On YouTube, the Emmy-nominated song from HBO’s “Euphoria” by the show’s star and producer Zendaya and composer Labrinth “I’m Tired” has amassed over 17 million views. On Spotify, its streaming tally sits at 81 million, and on TikTok, scores of covers live on the platform. It’s a testament to the impact of the show’s music, and when it came time to score and soundtrack its second season, Labrinth looked to the fans and asked what they wanted to hear. He and Emmy-nominated music supervisor Adam Leber talked to Variety about the show’s musical journey.
How did the success of the music from season one and themes inform your approach to the music of season two?
Labrinth: I guess, “Don’t fuck it up, you’re on a good run.” Creator Sam Levinson and I spoke about this being the next stage for Zendaya’s character, Rue, and that she was going to find redemption. We would be leading up to this moment where she realizes how much of what she’s doing is destroying everything and everyone around her. So the music was the idea of building up to that. … As we went into season two, it felt like every episode had its own sonic style. We wanted to weave in gospel or cathedral music behind it. Until we get to episode four and she says, “What have I become?”
Adam, what about for you, what was your overall approach?
Adam Leber: One of the things that we learned from season one is that the music on “Euphoria,” specifically, the original music, and even the score, has such a significant impact on youth culture. Kids have fallen in love with it and they have created millions of videos on TikTok and other platforms and that’s a huge indication of the show and its impact on culture. The show is creating new hits, globally throughout culture, and that was the most important thing, to make sure we continue to do that. When you have songs like “I’m Tired” or “Elliot’s Song,” those were bonafide hits with not just incredible content creation around it, but hundreds of hundreds of millions of streams.
On the subject of the impact, did that influence the way you approached the music?
Labrinth: It became fun because there was such a fandom for that part of the show. I felt we were creating the score with fans of the show. I was quite vocal and asked people what they wanted to see. It’s not my score, it became theirs. That’s what music is for. To see it translate on a scale on this scale, and also translate on all of these social media platforms. That was unheard of, at a certain time, in a certain era. We’re in this era where music is governed by social media.
Leber: You always hear that music is the soundtrack to your life. But when you see these kids creating content based on the score of the show, these kids are taking that score and turning it into the soundtrack of their lives.
Labrinth: I grew up with classic films. I grew up when TikTok wasn’t around, but the internet was. For me, I relate sonically to a lot of the people that fell in love with the music because they’re kind of pretty much like me.
Leber: It’s funny. Lab and I joke all the time that he’s one of the biggest artists on TikTok and he doesn’t use it. The songs, the music that has come from this show, it’s a force there. It’s wild to see the number of videos that get made. It’s quite staggering.
We mentioned “I’m Tired,” what was your approach to that?
Labrinth: We knew we needed certain songs. Zendaya came to me and halfway through filming, she came to me — because I was on set, and she said, “OK, we’ve got this performance coming up and this is what we’re trying to say in this moment.” Based on that, I started writing the song. It was the same for “Elliot’s Song.”
Aside from a lot of cathedral-organ sounds that we hear a lot this season, were there any new sounds or instruments that you used in the score?
Labrinth: I’m such a fan of technology. Right now, I’m in a hotel and I’ll record the sound of me tapping a light bulb with my finger and turn that into a whole keyboard sound. A lot of the sounds were from my kids and I recorded their voices and turned it into something with pianos. A lot of the sounds were homemade and that’s probably why they sound wonky.
Is there a musical moment that stands out for you personally?
Labrinth: I wasn’t going to sing on the show, but Sam pushed me into doing it. For me, hearing my voice elevate the energy in the show, and turned my voice into an instrument for the show.
Adam, how about you?
Leber: The way “All For Us” was threaded throughout the series, I think it is brilliant and haunting in terms of Rue’s sobriety, and how it moves back and forth.
Labrinth: That was one of my favorite bits of music. It’s more like an English sound. I’m inspired by ‘90s acid stuff, and I wanted to do that with this hip-hop vibe which wasn’t massive in America, but it was super fun to do.