As platforms grow, songwriters are finding more outlets for their talent
There was a time when the craft of writing for television was considered to be several rungs below the art of writing for films, and that applied to composers and songwriters as well as scriptwriters.
Top creators are now happy to contribute to TV, especially given today’s wider latitude of cable and streaming options.
And while it’s impossible to predict what songs from the 2014-15 season will end up as Emmy nominees, the competition may be fiercer than ever, including tunes from past Oscar winners, top hip-hop producers, TV vets and one particularly edgy comedienne.
Among the anticipated entries:
• Songs from “Empire” (pictures above), Fox’s hip-hop drama, many written by music producer Jim Beanz and supervised by veteran rapper and producer Timbaland (“Good Enough,” “You’re So Beautiful” and “Nothing to Lose” are possibilities). Many of its songs were created and produced in a day.
“I would get a brief of the storyline,” says Beanz, “something like ‘Jamal is upset with his father.’ I would go to the studio, produce a song I felt captured the moment, then demo the song for the artist.” Within a day he’d get notes from Timbaland (who supervised all the songs), then send it on to producers and execs for approval. Then he’d fly to Chicago to cut the track with the actors.
• “Maybe You’re Not the Worst Thing Ever” from “Galavant,” ABC’s irreverent swashbuckler-gone-to-seed saga, with music by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater (including lines like “I know there’s something scary behind your cold dead eyes”).
“The magic is that you have this sweeping Alan Menken ballad that sounds like it should be this huge, sincere love song — and yet lyrically we were able to have the characters say what they were really thinking,” says Slater. “It’s that contrast between the absurdity of what’s on their minds and that sincerity of the music.”
• “This Time” from the last episode of “Glee,” written by cast member Darren Criss and performed by series star Lea Michele. “Not only is Rachel Berry saying goodbye, but Lea herself is saying goodbye,” says Criss. “I tried to personify all of our feelings, the journey of all of us, whether it was watching ‘Glee’ for the past several years, or working on it, behind or in front of the camera. It’s a big musical-theater ballad, not your typical pop song.”
• “Milk, Milk, Lemonade” and “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup” from “Inside Amy Schumer,” one a booty-obsessed rap parody, the other a boy-band sendup about female beauty (“just get up an hour earlier and you can make yourself much girlier”). Some may consider the former in bad taste, but remember that “Saturday Night Live’s” “Dick in a Box” won this category in 2007.
“I want an Emmy and I want it for a song,” Schumer says with a laugh. “I grew up living for hip-hop,” she adds, confessing that each video was shot in just a day and expressing surprise that both — with their positive messages for women — went viral, generating more than 5 million YouTube hits between them.
• “Peeno Noir” from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” sung by Tituss Burgess as Kimmy’s roommate who intends to showcase his vocal talents with a homemade musicvideo, most of which consists of words that rhyme with noir (“caviar, Myanmar, mid-sized car”).
Says composer/exec producer Jeff Richmond, “We did it in about the same amount of prep that the character Titus put into the musicvideo. We knew we had these rhyming couplets and a script that somehow were supposed to collectively come together as a song. I don’t think any of us knew what it was going to be until we started hammering it together. We built the song in the edit room.”