Going into its sophomore season, the team behind the incisive HBO comedy, created by and starring Issa Rae, doubled down on their efforts to pick new music that made the show sound current and unique. This meant getting original songs written specifically for the show and also borrowing unreleased material from some of their favorite artists.
Below, Lehman previews what you can expect from this season — which picks up in the wake of Issa and Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) break-up — soundtrack-wise and shares what it’s like to work on a show that makes music an important part of its storytelling.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know a lot of music supervisors spend the hiatus listening to new music and put together playlists for producers right before production starts up again. Did you do that for Issa?
KIER LEHMAN: Yeah, I definitely pull a bunch of music during the off-season. As we’re kind of gearing up and I start seeing scripts come through, I start reaching out to my contacts and doing research on what new artists would be good for the show. Then I start putting together batches to music that I send over to the producers and editorial for them to keep in mind and use as they start putting the shows together.
RELATED VIDEO: ‘Insecure’ Continues Its Hot Streak in Season 2
What did you include on the list you sent the producers for season 2?
We’ve got new music from Jorja Smith, Leikeli47, SZA, of course, NxWorries — it’s a group with Anderson.Paak and Knxwledge — Kari Faux, Dreezy, TT The Artist. We’re partnering with RCA on a soundtrack for this year, so we definitely were working with them on getting stuff early [from their artists], so we’ve got some exclusive music from them coming up. We featured a lot of music from The Internet last season, and a lot of the members of that group have put out their own kind of solo albums, so we definitely got into music from those guys: Steve Lacy, Matt Martians, Syd.
What conversations did you and Issa have about the music for season 2?
Our initial conversations were about keeping consistent with what we had done, to keep featuring underground artists, independent artists. One thing we had done a little bit last season was to have some original music that people had written for the show. In the first season, we had Kari Faux write a song for us. This season, we tried to expand on that a little bit more and have more original songs that people gave us, written for the show, that we’re able to use in more episodes over the season. That was something that was really exciting and that I think will be really cool. As the show rolls out, we’ll be debuting these new songs and then making them available eventually on the soundtrack.
Which artists did you reach out to for original material in season 2?
Kari Faux, of course again. TT The Artist, Leikeli47. So some of the people I mentioned before, who [either] wrote stuff for us or gave us exclusive unreleased songs that may be featured on their upcoming albums but will be debuted on our show, like Jorja Smith. We also talked to artists like Khalid and an artist called H.E.R.
Why is it important for you guys to be as current as possible?
It’s really important to Issa and [director Melina Matsoukas] that the show sounds really fresh and feels very current. The stories and the setting of the show are current day, so we use the music to help set that scene. This is the music that’s playing right now, this is the music that you hear on the radio, this is the music that’s coming out that you’re streaming online right now or you will be in the next month or two.
Along with making sure the show sounds fresh, we also want to have a unique sound that’s kind of our own signature sound that you wouldn’t hear on any other show. A few years ago, there weren’t a lot of shows using a lot of hip-hop and R&B. Eventually, there was more hip-hop getting used on shows and nowadays there are a few more shows where you can hear hip-hop and now R&B featured more. But we want to make sure that we kind of carve out our own sound out of that and using super current and upcoming artist help us achieve that as well because we don’t have to worry as much about other shows having used the same music.
Who are you most excited for the audience to hear?
It’s all exciting to me because of just how well everything works together and how great the episodes are. We have a couple featured uses so far from the new SZA album, which are really well-tied into our story line even though her album was written separately from the show, but it really speaks to a lot of the story lines that we have going this season.
There’s a new track from Dreezy that’s a really cool use. There’s a lot of these artists that just have this voice that really speaks to the show and so when we are able to incorporate those songs, they just kind of create such a great moment out of the combination of the scene and the song. It gets me really excited because I love the impact that it has. There’s a lot of really strong female voices that we feature and that’s really exciting to me to be able to feature music like that that might not get a lot of outlets. We still have a few episodes left to work on, so there’s more things that are coming up that are exciting that I can’t really talk about yet.
You’ve worked on The Night Of, Last Man on Earth, and The Mick, to name a few. How is working on Insecure different from other shows you’ve contributed to?
The cool thing about a show like Insecure is how featured the music is and what a big part [it plays] in the story and the episodes. Where a show like The Night Of was such an amazing piece of work that really sucks you in, the music was there to support that story and the characters but there weren’t songs featured throughout the episodes. We’d have a song in the end titles, and we’d maybe have one or two featured songs in an episode. Then on Insecure, we have like 10 or maybe more featured songs that play a big part in helping to tell the story and helping to kind of support the characters or define and explain their inner dialogue. We’ll have montage scenes that follow the characters and, lyrically, will be talking about what they’re going through. That’s the really great thing about working on a show like Insecure where the music is super featured and is something that gets a lot of attention and gets talked about a lot and exposes a lot of new artists. For a music supervisor, those are kind of the dream projects to work on where music is put at such an important place in the show.
Insecure returns Sunday, July 23 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.