×

Each Character Has Their Own Theme Music in ‘13 Reasons Why’ Score

Since the simultaneous release of its first 13 episodes by Netflix on March 31, the drama-mystery series “13 Reasons Why,” with its powerful theme of teen suicide, has stirred fears that it could inspire vulnerable, mentally troubled kids to take their own lives. Nonetheless, critics have praised the show and its sensitive depiction of teenagers’ emotional confusion.

Flashback narration by lead character Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) drives the series forward as her friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) listens to her 13 prerecorded tapes — each one addressing individuals who wronged her as she reveals the reasons why she made her decision.

But if Hannah’s words propel the series, it’s the music that helps guide the viewer from episode to episode, serving as a road map to the characters. The score portrays the people she blames, giving each a distinct theme that interweaves with Hannah’s.

From the start, showrunner Brian Yorkey emphasized the importance of music. He used licensed tracks — including Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the Cure’s “Fascination Street” — but it’s mainly the score of composer Eskmo (aka Brendan Angelides) that carries the show.

Eskmo, who has released several solo albums and EPs, has a passionate connection with music. “It was a saving grace for me in high school,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons I was so stoked to be a part of this show.”

The composer quickly hit it off with Yorkey, who asked him to devise a score that blended the comedy of “The Breakfast Club” with the drama of “My So-Called Life.” Yorkey, who wrote the Tony Award-winning play on mental health “Next to Normal,” also advised him to think thematically.

Initially, Eskmo found the task intimidating, since he needed to write melodies to accompany graphic scenes of bullying, rape and suicide. With only seven days to compose each episode, he quickly found himself invested in the lives of the characters, from Tyler, the bullied peeping Tom, to Courtney, the closeted queen bee. When the darkest moments finally arrived, Eskmo’s strong understanding of each character’s distinctive sound, based on their emotions and struggles, made the work less daunting.

As the reasons for Hannah’s suicide reveal themselves, strings begin to play a larger role in the music. The short timeline kept the composer from using an orchestra, so he relied on his piano and computer to do the heavy lifting.

The score merges traditional aesthetics with electronic elements, making it easier for teens accustomed to this younger sound to relate to the show. Notes are often pitched a few octaves up and down to create layers of chords. Eskmo even threw tinfoil into his piano to give a hint of metallic harshness.

From these tools a cast of themes was born. Rich jock and rapist Bryce sounded intentionally simple, brooding and testosterone fueled. Tyler grew more retro-electronic, especially as the urge to lash out against those bullying him grew stronger.

Hannah’s theme, on the other hand, demonstrates her natural innocence. There’s a beauty to it but also a foreboding warble that hints at what’s to come. Eskmo doesn’t shy away from the melancholia that progressively looms over her life.

“A huge part of this work was maintaining the integrity of the original story and maintaining the integrity around these imaginary kids,” Eskmo says. “They have to be real.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • John bailey Academy President

    Former Academy President and DP John Bailey to Receive Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award

    John Bailey, the cinematographer and former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the 27th Camerimage film festival in Torun Poland. The Fest, attended by top DPs and other artists from around the world, will run on Nov. 9-16. Bailey’s credits include Lawrence Kasdan’s “The [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    Production Growth Stretches Crafts Talent Pool, but Experience Is Still Needed

    The growing number of outlets for movies and television means that demand for qualified artisans is at an all-time high. But while job opportunities have multiplied, the path to success — and potential elite status — is still a difficult one that requires on-the-job training, experience and skill development to deliver top-notch results. Some of [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

  • Producer and crew on set. Twelve

    'Driven' Kept Shoot in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria to Help Locals

    Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content