” we got Nirvana in there as well. I think that’s just a testament to Chris’ taste and his interest in songs from all eras because again, creating a string quartet version of them levels the playing field. Maybe the original song itself is old, but now this cover is being heard. The audience is now experiencing these songs as a new thing even if they were released in the eighties and nineties.
You’ve both said that the Harry Styles track was the hardest license to get this season. How do you convince artists to hand over their music? Do you have to send them a script, show them the scene?
JK: It depends on the artist. Sometimes artists understandably are protective of their songs. Because this is their creative endeavor and their work and they want make sure that it’s being used appropriately. So yeah, sometimes we do have to show the artist and their team the clip. Other times we just give a detailed description of what’s happening and some people are okay with that. It kind of depends but this season, yes, we did have to show a couple of people.
The show has changed the Sharma’s ethnicity and cultural background this season and a lot of fans are excited for the Bollywood track that’s been included. Why was that such a big deal to cover that song?
JK: I’m personally very proud of the Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham cover. That was another one I was really excited about because when we were looking into including a Bollywood song in the show this season, there was lots of trepidation about Bollywood being a tough clear because they’re very protective of… Those films are a very important part of their culture. I’m just really excited for people to hear it.
CVD: The song itself is about family and the bonds that hold them together. When I heard the original song, I fell in love with it — and I thought it was perfect for a scene featuring all of our Sharma ladies — who have just arrived in London from India. So it’s a nod to that family’s heritage. My writers and I wanted to honor the culture of this new family and weave certain elements of their South Asian heritage into the series.
JK: There’s already been lots of fan excitement. And I actually saw an article with one of the composers that I guess his son told him how popular Bridgerton was, and he was very excited about the song being considered and used in the show. So that warms my heart. And I’m just excited for people to hear this song. I think it’s important that we got that one in there.
Speaking of changes from book-to-screen, were there any that were particularly challenging to make?
CVD: I wanted Edwina to be a multi-dimensional character in terms of having her own wants, needs and desires in the show. It’s always the goal to be writing characters who are fully-realized, complicated, and flawed. And then of course I was always interested in further expanding the beautiful, multi-ethnic world that was set up in the first season. Introducing the Sharma family was very much a part of that.
Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ returns on March 25.