Harry Styles just announced that he has an album coming in May, but superfans might not have to wait as long to hear a new version of “Sign of the Times.” A string arrangement of Styles’ first single, originally released in 2017, appears in the frothy period drama “Bridgerton,” which premieres its second season on Netflix this Friday (March 25). The tune starts and stops a few times during a pivotal scene.
“The recording has a couple short pauses before blasting into this gorgeous big swell of strings at the end,” reveals Justin Kamps, music supervisor for “Bridgerton.” “Sometimes having stops and starts in the song helps our editors really land these dramatic reveals. When fans see the episode, they’ll realize why it was used in that way. All the swells and swirling strings are very deliberate and build to this perfect moment.”
The moment was a big coup for boutique publishing company and record label, Angry Mob Music, whose co-founder/executive producer/senior director of creative, Sean Harrison, along with Debra Delshad, senior director of licensing and synchronization, and composer and performer Steve Horner, worked closely together to create the perfect sync for “Bridgerton.”
The Angry Mob team were already in the process of creating a selection of instrumental covers when the first season of “Bridgerton” premiered — performed by Los Angeles’ Vitamin String Quartet, those covers shot past a billion streams within weeks. Hearing the renditions of contemporary pop songs spurred Angry Mob to action, with Delshad and Kamps having pointed conversations about the scenes in Season 2 of the series.
“Lots of dancing, balls, parties, weddings,” says Delshad of what Kamps was able to share with her about the upcoming season. “Sean and I put our heads together and came up with a list of ideas and songs.”
Delshad’s suggestions are informed in no small part by the likelihood of getting the songs cleared, taking into account the number of writers involved in the song, who’s the publishing company, and whether the stakeholders are forward-thinking or driven by the bottom dollar.
“I also don’t want to take away from an artist that has a song charting right at that moment,” she says. “‘Sign of the Times’ was still charting. There were several writers on it, but I had a feeling about it. I knew Steve would be able to knock it out of the park and it would sound superb. I felt Harry Styles’ camp would agree. Sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut. If I had to scream and yell or beg and plead for a song, I wanted to do it for this one.”
For his part, Harrison thought of the covers as an album project, for which he felt continuity would be key, and chose Horner as the sole composer. Coming from a musician background himself, Harrison is a natural communicator for what Delshad expressed was needed, bringing the selections to Horner and bridging the gap between the creative and the sync. The result is the eight-song album of string covers called “Parallel Lines.”
For each potential cover, Horner first listens to the melody of the original, imagining it translated to being played specifically on the cello. Says Horner, “In my thinking, cello is the lead because it’s such a rich instrument, and it can have such a great range. I would imagine the melody being played on a cello pretty simply. If it felt awkward, I would pull up a cello sound, play it and see what it sounded like.
“If the song passed that test,” he continues, “I would think about if I can really capture the emotion of the song. We’re picking really iconic, big pop songs. If I honestly don’t think we can do them justice, there’s no point. We’ve got to be able to feel the song with strings and without lyrics.”
For his cover of “Sign of the Times,” Horner used a combination of shorter sampled strings and longer played strings, which he performed, as it were, using a breath controller, “blowing the notes rather than bowing them.” This is an organic and expressive way of creating the string versions in the box that have a lot of character. It is a perfect match for the Regency period sounds of “Bridgerton.”
“I always have them send me over piecemeals when the songs are kind of ready, so I can hear the direction and I can say yay or nay,” says Delshad. “When they sent me ‘Sign of the Times,’ I said, ‘I have to send this over now.’ They said, ‘It’s not done,’ and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter. I want to get it in the mix early.’ It felt like it had all the elements of what Justin needed.”
Kamps’ first reaction to hearing the not-quite-finished version of Horner’s “Sign of the Times” was, “Oh my god! This is gorgeous. I need to get this over to the show.” A different song was used when the scene was shot. But, by the time it reached post, showrunner Chris Van Dusen had heard the “Sign of the Times” cover and loved it for that scene.
Says Kamps: “It’s really a dazzling arrangement. Harry Styles’ original song immediately hooked me. Hearing the way we use it in the show, that moment went through a lot of permutations, and I’m happy they landed on this one. It ended up being a perfect song for the moment that it is in.”